Fresh Strawberries

As part of an already hectic schedule, grocery shopping can overwhelm many parents. Just one look at the wall of boxes in the cereal aisle is enough to make even the most ambitious mom want to run out of the store with an empty cart!

But there’s good news: Choosing food for your family doesn’t have to be so challenging. With a few tools and some basic information, you can grocery shop with confidence again.

Below are some criteria to help you select healthy foods for your family. Take a good look at these before heading to the store, so you have all the information you need when you arrive. After awhile, you’ll become familiar with foods and brands that fit these guidelines, at which point shopping will be a breeze.

Minimal ingredients – Some packaged foods are loaded with unidentifiable ingredients, or more ingredients than are necessary to produce a wholesome food. Make a habit of reading Nutrition Facts Labels and ingredients lists so you can get a better sense of what you’re eating. When faced with the choice between a box of crackers with 15 ingredients and one with three, choose the latter.

USDA Organic seal – Organic food is better for your family and better for the environment. Buying foods and other products with the green USDA Organic seal not only provides your family with a higher quality product, it also allows you to show your support for sustainable farming. Each organic purchase is, in a way, “voting” for a better food system.

Real fruits & vegetables – When choosing juice, yogurt, cereal bars, baby food pouches, prepared meals, etc., choose varieties that contain real fruit and vegetable purees or juices, rather than just powders or flavorings. This way, snack and meal times become opportunities to get more good nutrients into your kids.

Natural coloring – Artificial colors have been shown to increase hyperactivity in some kids, and can cause other unpleasant, easily avoidable side effects. Choose foods that are naturally colored (with fruit and vegetable concentrates or juices) or that have no added coloring at all.

Natural flavors – With so many delicious natural flavors in the world, why buy food that was flavored in a chemistry lab? Artificial flavors are unnecessary, and may be specifically created to appeal to children’s preferences for sweet, salty and fatty tastes. Instead, choose naturally flavored food so your children can enjoy something real rather than fake.

In season – When choosing fruits and vegetables, buy what’s in season. Doing so ensures that your food has optimal taste and nutritional value. It also benefits the environment and local economy, since it didn’t travel across the world to get to your plate.

100% whole grain – Many grain-based foods are labeled with statements like “Now made with whole grains!” or “20 grams of whole grain in each serving!” But these don’t mean much. Instead, look for the phrase “100% whole grain” or make sure that the first item listed in the ingredients is a whole grain like whole wheat, oats, corn, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, etc.