Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bananas for My Shopping List

I usually shop with at least one kid, with the ever-present threat of a breakdown looming over our cart. The 4 year old is alternately asking for a toy car and being drawn to the multitude of kid-targeted products. The 1½ year old is usually trying to worm out of the seat or grab products to chew on. Last weekend we had a typical shopping trip. My son wandered away looking for samples while my daughter played a game of drop it with items from the shelf. About 8 minutes in to the experience, somewhere around the bananas, I lost the ability to concentrate.
One thing that helps me focus under these adverse circumstances is using a shopping list. It saves time and money, and results in healthier choices. Since we don’t often sit down and plan our menus, I created a generic shopping list based on what we eat and drink on an average week. Here’s how I did it:
  • We figured out what major meal types we make in an average week. For example, once a week we have burritos, pasta, fish with rice, etc. It was interesting (and a little sad) to see that we tend to make variations of the same meal consistently.
  • I listed out all the snacks, lunch foods, and drinks I like to have on hand.
  • I downloaded a generic grocery list in Microsoft WORD, and then modified it with the products I usually buy, making sure there were ingredients for the major meal types and snacks. Oddly enough mine has a lot more whole grains than the template I found...
  • I put the products in order of the aisles in the store where I usually shop to avoid the last minute jog across the store with antsy kids.
  • I printed out 10 copies and put them in various places so I’d have one handy (purse, car, jacket pocket, shopping bag stash).
  • Before going in to the store, I review the list using different colors and symbols for different shopping trips because I reuse the sheets. Clearly.
Most recent list
Another option is downloading an app on your phone — I’m a late adopter of technology so haven’t yet explored this option. I’ll confess that I only recently went from a flip phone to a smart phone…
Why does this work better than just going in with a vague idea of what I want? Shocking news: many products in the store are not healthy. When I’m tired, hungry, distracted, or don’t have a plan, I’m more susceptible to my own inner yearning for junk food. Maybe I’ll grab a candy bar simply because I’m surrounded by them in the check-out lane. Or maybe I’ve made it through the cookie aisle safely, only to be tempted by cookies placed near the milk. This is what experts call “behavioral economics” — a theory that our choices are affected by many factors such as price, appearance, convenience, information, state of mind, habit, and expectations. In public health, we’re trying to make sure healthy foods are the ones that sell by putting them in the prime areas. The best example of this work is in schools to create Smarter Lunchrooms. I hope we’ll see the same attention devoted to designing grocery and convenient stores that help people choose healthier foods. Some stores have adopted healthy check-out aisles, for example — this is a nice option for families whose kids (and adults) want to buy candy at the last minute. For now, I will keep using my old school shopping list to help fend off the unhealthy foods when my concentration is compromised.

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