How my shopping habits have changed and what I've stopped buying

In the past several years my grocery shopping habits have changed quite a bit. When I got married and had kids I based my purchasing and cooking choices based on what I’d learned from my parents about food, what some of the recommendations/buzzwords/trends of the time were and even partly on what was pushed in commercials (yes, back before the Internet was used for everything).

Until junior high my mom was a stay-at-home mom who made dinner almost every night. She made some great home-cooked meals, though there wasn’t a lot of variety. There were a handful of meals we had over and over - spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken and dumplings, pork roast, salmon patties, sirloin patties, tacos. Once in a while there was something different thrown in there - like liver and onions. Anyway, food was made with simple, inexpensive ingredients and a lot of recipes that my mother grew up on. Not necessarily unhealthy junk, but certainly not real healthy, either. It was what at the time was considered wholesome home-cooked balanced meals.

A couple times a year we had homemade fried chicken, which was always a treat, but other than that not much fried stuff. We usually had a starch with it, so that was the unhealthiest part of the meal - it was primarily mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese (both made from a box) or perhaps boiled potatoes. Along with it was corn or peas or green beans. Veggies were some times fresh, but often out of a can. Sometimes the veggie was made unhealthy with some additions - like candied carrots (loaded with brown sugar) and stewed tomatoes (that had the addition of bread and sugar). There was sometimes a salad (which I was never interested in as a kid) of iceberg, cucumbers, green peppers and tomatoes and there was often some type of roll or biscuit.

We never went out to eat. It just wasn’t in the budget. And we didn’t really get carry-out. The exception was once in a while when KFC ran a special on a bucket of fried chicken. And on Saturday night, we would get a pizza from Vessuvio’s where my dad worked a part-time weekend job as a delivery driver for several years.

Once we got to junior high and mom was working nights and sleeping during the day time, it wasn’t as consistent. Sometimes we had sandwiches or TV dinners. And when mom discovered chicken kiev - that just had to be popped in the oven, we had that very often.

There weren’t a lot of treats and snacks. Sometimes some ice cream. Sometimes some Jay’s Potato Chips or popcorn or cheese and crackers (mild cheddar and Zesta in case you were wondering). More often it was carrot sticks that soaked in a jar of salt water in the fridge or celery with peanut butter — and sometimes a slice of bread topped with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Our usual beverage was iced tea. Unless we had pizza. Then it was Pepsi. We always has Pepsi with pizza. 

So, not the best eating habits growing up, but could have been worse. 

By the time I was a parent, there were a lot more convenience foods on the market. A lot of things I’d buy and didn’t think much about what was in them. Over the years, though, there are some things I have moved away from buying. Some because I realized they were pretty unhealthy. Some because I just couldn’t justify the price. Some because they didn’t get eaten up and there would be waste. In eliminating some of these things, it makes room for healthier options. Here are some things I quit buying - or have limited greatly.

1)    Fruit snacks. When the kids were small, Gerber had a version of fruit snacks that were billed as healthy. Once the kids were hooked, I bought other brands. It had the word fruit in it. It had to be healthy, right? And I think it was a comment from a dentist about how terrible they are for kids’ teeth that made me think twice about buying them regularly. The youngest is now a teen and I haven’t bought them regularly in years, but once in a while they’ll end up with a package and they still inhale them if they are available.

2) Pudding cups. This is something I often bought for a convenient lunchbox item. I figured they had milk and had calcium. But really, they have a good amount of added sugar and artificial flavors and no significant nutritional value.

3) Kool-aid. I always would keep a pitcher of fruit punch or lemonade or cherry kool-aid in the fridge. It was something I liked as a kid, but we never had (because all my dad would drink was iced tea). My friends always did. I guess I thought it was just something that was supposed to be in a household that had kids. Yuck. Who needs all that sugar? My kids all primarily drink water, so they didn’t miss it. I’d often end up dumping a partial pitcher after it has sat in the fridge for several days. I don’t miss it either.

4) Pop. If you’re a Midwesterner, you know what pop is. If not, you might call it a soda.
I don’t miss kool-aid, but I do miss pop. Coke, in particular. Although we always had Pepsi with pizza as kids, I have come to prefer Coca-Cola. Don’t tell my Dad. He’s still a Pepsi die-hard. Anyway, I try not to buy it and have it at home because I know I’ll drink it. 2 of my five boys don’t really even drink pop anymore. The others will drink it if it’s there. If we are having pizza, I have to have pop with it. Otherwise, I don’t buy it anymore. I limit my pop consumption to if I am dining out or hitting a drive-thru.

5) Ice cream treats. I don’t miss these. The rest of the family does so once in a while I’ll get a box of ice cream sandwiches from the Schwan’s truck or some sundae cones or a half-gallon of ice cream. But it’s now a rare treat. I use to keep the freezer stocked with ice cream all summer long. We’re fine without it.

