Somehow I always got the cart with the squealing wheel. I wrestled it through the twists and turns of the grocery store, throwing in rattling boxes of macaroni and cheese, rubbery hot dogs, chicken nuggets, whole milk, white bread, peanut butter, giant slabs of frozen pizza, and pastel-colored breakfast cereal in enormous plastic bags.
At the last aisle of the store, I stopped and turned around. The final aisle was the forbidden zone, a foreign and mysterious territory, a place I thought was off-limits to poor moms like me.
The produce aisle.
We can't afford it, I told myself. We won't eat it, and it will all go bad anyway. Fresh produce is for people with money. I maneuvered the cart toward the checkout lane.
Looking back, I know my daughter and I were very blessed. We never went hungry. Though we lived for many years on one minimum-wage income, we always had enough to eat, and for that I am very grateful.
But I have wondered what I could have done differently to feed my daughter more nutritiously on the resources we had.
"It's not all or nothing," says Meg, a Health Coach for the Dr. Sears L.E.A.N. lifestyle and nutrition program. Meg encourages moms to make small changes, small shifts in thinking about the way we feed our families.
"You can't change the way you eat all at once, or it won't be sustainable," Meg explains. She says small changes are less shocking to a family's habits and finances.
Meg offers a few small steps moms can take to provide more nutritious food for their families.
- Add one fruit or vegetable serving a day.
- Scrub fresh fruits and vegetables, or wash them with vinegar. We don't need to buy organic produce.
- Watch for sales and buy less expensive varieties. Apples are still apples.
- Have fun. Try new things, and let your children see you enjoying healthy changes.
- Experiment with small amounts of new, unfamiliar foods. Buy one star fruit and sample it with your children.
"Do what works for your family," Meg continues. "Realize this season of life is not forever, and do the best you can with what you have. Your family will benefit."
The Dr. Sears Wellness Institute offers lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition information and support. The website provides a blog about health and nutrition, pages of recipes and shopping tips, and the opportunity to become a certified Health Coach like Meg. In future posts Meg will share an explanation of Dr. Sears' Traffic Light Foods and guidance on how to read nutrition labels.
My family and financial situation have changed since the days I avoided the produce aisle. More importantly, my old attitude of "We can't afford it" has changed to: We can afford it. We deserve it, and I want to be healthy.
Now the produce aisle is my first stop in the grocery store. I buy bags of apples, oranges, and little baby carrots. I choose Romaine lettuce with sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. We like cauliflower roasted in olive oil and sweet potatoes baked with real butter.
But somehow I still get the cart with the screeching wheel.
What has been your experience in the grocery store? How do you find nutritious alternatives for your family?