SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND - Women used to buying cheap and unhealthy foods are relearning how to grocery shop by participating in store tours that encourage them to take a healthier approach to buying food.
Processed foods are often the most inexpensive choice on the store shelf, but they are typically filled with sodium, sugar and saturated fat, ingredients that can lead to obesity and chronic diseases. Many low-income families tend to buy these foods because they seem more affordable than fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grain products.
Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to ending global hunger and poverty, is behind the Grocery Store Tour.
The first lesson nutrition educator Lindsey Seegers teaches shoppers who want to eat well and lead healthier lives is to plan their meals and decide what they need to buy before going to the store.
"They need to know how to come to the store with $10 and be able to get food for more than a day, more than two days, especially when you have a family," she said.
Tia Taylor recently took the grocery tour with four other women who live on a tight budget.
"This is a free program that’s offered that will have a long-term benefit," said Taylor. "One of the main things that I learned is really paying attention to the unit price. Also frozen food, I use a lot of frozen food. So I was glad to hear Lindsey talked about that and the nutritional value of the frozen food."
A lesson from soup to nuts
Seegers’ organization, Manna Food Center, is partnering with Share Our Strength in running these tours. Seegers gives them three or four times a week.
The tour begins in the fresh fruit and vegetable section of a local grocery store, where participants learn how to compare unit prices and get the best deal. They also learn that vegetables and fruits come in many forms, whether fresh, frozen or canned, and the pros and cons of each.
Seegers explains the benefits of whole grain foods. She shows her group how to find and carefully read the nutritional labels on the packages.
"People are very confused looking at the front of the label," she pointed out. "The label sometimes that might say 'multigrain' or 'contain full grains' is in fact an item that’s primarily white flour. For someone who is diabetic, that makes a huge difference to their health."
Limit sugar, sodium and saturated fat
For a better diet, Seegers says, shoppers should pay more attention to the products that contain sugar, sodium and saturated fats, and avoid them whenever possible.
Taking the tour helped Tina Pawlik change her eating habits.
"I was eating a lot of pasta but found out that you don’t have to eat pasta to stay on a budget," Pawlik said. "I was eating pasta because it was cheap. I thought it was impossible to get healthy food on a small budget."
But after learning some shopping skills, she and the other participants know it actually is possible, with better choices at the grocery store.