6) White bread. I prefer wheat bread, but a couple of the boys don’t like the texture. I get whole-grain white for them. I always look at ingredients for whole grain flour as an ingredient rather than enriched flour. When I was borderline gestational diabetes with the last three pregnancies, I started paying more attention to carbs and limiting them. I am a big bread fan, so I at least try to make sure it’s got whole grains as often as I can.

7) Doritos, Cheetos, Bugles. I am a fan of salty treats. I love chips. I like pretzels. But other snack chips have so much artificial yucky stuff that has absolutely nothing good and lots of bad. So do chips, I know. And pretzels aren’t so great, either. Baby steps.

8) Fruit juice. When my first one was a baby, fruit juice was recommended. Not long after he had rice cereal, we added in a few ounces of apple or pear or a fruit blend. And that was at the advice of the pediatrician. Now we know better. And anyway I prefer to eat my fruit rather than drink it. With the exception of orange juice with breakfast a couple times a month and an occasional bottle of apple juice when there’s a good sale, fruit juice is out. Just more sugar and calories than needed and no one misses it. I love that they all prefer water.

9) Granola bars. I haven’t quit buying these entirely, but I now purchase on occasion rather than by the case like i used to. Granola is good for you - but when you add a ton of sugar and maybe coat it in sugar, not so much.

10) Yogurt. I can’t believe how hard it is to find yogurt that doesn’t have artificial sweetener. I avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs and don’t buy anything that contains them - unless it’s by accident. My husband is bothered by them and says he has trouble sleeping after he consumes artificial sweeteners. I don’t like the after taste. And there’s those pesky cancer links that have been suggested. So, why risk it? If I’m going to have something sweet, I’ll go with real sugar, thank you very much.

11) Prepared frozen stuff. Chicken nuggets. Fish sticks. Frozen pizza. Pizza rolls. I used to keep this stuff on hand so that the kids had something quick they could make themselves. But really, it’s way better to teach them to prepare real meals. And all of that processed food is just bad news. On occasion if I find it for a good price I’ll get a box of Hot Pockets or a Pizza, but it’s like a rare treat now rather than something that is always stocked int he freezer.

12) Pop tarts. Are they yummy? Yes. Are they filled with unrecognizable ingredients and loads of sugar? Yes. Out they go. Once in a while, upon request, I’ll get toaster strudel. Not much better, but it’s a once-in-a-couple months purchase.

13) American Cheese. As many kids of my generation, we ate up those orange slices that were individually wrapped in plastic, thinking they were a natural cheese that was wholesome and good for you. Yeah, not so much. In adulthood I learned the reality that it’s processed stuff that legally can’t be called “cheese” on the label. It has to be labeled as “processed cheese” or “cheese food.” That make it quite a bit less appealing.

What I do buy:

These days I buy more fresh stuff. Or we grow a lot in our garden in the summer. I usually have a bowl of fruit on the counter with apples, bananas and tangerines. Sometimes it is slow in being emptied, but I make sure it’s available.

Since I don’t really buy much in the way of sweets, I once in a while bake a batch of brownies and we do still buy cookies weekly — mostly because it because it's a Saturday night tradition to watch a scary or ridiculous B-movie and eat milk and cookies while viewing it. The kids are now teens and so scattered that we don’t all sit down and watch the movies like we used to, but Saturday night is still cookie night. I get store-bought cookies but they stay unopened in the pantry until Saturday night. Graham crackers are always on hand, which the kids like to have with peanut butter and it’s a better option if they are looking for something sweet.

Bottled water. I do hate the waste of the plastic bottles and have gotten a couple boys to transition to re-usable bottles, but I do like that they all drink water all day every day. At home, I encourage using the tap water, but they’re running so much and they all like to keep a bottle of water handy.

I try to keep a jar of pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese on hand. And I always have flour tortillas in the fridge. I make mini homemade pizzas once a week or more as a quick meal or after-school snack. Sometimes some mushrooms, spinach or pepperoni are added. I also like to get naan or French rolls for a base. It’s better than getting frozen pizzas - you can customize for each person and minimize the cheese and meat. But it’s still satisfying.

Nuts. Instead of salty chips, there’s always a container of peanuts. Sometimes cashews or pistachios. And I get pecans (although often candied pecans) to add to salads.

Avocados. I love avocado toast and try to always keep one on hand for this. Or I make a little bowl of homemade salsa and throw some in. Or add it to a sandwich.

Boiled eggs. I love boiled eggs. I HATE peeling them. Now that you can purchase them already boiled and peeled, I usually keep a pack in the fridge. Sometimes I’ll have one for breakfast or a snack and they’re great to add to salads or sandwiches.

Cereal. The kids have always been big cereal eaters. Even when my husband or I make eggs or  pancakes, they prefer cereal. Since they were little, many cereals have now gone to being made in whole-grain versions, so I do look at labels and aim to get those. I go for lightly sugared-stuff as much as I can. When I do grab a box of Cocoa Pebbles or Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Captain Crunch on a whim - it’s gone the same day.