When did grocery shopping get so complicated?

groceries | kourtney thomas

Sometimes, I walk into the grocery store and find myself wandering. I’ve got my little cart, I’ve got a list, and still, I end up meandering through the produce section thinking to myself, “This is way more complicated than it should be.”

Have you ever felt that way?

It seems like this should be such a simple thing – go to the store, buy food for yourself and your family. Over the years though, it has become increasingly stressful. With increased pressure to shop in certain stores – or not, to buy certain food – or not, and to feed yourself and your family in highly specific ways, the modest act of grocery shopping has become much more of a burden.

I can remember when I first started changing my food purchasing habits. I read an article on the Internet, as one does, and all of a sudden, I panicked. I had to start doing everything different. I couldn’t eat a single thing that might be on “The Dirty Dozen” list. Everything needed to be organic, grass fed, or non-GMO in order to be healthy. I mean – dare I even think it! – would eating conventional spinach be acceptable? Especially as a wellness professional?

It took me quite some time to sort through all the information out there, and the rhetoric. Because certainly, part of the problem is that we’re bombarded with an overload of data, evidence and research for this, facts and statistics to support that. Before we know it, we’re totally overwhelmed and too frozen to make any decisions at all. Food is hard to figure out in the first place, but add in all this other pressure from media, blogs, and social media, and it feels easier to just throw up our hands, plow through the produce section to the frozen pizza aisle and call it good enough.

I’m a believer there’s a middle ground, and it starts with choice.

I’ve been in the health, fitness, and wellness space for the better part of a decade. I’ve worked with many other professionals, continued to educate myself on trends from multiple sources and perspectives, and have always learned from the best when it comes to nutrition. I’m a person who skews toward the more dedicated side of the spectrum myself. That has led to me going through phases of being super-strict about every morsel I put into my body.

But over the years, what I’ve really come to learn is that whether you’re dedicated and strict, or totally not, you are the one who gets to decide what you need, and what your family needs. It doesn’t have to be all that complicated. And contrary to what the latest blog post or influencer might tell you, there’s no right or wrong way to get more veggies onto your plate.

Think about it like this – if you have a general, big picture goal of eating healthier, what is ultimately going to have more impact for you and your family? Is it non-GMO cookies? Or is it conventional apples and peanut butter as a snack? Is it organic celery? Or is it adding some extra strawberries into a breakfast smoothie?

Much of the time, it’s about big rocks. Increase vegetable intake in the easiest and tastiest way possible. Fruits too. Lean protein. Healthy fat. Sure, food sources are important, ethical and sustainable practices are definitely good, and fewer overly processed foods and added chemicals are always a plus. But getting too deep into the minutiae of all those things can be counterproductive. You can certainly choose to buy organic and non-GMO foods if you want to – the choice is the whole point. But in the end, it makes no difference nutritionally, and the science clearly shows that. Again, it’s more about increased intake of fruits and vegetables, and doing that from either production method is a good goal.

On top of the vitriol around organic vs. conventional, non-GMO vs. genetically modified, gluten free vs. whole grain, and on down the list of perceived requirements for food safety and health, it’s important to point out that many times, this whole argument is often null because of access. It’s great if a person or family is in a position to be able to purchase foods that are 25-35% more expensive, but that’s not the case for everyone. Across generations saddled with debt and shaky job prospects, to those with concerns about how to survive on a meager Social Security income, to those anywhere in the middle trying to make it from one paycheck to the next, buying groceries at all can be a real concern, let alone buying the “right” groceries.

It can be difficult to see past all the external influence nonetheless. And though I am not a mom, I do work with many of them. I’ve seen and heard every story and experience you can think of, and my heart goes out to every woman (and person!) taking care of a family, making decisions about how to best take care of them. There are a million different parenting philosophies, there are a million different opinions, there are a million different things that actually work, and yet – many parents want to judge other parents for their decisions. Everyone is out there just trying to keep their tiny humans (and themselves!) alive, meanwhile, they’re getting the side-eye in the checkout line for buying store brand frozen broccoli.

It’s possible you’ve experienced this in some form or fashion. It’s also possible you’ve silently judged another person for their food choices. It’s unfortunate that this happens, but understandable. We’ve lived a long time in the light of social conditioning, with external influence, judgment, and even shame shaping our behaviors, and it can sometimes become easy to slip into default mode, or not see or understand another person’s unique life situation or perspective.

And that’s the thing – everyone’s family, life, and home situation is different. We can’t always know everything about them and their situation at first glance. The last thing a lot of people need is to be told they’re doing it wrong, when it’s a big step in the right direction for them. Because in reality, that’s often the biggest point:

Choosing any kind of healthier alternative is a win.

Most importantly, choice is the point. Only you can determine exactly what your priorities are for your family and yourself, and only you can determine the steps toward accomplishing those priorities. If switching out cheese crackers for an apple in your kiddo’s lunch is a big rock priority, that’s fantastic. Making any kind of conscious choice to integrate healthier foods into an overall diet is a big deal. But again, the point is, you get to choose exactly what those integrations look like. No stranger, no friend, no study has the power to make you feel any differently.

You are in control of your choices, and you know what’s best for you. It’s no more complicated than that.

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