After a few weeks of working together, it's common for my clients say something like, “Now that I’m eating so much more healthfully, I can’t believe how much garbage is in the grocery store!”
We’re faced with aisles and aisles (and aisles and aisles and aisles!) of choices, but most of those choices are…well…shit.
I spent nearly 10 minutes with a client at his local Giant this morning helping him, among other things, buy pantry staples for a quick weeknight meal to take the place of his too-frequent takeout meals of pizza and pasta. We settled on a serving of whole wheat pasta + half a bag of frozen vegetables + leftover protein and a jarred marinara sauce. There were quite a few 100% whole wheat pasta choices, and after picking over the frozen vegetable section, he found plenty of options there, too.
The pasta sauce, however, was far more difficult than either of us expected. We ignored the top shelf with the white creamy sauces loaded with junk. That left us with about 1,739 other red jars to sift though. What were our criteria?
1. Find a sauce where the ingredients are all recognizable as actual food
2. No “natural” or “artificial” flavors
3. No added sugar in the ingredient listing in any of its sneaky forms, from sugar to organic sugar to organic cane juice
4. The total sugar per 1/2 cup serving should be less than 5 grams.
1,739 jars picked up, flipped over, ingredient listing read and nutritional panel reviewed, and we failed in finding a sauce that met these criteria. Our options at this point were…
1. Pick up ingredients to make a quick marinara—onions, garlic, herbs, and canned and fresh tomatoes—and give my client a simple recipe.
As I suggested this, my client’s face fell. “This was supposed to be a fast and easy meal,” he countered. Fair enough. This wasn’t the right option for him, no matter how I easy I reassured him making his own sauce would be.
2. Tell my client to go somewhere else where he may or may not find a sauce that meets our criteria.
Lousy option. I don’t want to send my clients on a wild goose chase just as he begun making . Likely he’d get frustrated or put it off, and our goal of replacing one of his takeout runs this week wouldn’t be achieved.
3. Decide not to let perfect be the enemy of good and choose the best option we had.
We picked a sauce that met 3 of our 4 criteria. All the ingredients were recognizable as food, there were no natural or artificial flavors, and though sugar was in the ingredient list, there were less than 4 grams of sugar per serving. (In case you’re curious, we selected a store brand: Nature’s Promise Organic Garden Vegetable Pasta Sauce. The label is below.)
Shopping can be a daunting experience when you’ve committed to eating healthfully, but torturing ourselves in the aisles to find the perfect options isn’t healthy either. By replacing pizza or cheesy, greasy take-out pasta with the simple meal we came up with—even though it didn’t meet all of our criteria—my client was making a big upgrade for his health.
If you’re overwhelmed in your own local store (and who isn’t?!), let me know if you need a friendly tour guide to find the best options to feed yourself and your family.