“Our goal today is to find ways to improve what you’ve already got,” said Chef Liz Barbour, of The Creative Feast in Nashua, as she reached into my shopping cart at Market Basket.
I told her that I am a lame food shopper.
“Well, we’re going to change that,” she said.
I recently volunteered to participate in “Shopping with a Chef,” Barbour’s newest program, during which she lends suggestions for making healthier choices in a supermarket and how to apply them in the kitchen. For $100, you can get a 90 minute tour of your grocery story.
“I think the problem is that people know they have to improve their diet but they are just not sure where they do it,” she said. Program participants leave the supermarket not only with a full cart and a handful of quick-preparation recipes along but also with the confidence to recreate them at home. The recipes given to me by Barbour were for red sauce, spaghetti squash, salmon with a dill mustard sauce, asparagus and an apple tart.
The first thing she pulled from my cart was a box of Special K. While Barbour noted that grains and protein are important for the first meal of the day, she said that the goal to have a balanced breakfast to keep you full until your morning snack. Oatmeal, she said, is a perfect breakfast choice.
Taking a look at the nutrition facts, Barbour made me second-guess the healthiness of my purchase: the first three ingredients listed were rice, wheat gluten and sugar. Barbour said the first ingredient of the healthiest carbohydrates should be whole grain. I kept the cereal but later swapped my wheat bread for a whole-grain variety — and actually liked it better.
“When wheat grain is processed, the bran is gone; that is where the fibers and nutrients are,” Barbour said.
While digging through my cart, Barbour told me that too much sodium or sugar alters your natural palate.
My one percent milk got the seal of approval but Barbour said if I ever want to look at reducing the fat in my diet, I could easily switch to skim. Another one of my dairy selections, Dannon Light ’n’ Fit yogurt, however, was not as good a choice as it contains fructose and aspartame and is fortified with vitamins.
“You need to be suspicious when they are adding vitamins in,” Barbour said. “What happened to the initial vitamins? Where did they go?”
Barbour also told me there were stabilizers added to my roasted red pepper hummus to keep it from going bad.
“How do you cut those out?” Barbour asked. “You would have to make your own hummus.”
My apples and bag of mixed spring greens and spinach and box of cherry tomatoes got a thumbs up. “Tomatoes are a superfood,” Barbour said. “They’re really, really good for you.”
Later in the day, Barbour noted other “superfoods” as blueberries, mushrooms, onions, squash, cabbage, peas and legumes.
My bourbon deli turkey and cheddar cheese got mixed reactions from Barbour. The cheddar, she said, is more natural than American cheese but she is still looking into what processing does to cheese. She suggested I start using roasted turkey, as I would not know what exactly my deli turkey was infused with to give it extra flavor. “Maybe have less deli sandwiches and more vegetarian sandwiches,” she said, adding that she opts to use Canadian bacon instead of ham because it’s leaner.
We began our hour-long store tour in the perimeter of the store, which Barbour said holds the healthiest, least processed products and is where most groceries should be purchased from. She also suggested writing a preparation sheet, a list of all recipes and necessary ingredients and equipment, to shop more efficiently.
Barbour walked me through portion control as we made our way through the meat section of the store. When looking at a dinner plate, half of it should be vegetables — salad counts! — and one-fourth of it should be protein, an amount the size of a deck of cards, or the size of the back of your hand when making a fist.
“Improving your diet can happen in steps,” she said.
To better regulate portion control, Barbour also suggested plating the dinner in the kitchen so people have to work to get more food.
The idea for such a program was inspired by students in Barbour’s cooking classes, as they often ask what they should buy.
“They want me to just tell them what to do … they say ‘Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it,’” she said. “I tried to find a way for you to absorb the information and get you excited to do stuff on your own. That’s what I’m hoping this will do.”