It happened unexpectedly last Wednesday. I was walking outside, and all of a sudden, I got that distinct sense that fall is coming. The air was crisp, with the familiar smell of fall, and the afternoon sun was noticeably lower in the sky. As university employees, this is an exciting time of year. Students will be back soon, and we’ll get in the routine of another semester.

Even though most of us are no longer students, the start of the school year is a great time to reestablish healthy habits. One of those habits that I always recommend is setting aside a designated time each week to meal plan, grocery shop, and if time allows, prep some items such as cutting/cleaning vegetables, making sauces, or measuring dried spices. You don’t have to plan out every entree, side, beverage, and dessert, but taking even 10 minutes before you shop to think about your dinners for the week can be incredibly helpful. For more about meal planning, check out my previous blog post That’s the Plan.

Today, however, I wanted to share a few grocery shopping tips from the book, Slim by Design by Brian Wansink, PhD. I read this book about a year ago (see Environment Trumps Willpower) but I was recently skimming through it again and found this quote:

 “Our best and worst eating habits start in the grocery store.”

Maybe it’s because I made the rookie mistake last week to go grocery shopping when I was hungry, but this quote really resonated with me. It sounds so simple; what you have available your kitchen determines the quality of your diet. When we buy junk food, we eat junk food. When we buy healthy foods, we eat healthy foods. Or at least, the probability that we’ll eat healthy foods increases! It’s difficult to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day if we don’t even have 5 servings available and accessible to us. So what can we do while we’re at the grocery store to increase those good eating habits? Here are my two favorite strategies from Wansink:

  1. Divide your cart in half. One half is designated for fruits and vegetables only; the other half is for everything else. When researchers added a dividing line, along with a sign explaining the “rule” to shopping carts at a few supermarkets in Virginia and Canada, shoppers spent twice as much money on fruits and veggies. Most of us fill our carts about ¼ full with fruits and veggies, but adding that dividing line made ½ a cart of produce seem more appropriate to shoppers. Categorizing purchases also made people take pause and consider their food choices. Put this suggestion into action by dividing your cart in half using a purse, coat, reusable shopping bags, or whatever other item you might be carrying with you. If it’s a smaller shopping trip, you can use one of the small double decker carts, putting fruits and veggies only in the top basket, and everything else in the bottom basket.
  2. Linger in the produce section. The more time you spend in an aisle, the more money you will spend on the items in that aisle. Wansink’s research team found this to be true for shoppers regardless of the type of items in the aisle. So, sprint through some of those junk food aisles (or avoid them completely), and dawdle in the displays of fruits and veggies.

I’m really into strategies like these; strategies that help us eat better without a huge effort on our part. These type of behavioral strategies can really set us up for success. Give them a try during your next trip to the grocery store—I hope I find you loitering around some vegetables as you fill up half your cart with healthy, delicious food!


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