10 Simple Tips for Shopping in the Produce Isle

In the beginning, one of the most intimidating parts of eating paleo was navigating the produce isle.  Not everything is clearly labeled, I couldn’t tell what was fresh and what wasn’t, or what was a good deal and what wasn’t.  For a few weeks, it was like visiting another planet.  So I wanted to put together a list of things I learned, that I hope will help some of you.

1. Avocados are like friends.  It’s important to pick the right ones.  I’ve written a post about this – click here 🙂

2. Cauliflower is usually sold by the head, not per pound – so be sure to pick the biggest one and get your money’s worth.   Also, the price varies greatly from store to store.  I’ve seen it as low at $2.29/head or as high as $4.99/head.  Do a little shopping around and you can save a lot of money on this very versatile veggie.  Don’t bother with the bagged, pre-cut stuff; you will be sacrificing taste for minimal connivence.

3. Red Cabbage is very versatile and cheap!  Learn to love it.  Use it in a brunch sauté with bacon and sausage.  Add it to mixed greens to bulk up a salad.  It’s great on it’s own with most types of white fish or crab, dressed in lemon juice.  I also use it to add bulk to my chili, in place of beans.

IMG_51974. Be very, very picky about greens.  Nothing ruins everything like bad greens.  Make sure they are fresh and perky.  Plan to eat them within 3 days of purchase.  It’s worth an extra trip to the store in the middle of the week to make sure you are eating the freshest possible greens, as opposed to something that’s on it’s way to slime-ville.  Bagged isn’t always best – branch out and try the fresh, whole varieties.  They are usually cheaper and have better flavor.  Also, iceberg lettuce is not worth your time. Try other varieties – arugala, spinach, kale, red leaf, romaine, endive, etc.  They really all have distinct flavors that effect the composition of a salad.  Learn about them, find the ones you like, use them.  And think beyond salads – many greens can be sautéed, grilled, or roasted, which might make it easier for you to add them to your diet.  Try making this kale, sweet potato and chorizo hash – it’s one of the most popular links on my blog.  Or add dark greens to your eggs with this frittata recipe.  (My all time favorite green it arugala.  The season it’s grown in effects it’s taste, but at it’s best it tastes like pepper and stands up really well to red meat.)

5. Fresh citrus (i.e.. lemons and limes) is cheap and makes nearly everything better.  Always have 2 pieces on hand, to cut and squeeze over a salad, chicken, fish, mixed fruit, guacamole, veggies, make a dressing, etc.  You can also use the zest, so they really do double duty.  Cirtus is also a great addition to most desserts; the acid in the juice will bring out the natural sweetness of the other ingredients… which means you won’t miss the sugar as much! Storage tip: citrus does not need to be refrigeated!

6. Not always, but often, what’s in season is what’s on sale because there is an abundance of it.  Buy that and figure out what to make with it later.  A great example of this is fresh berries.  In my area, when the store gets a large shipment, a certain variety of berry might go on sale for 2 packs for $5.00, while the other varieties stay at regular price.  I’ve learned to just go with the sale variety and I don’t buy berries unless they are on sale.  Pay attention to those types of trends and try to stay flexible.

7.  Fresh cilantro is cheap and packs a lot of flavor.  I buy a bunch at least once a week.  Chop it up fine and put it over eggs, avocado, chicken, salads, shrimp, etc.  I know it’s not for everyone… my dad insists it tastes like dish soap, but I love the flavor.  Hopefully you can learn to love it too!  If not, parsley and green onions are also two ingredients that add lots of flavor for very little cost.

8.  With a few obvious exceptions.. You don’t always have to buy the whole bag.  Only need a few grapes, and don’t want to snack on the rest?  Only buy what you need.  The same goes for cherries, green beans, brussel sprouts, apples, etc.  Often those plastic bags in the display are just a marketing trick.  Even bananas – if you don’t need a whole bunch, don’t buy it!  Just take one.  Most stores will happily sell you any kind of produce by weight, and that means less cost and less waste for you.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

9.  Use Google in the store.  Don’t be ashamed.  Buying something when it’s at it’s peak freshness is important because it’s more likely you will enjoy it!  That’s the cool thing about technology.  If you don’t know how to tell if something is fresh or not (or aren’t even sure what it looks like), google it.  You can get detailed instructions on how to pick out the best pears, avocados, etc.  I challenged myself to buy one ingredient each week that I was unfamiliar with and figure out a way to cook it.  Through this experiment, I tried fresh brussel sprouts, jicama, celery root, collard greens and parsnips for the first time (to name a few).  It became a game and I learned a lot!  Thanks Google 🙂

10.  Go to the store often, so you are cooking with the best quality product.  I’ve touched on this throughout this list, but I can’t stress enough how important it is learn to eat food when it is fresh.  You will enjoy it so much more.  Some items last longer than others.  When you stick to the produce section and meat counter and don’t need to wind your way through every isle, grocery trips become very quick, so there’s no reason why you can’t do two in one week.  Getting the salad mix and tomatoes for Thursday night’s dinner that day on your lunch break, instead of on Saturday the last time you went to the store, will be worth it.  A little extra effort goes a long way to making these eating habits enjoyable.

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