Simple switches at the supermarket
It's often the case that when we decide to make changes to our diet and lifestyle, we want to change everything in one, extreme health-altering swoop to get the results we want. But this can be overwhelming, unrealistic and difficult to stick to.
I'm a big fan of small changes. After all, one small tweak a day adds up. That's 7 changes a week, 7 sustainable, conscious improvements that can make a real difference to how you feel, function and approach food.
Small changes can also be more mindful. By focusing on adding an extra piece of veg to your evening meal, or making the time to prepare a meal from scratch, you become increasingly aware of how you approach food, and how you feel with each change.
So, in the spirit of celebrating the small (but not insignificant) wins, here are some simple switches you can make at the supermarket. If it feels too much to do them all at once, spread them out over your next few shops.
ADD AN EXTRA PIECE OF VEG TO YOUR BASKET
And commit to including it in a meal that day. Extra points for choosing something you wouldn't normally go for. This can open you up to new flavours, textures and adventurous cooking - all important for providing colour and variety to your diet.
Build on this every time you shop - soon you'll notice that your basket is looking much greener (and redder, purpler and oranger….) The more colours, the more antioxidants and nutrients you'll be consuming, the better.
GO FOR WHOLEGRAINS
Switch your rice, pasta and bread for wholegrain varieties. This will increase your intake of fibre as well as the vitamins and minerals that are stripped away when grains are refined (ie. made white). Be adventurous with grains too: pearl barley is great for risottos, buckwheat flour makes killer pancakes and quinoa is a delicious (and highly nutritious) alternative to rice if you fancy switching things up.
A note on bread: look at the ingredients! Food packaging can be deceptive - even if things are labelled as 'healthy' they can contain lots of additives, preservatives and flavourings that don't live up to the name on the packet. If the list of ingredients is long, contains things you don't recognise as foods (eg. e-numbers, hydrogenated oils and sweeteners) then opt for something simpler. Breads often contain preservatives to extend their shelf life, but buying fresh, minimally processed, wholegrain bread and freezing it, is a much healthier (and tastier) option.
MAKE YOUR OWN
If you tend to go for ready made pasta sauces, granolas or pizzas, ditch the packaged versions and try making your own. This will mean being prepared with a list of ingredients you'll need, but it doesn't have to be complicated. For pasta sauces, make tinned tomatoes/passata, onions and garlic staples on your list as the foundations then add extra veg and/or meat. If granola's your thing, buy oats, nuts, seeds and coconut oil and then add extras like coconut flakes or dried fruit according to your preference.
Not only will you save money by cooking from scratch, but you'll also be getting the benefits of fresh foods without any hidden, less desirable ingredients. You'll also feel more engaged and connected with the food you have made, which can make eating it all the more enjoyable.
'Going organic' is one of those changes which can be the most overwhelming and unrealistic for many people. But knowing which foods to prioritise as organic can make it a more manageable change to make if you can't go all the way.
If you buy animal products, it's always worth opting for organic and free range - not only to reduce your exposure to pesticides and antibiotics in intensively farmed animals, but also ethically to ensure that animals have lived happier lives with higher welfare standards.
Certain fruit and vegetables absorb more pesticides than others, and it's these that are worth prioritising as organic. The Clean Fifteen and The Dirty Dozen list is a good guide (although created by the Environmental Working Group in the US, it can still be applied to UK produce).
When choosing organic products, look for the Soil Association stamp to ensure that foods meet the UK's organic standards.
Applying the principles of small changes to your weekly shop can make a big difference to the way you and your family eats and feels. And making these switches can be fun - it can introduce new recipes, help you discover different foods and even make you look forward to food shopping in a new, more adventurous way.