I remember the first shop so clearly. It wasn’t actually for me, instead I accompanied my sister after her son was diagnosed with peanut and egg allergies. Later when I was diagnosed with intolerances, it certainly was an easier first shop already having experienced one before. Anyway, back to that first shop with my sister…I am sure the store manager thought we were casing the joint for a large-scale robbery – we spent 5 hours in the store. We must have looked so dodgy, loitering in the aisles, picking up product after product and then putting them down again….they really must have thought we were mad or robbing the joint!
This shop, aside from restocking the pantry, was also to ensure that there were some “treats” to show her son that this allergy wasn’t going to stop him eating yummy food. Essentially we just started at aisle one and read label after label after label. This is definitely the hardest shop. After this, you know what brands to look for and subsequent shops require you to just cross check the label to make sure nothing has changed since your last purchase.
After the five hours in the store, of me reading the label, her reading the label, me reading the label, her reading the label, a discussion and then finally agreeing it could go in the trolley, we ventured home to unpack where I checked the label, she checked the label and then it went in the pantry. Whilst my background as a food scientist certainly helped with this first shop and label reading, it was still a scary task even for me. With my tips and information below, I hope that I make your first shop a little easier and less scary. Every shop will get easier. You will always need to check labels and be vigilant, but it will get easier.
MY FOUR SIMPLE SHOPPING TIPS:
TIP 1: Shop for single ingredient foods.
Fruit, vegetables, unprocessed cuts of meats (fillets, steaks, chops etc) only contain one ingredient so are easy to identify as suitable or not for your dietary requirements. Preparing food from single ingredient foods means you know exactly what you are putting into the dish.
TIP 2: Learn how to read a label.
This is critically important for processed foods (food that come in packaging). Check out my label reading tips on my website or in my cookbook and also my identifying allergens pages to help you with terms commonly used and products allergens are commonly found in.
TIP 3: Take a second set of eyes for the first shop and clear your schedule.
The first shop will be a length shop and there will be lots of labels to read. A second set of eyes to cross check is definitely a big help.
TIP 4: Check every label, every time.
- Don’t assume that the brand is safe because you have purchased it before.
- Don’t assume that different pack sizes of a product will have the same ingredient list.
- Don’t assume different brands will have the same ingredient list.
CHECK EVERY LABEL, EVERY TIME.
So those are my four simple tips. Next I want to share with you some information about green grocers and butchers vs supermarkets, and processed foods to help you with your shopping.
Green Grocers and Butchers vs Supermarkets:
Getting to know local green grocer and butcher is a great option as they can offer a more personal service than a supermarket can. Plus I would rather support my local community than big supermarket chains. By getting to know your local green grocer and butcher and discussing your allergies with them, you will very quickly be able to establish products that you can eat – for example my local butcher only uses rice flour in his sausages so I know that I can eat these. Many butchers will be happy to prepare your products immediately after a clean so there is no risk of cross contamination and many will do a batch specifically for you.
Supermarkets can’t offer the kind of personal service a local green grocer or butcher can. However, supermarkets are convenient with all products in one place, and for working people, often the only option as butchers and green grocers are closed after work hours and weekends are often busy with activities. For supermarket shopping, shop around the edges, this is where you will find a lot of the single ingredient foods – fruits, vegetables and unprocessed cuts of meat.
Processed foods are packaged foods and make up the majority of the products in the aisles. These will have labels that require your careful attention to read and identify if they meet your dietary needs. Check out my website or cookbook for my tips for reading labels and information on identifying allergens in products to help you be more efficient in reading labels.
I put processed foods into three main categories:
- Processed meats – Items such as sausages, meatballs, marinade meats and other processed meat goods will require you to read the label.
- Foods processed predominantly for preservation or increase shelf-life – These typically have very short ingredient lists and contain only a few ingredients such as flours, sugars, pulses, pasta, rice, tinned and frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Highly processed foods – these tend to have very long ingredient list as they are made from multiple ingredients and often have numbers in the ingredient lists representing various food additives. These will require careful attention to read the labels to identify if these are suitable for your dietary requirements (refer to My tips for reading labels and identifying allergens). Check, double check and triple check.