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6 Commissary Survival Tips for Your Waistline

Grocery shopping.  The Commissary.  “Honey, we’re out of food."  These very words may be enough to trigger a nagging sense of dread.  Buying food for your family is obviously very important; you put it off long enough, someone may starve.  But that doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable or easy.

What’s your shopping style?  Are you a grab-and-goer?  Do you take your time?  Maybe your passion is cooking, or you’re a hard-core couponer. As a nutrition professional, I am always intrigued by what’s on the grocery shelves.

However, the Commissary may not be the best place to peruse aimlessly.  Especially when there’s a traffic jam of carts ahead, there’s an ear-splitting tantrum nearby, and you realize they just stopped carrying your favorite brand of taco seasoning.

A lot of the following may seem like common sense.  However, by planning ahead with these tips, you’ll be in for a less stressful, more nutritious Commissary experience:

1. Avoid peak hours.  Everyone knows the nightmare that is the Commissary on payday.  It might be tough on a tight budget, but if at ALL possible, I highly advise everyone to avoid the Commissary for the three-day stretch around payday.  When I get stressed out by the seemingly millions of people and their giant carts crowding the aisles, it becomes difficult to focus on shopping.  If you’re anything like me, try to go between paydays and during quieter times, like when it first opens.  Then you can devote your full attention to what you put in your cart, making thoughtful, smart considerations for each item.  I mean, it’s pretty hard to compare nutrition labels when you’re in the middle of a mosh pit.

2. Be prepared with a list.  Some people rely on lists, some people never use them.  The choice is yours.  Either way, it’s such a drag to realize you are missing a crucial ingredient (no tortillas on taco night?!) or other crucial supplies (we’re out of toilet paper?!)  Now I always make sure I do a quick inventory of what we currently have at home before I leave, and jot down the crucial items I know I might forget.  By doing this, you save yourself valuable time from repeat trips!

3. Choose your company.  Personally, I enjoy reading nutrition labels, carefully evaluating every produce item for bruises, and comparing prices.  My husband, on the other hand, is a speed-shopper who takes the cart and runs.  Half the time I’m chasing him down with my hands full!  Not fun.  Therefore, we either shop solo or he guards the cart while scanning ESPN mobile, leaving me to shop in peace.  For children: try to preoccupy them, avoid times they’re likely to be fussy, and maintain a calm composure.  Check out more child-friendly tips from the Fooducate Blog.

4. Don’t go when you’re hungry.  I think we’ve all done this at one point or another.  After working up an appetite running errands, your last stop is the Commissary.  Wow, EVERYTHING LOOKS SO GOOD!  When you’re starving, you might not make the smartest choices; you’ll be craving not-so-healthy foods.  Also, you may have trouble concentrating or remembering things you need.  Not to mention that you may be more irritable - we don’t want any fights breaking out over the last gallon of 1% milk (drama in aisle 4!) So if you’re out running errands, bring a snack: fiber bars, crackers, fruit, or trail mix will give you a boost for a happier, smarter shopping experience.  Oh, and try to avoid accidentally stealing your snack while you’re there …

5. Stick to the perimeter. I always tell my clients to mostly concentrate on the outside edges of the grocery store.  Think about it: on the walls you’ll find the fresh foods: produce, meats, dairy, and whole grains.  Meanwhile, processed convenience foods and pre-packaged snacks fill the aisles.  Many of these contain high amounts of sodium (used to prolong shelf life) and added sugars.  Now, it’s also where we find foods such as cereal, beans, grains, and other dry goods, so of course the aisles aren’t off limits.  However, by focusing more on the outer walls, your grocery cart will reflect a healthier way of eating.

6. Choices, choices, choices.  It all comes down to what you actually put in your cart.  If you’re worried about your family eating too much junk food, DON’T BUY IT!  If you don’t have it in the house, you won’t eat it.  Look for low-fat, low-sodium, or no-sugar-added items.  Choose 100% whole grains and other fiber-rich foods.  Opt for 100% juice -– some lesser options aren’t much more than artificial fruit flavorings and sugar.  By the time you check out, make sure your cart is reflecting a healthy, well-balanced array of foods for your family.  It might be helpful to use the 80-20 rule: 80% of the food you get is “healthy” while the other 20% are treats or for special occasions.

For recipes, tips on saving money, and other general information, check out the Commissary’s website.  What are some of your personal tips for successful Commissary shopping?

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