Ask a Dietitian: Navigating the Grocery Store Webinar Blog
On January 26, 2021, Ophea hosted a webinar about making wise choices while grocery shopping. The hour-long overview offered answers about grocery shopping questions, such as ‘what are the best buys in each section of the store?’ and ‘how do I read nutrition labels?' The purpose of this webinar was to discuss navigating the grocery store for your personal health and well-being.
What we shop for dictates the meals and snacks we’ll eat all week long, so it’s important to be educated about making the best decisions for your health, and your wallet. This session was an open Q-and-A format with a dietitian, who tried to answer as many questions as possible, so viewers left feeling educated, inspired and empowered.
We would like to thank The Helderleigh Foundation for their partnership on this webinar, as well as our co-presenters:
- Andrea Haefele is a Health & Physical Education teacher in the York Region District School Board and currently seconded as a curriculum consultant with Ophea
- Cara Rosenbloom RD is a Toronto-based dietitian, freelance writer and co-author of the books Nourish and Food to Grow On
Navigating the grocery store
We all head into the store with a different list of priorities. People may choose groceries based on a mix of taste, convenience, cost and health value, and that looks different for everyone. This webinar puts health at the forefront, while keeping the importance of cost, taste and convenience in mind.
Here is a quick overview of how to fill your grocery cart:
Choose most: When putting health first, grocery carts are largely filled with whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, lean meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. This helps shoppers create meals and snacks to match the healthy pattern in the Eat Well Plate of Canada’s Food Guide.
Choose some: There are many foods that are minimally processed, and help shoppers balance convenience, taste and nutrition. Nutritious minimally-processed foods include canned beans or fish, fresh baked bread, cheese, and salted seeds or nuts.
Choose few: Ultra-processed foods are the next category to explore, and include highly processed items such as hotdogs, chicken nuggets, salty snacks, candy, soda, pastries and boxed mac and cheese. These are great for taste and convenience, but not as good for health, because they are high in salt, fat, sugar, fillers, additives and/or preservatives. Enjoy these as treats rather than three-meals-a-day staples.
Reading Nutrition Facts
All packaged foods must bear an ingredient list and Nutrition Facts panel, which can help you make informed choices when you shop. When reading Nutrition Facts panels, remember to:
- Check the serving size at the top. All of the information on the panel is for that specific serving size, so if you eat double that amount, you’ll need to do some math!
- Aim to get more protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals
- Aim to get less sodium and no trans fat
Watch the webinar on YouTube to hear Cara walk through all of the components on the full Nutrition Facts panel.
Vegetables and Fruit
When you’re in this area of the store, stock up on a wide array of options from all colours of the rainbow. And feel free to explore the canned and frozen fruits and vegetables too – buy what is affordable and will last longest for you. Studies show that frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables. 
Canned vegetables are good too, but aim to buy no-salt-added options, or rinse them well if they are packed in salt. Check out the YouTube webinar for further tips on vegetables and fruit, including how to prepare vegetables to retain the most nutrients, and whether juice is a nutritious option.
Fresh bread, where the main ingredients are flour, water, yeast and salt, are preferred over the ultra-processed bread that contains upward of 20 ingredients and many preservatives. While the latter lasts longer, you can easily preserve fresh bread by storing it in the freezer and defrosting as needed. Choose whole grain breads for the benefits of more fibre, minerals and antioxidants.
Gluten-free breads are available for people who have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. They are not “healthier” breads for the average shopper – they are specifically meant to serve those with a medical need to avoid gluten.
Fresh meat, poultry and fish
There are many protein-rich options to choose from, whether fresh, frozen or canned. Watch the webinar to learn more about hormones and antibiotics in Canadian chicken, pork, meat, dairy and eggs. The key takeaway? Canadian food is well-monitored and safe to eat, and there are both conventional and organic options to choose from based on your preference and budget.
There are many minimally processed foods that can add variety to your shopping cart, and still be nutritious. Peruse the aisles for canned beans and fish, bags of pasta or rice, cooking oils, and other daily staples. A few viewers were specifically curious about which oil to choose, and Cara recommended any oil that’s higher in monounsaturated fats (such as olive or avocado oil) or omega-3 fats (such as flax oil on salads).
When shopping for packages, don’t be fooled into thinking that the term “organic” means that a product is healthy. Organic is simply a method of farming. Food bearing an organic logo must follow a specific set of government rules, but foods made from organic ingredients aren’t necessarily healthy. Remember: a cookie made from organic flour and organic sugar is still a cookie!
Finally, remember that there are many nutritious foods you can choose from, and those choices depend on your taste buds, cooking skills, disposable income and other variables. If you make wise choices at the grocery store, then your daily meals and snacks will be nutritious too.
Dietitians of Canada’s Unlock Food website offers these articles:
Missed the first two webinars of the Ask a Dietitian series? Check out the blogs for key take aways and links to the recordings!
- Ask a Dietitian: Explore Nutrition Facts and the H&PE Curriculum Webinar Blog
- Ask a Dietitian: Supporting Educator Nutrition and Well-being Webinar Blog
To stay up-to-date on Ophea professional learning offerings, resources, and supports sign up for Ophea’s e-newsletter eConnection.