Apples and oranges
In a perfect world, we might all have access to farmer's markets, small local meat shops, farm fresh milk and eggs, and whole foods co-ops with organic bulk grains, beans, etc.

Reality check- This isn't a perfect world, and when it comes to finding the right foods to buy for our families, we very often just have to make do with what's available and cultivate a thankful heart for what we do have, and not what we wish we had!

When we lived in Japan, I had my first taste of really trying to navigate the murky waters of a conventional grocery store (one that was completely foreign and in another language!), during my first year as a wife and homemaker. I really wanted to learn to buy and prepare healthy food, but it was definitely a challenge! Over the course of the year, I slowly found other places to purchase my food, as I researched and asked around like crazy. In the meantime, though, those regular stores were all that I had and I had to make the best of them!

How glad I was for that experience when we returned to Canada, and although I desperately wanted to start finding better sources for our food, I had no car to use during the daytime, little money for gas anyways, and was left with one major option: Hoof it (you know, the old fashioned way!) to the grocery store, with my little darling in her stroller, and learn to do the very best that I could with what I had!

Over the next two posts, I'm going to share with you a few of the things that I learned as I scouted out the stores (and learned every nook and cranny of them!), while also fastidiously studying nutrition and frugality whenever I could. Did I ever mention how grateful I am for that first year back home and my little $150 grocery budget?

Tip #1

This is my biggest tip and I absolutely cannot stress it enough.

Shop the perimeter of the store! Do not enter the inner aisles (at least, not until we talk through this whole thing just a little bit more…)

What's so great about the perimeter exactly (and so gravely dangerous about the aisles)?

Allow me to walk you through a very brief tour of your typical grocery store. You enter, and navigate your way past the lost leader items (very rarely healthy!), and then inhale deeply as you push your way through the tempting floral section. You arrive in the produce section- a very good place to start! Moving on from there, you make your way back to the deli, where you might find some lovely cheeses (skip past the sandwich meats, though) and fresh olives.

Beyond that is the fresh and frozen fish, another perfect place to pause and add to your cart. Next, you delve into the meat section. Though we know this meat isn't of the highest quality, it sure does beat the breaded and deep fried varieties in the freezer section! Beyond that, the bulk bins are calling to you, full of dried beans, lentils, seeds, and spices. The dairy section is fast approaching, and while this needs some careful thought and attention, it is not entirely void of possibility. Lastly, you round the corner to the bakery, where you might find a loaf of sourdough rye, to round out the items you have gathered in your cart.

Did you notice the absence of boxes and cans? Of cartoon characters and artificial colors? Of instant this and reduced-fat that?

Now, I know. Not everything I mentioned is the ideal. Perhaps your store doesn't carry many organics. Maybe yeast bread is all there is, and the options for whole grains are pretty slim pickings. The beef has never even seen the light of day, let alone had the opportunity to actually use it's muscles. Those would be things to start considering, as you research the options available in your area (and I will be addressing the how-to of that research in an upcoming post).

In the meantime, though, the best place to begin is with a truly whole foods, unprocessed diet. Next time, I will take a closer look at the different elements of the store (and even those pesky aisles!) to see how to make the very best choices out of what is available!

I'm curious- how many of you feel sort of "stuck" with a regular grocery store, either for all or most of your shopping? If so, what are your particular concerns or questions about what to buy? I'd love to take the time to answer some specific questions on deciding between the options available, or trying to adapt what's available to a healthier diet (at least, as much as I'm able to!).