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Healthy Town: Give your kitchen cupboards a health makeover

Dr Marian O’Reilly, chief specialist in nutrition at Safefood, shares sage advice on how planning the weekly shop can improve your diet, lifestyle and social life

Despite having all manner of mod cons to help us with our daily chores, one of the biggest complaints amongst adults today is that they don’t have enough time – to relax, catch up with friends, exercise and, crucially, to prepare a meal from scratch.

But as with everything in life, a little bit of planning goes a long way. Whether you live alone, with a partner or with a busy house full of children, taking the time to organise a healthy weekly shop and meal plan will not only save time in the long run but will improve your diet, lifestyle and ultimately your health.

During the Pfizer Healthy Town Programme, Wexford residents will be encouraged to think about what they put in their shopping basket, aim to reduce processed food and increase the amount of fresh produce they buy.

1. Look at the long-term effects 

Dr Marian O’Reilly, chief specialist in nutrition at Safefood says we all need to strike the right balance between giving our bodies enough food and making sure it’s not too much.

“While it’s a well-known phrase, it still rings true that food is fuel for our bodies,” she says. “Having a good diet provides us with the right amount of nutrients that our bodies need to function at its best. On the other hand, a poor diet will provide us with some nutrients but not others. And while we’ll still function, we may not feel as good as we could. Looking at it more long term, if we continue to eat a poor diet, we’re at increased risk of nutrient deficiencies and diet-related diseases such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

We keep on saying it but we need to eat more fruit and vegetables every day – in fact, ideally, half the food on your plate should be made up of fruit and veg

2. Treat yourself to some more vegetables

“We keep on saying it but we need to eat more fruit and vegetables every day – in fact, ideally, half the food on your plate should be made up of fruit and veg. We know from research that the average weekly family food shop spends more [19 per cent] on highly processed “treat” foods like crisps, chocolates and sweets than it does on fruit [10 per cent] and vegetables [7per cent] so we need to rebalance that.”

3. Make a list

The expert says reading and understanding labels is key to making healthier and better value food choices.

“It’s important to make a list and try to stick to it,” she says. “The ‘special offers’ can be tempting but are frequently for less healthy foods which we end up eating. So if you need to buy treats, choose a few mini-versions instead. And getting to know more about food labels can really help when you’re comparing like-for-like products to choose a healthier version of it. Also try not to shop on an empty stomach or when you’re tired.

4. Prepare healthy bites for the kids

When shopping with children talk to them in advance about what they’ll be allowed to have so they know what to expect – you could even bring some chopped fruit or popcorn with you for the journey so they won’t be hungry in the shop.

5. Save money by shopping own-brand

“It’s good to note that many supermarket own-brand foods are cheaper than branded varieties and the quality is normally as good so try to learn more about food labels so you can compare brands for salt, fat and sugar levels.”

Dr O’Reilly says while special offers may save money, they can end up as wasted food in your brown bin or unhealthy foods that you don’t need. So plan ahead and if you are cooking for one, try to make something which will last a few days or can be frozen into portions.

“Many supermarkets will discount more perishable foods near the end of their use-by date which can be a saving but remember to check the dates,” she says. “If it’s feasible for you, try to shop around as that can save you money on your groceries.

6. Single? Save time and waste by cooking a one-pot wonder

“If cooking for one, aim to make a meal plan as this helps with your shopping needs and budgeting and also ensures you have all you need at home. Cooking one-pot recipes usually involve less preparation (and less clean-up afterwards). Portions from one-pot dishes like a beef stew or chicken casserole can also be frozen to be reused at a later date. And using leftovers is a good way to make the most of what you cook and helps to cut down on waste. For example, cooking extra chicken for dinner and using leftovers for lunch the next day.

7. Stock up cupboard essentials

“And having those cupboard essentials like tinned veg, rice, pasta and tinned fish means you have the basis of a quick and tasty meal when you might not be in the mood to cook.”

“Having a store cupboard of non-perishable foods like rice, pasta, couscous, noodles etc can help form the basis of many family meals.

“Also having foods like tinned fruits and vegetables (like tomatoes and sweetcorn), beans and peas as well as tinned fish builds on cupboard essentials.

8. Be adventurous with spices and herbs 

“Having flavourings in your cupboard like tomato puree, soy sauce, pepper, dried herbs and spices can help you create family favourite meals like pasta with tomato sauce with meat and vegetables; or stir fries with noodles, some frozen vegetables and your favourite meat or fish.”

For more information visit www.safefood.ie
For more on Healthy Town, see www.facebook.com/HealthyTownIreland