Stir Crazy: Shoppers are stuck in a rut when it comes to buying groceries

April 29, 2013 

I found this tidbit in a food story this week and it stopped me in my tracks: Surveys show that most consumers at the grocery store buy the same 130 or so products repeatedly.

It really isn't such a huge revelation, but it was something I honestly never really pondered before: We are such creatures of habit when it comes to buying food for ourselves and our families. My grocery list, which I try to never visit the supermarket without, ALWAYS looks the same!

But, it has altered over the years, for the better, I believe. I used to buy a lot of boxed or processed products, such as pasta or potatoes in a sauce mix I reconstituted at home -- like a fancy mac and cheese. No more. Smoked sausage, even the lower-fat variety, is gone, too. Frozen vegetables have disappeared as well, just in the last year or so. I used to buy both fresh and frozen (never canned), but somewhere along the way I started putting only fresh veggies in my shopping cart. (Experts say frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, though.) I think I'm attracted to the way they look in the store and I like the way I can cook them to the texture I prefer.

Of course, if you change your way of eating, it's naturally reflected in your shopping. I realize that there are more vegetables and greens on our list because we've cut potatoes, pasta and rice from our dinners a couple nights a week. Now, it's protein, vegetable and salad instead.

All of this has me thinking about my list. I'll have to try to add something new and really give my choices a better look. It's a good opportunity for all of us to think outside the cart and see if there are options we can try, whether to liven up a meal or make it healthier.

I had a conversation on the phone last week with a reader whose husband had been put on a sodium-restricted diet.

Being the one who does the cooking, trying to alter a lifetime of eating habits for someone else is a challenge. One of things we didn't talk about during the conversation is that there are foods that can actually alter the effect of sodium in the body.

Registered dietitian Marisa Moore recommends pairing foods that contain sodium with potassium-containing foods: "Potassium blunts the effect of sodium in the body and helps control blood pressure," she wrote. Fortunately, there are plenty of tasty potassium sources, including beans, peas, greens, tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes and bananas.

Want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a simple way? Try this recipe from Kraft.

Cream Cheese Flan

2 cups sugar, divided

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

8 ounces cream cheese (reduced-fat can be used), cubed, softened

5 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook 1 cup sugar in small saucepan on medium heat until sugar is melted and deep golden brown, stirring constantly. Pour into lightly greased 9-inch round pan; tilt pan to cover bottom with syrup.

Blend milk and cream cheese in blender until smooth. Add remaining sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt; blend just until smooth. Pour over syrup in pan. Place filled pan in larger pan; add enough hot water to larger pan to come halfway up side of smaller pan.

Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool slightly. Carefully remove flan from water. Cool completely on wire rack. Refrigerate several hours or until chilled. Unmold onto plate just before serving. Make 8 servings.

How to unmold flan: Bake and refrigerate flan as directed. Run metal knife around edge of flan. Invert onto plate; shake gently to loosen. Gently twist to remove pan. To soften any remaining caramel in pan, dip bottom of pan in hot water; spoon caramel over flan.

Flan flavor variations

Chocolate-Orange: Add 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled, and 1 tablespoon orange zest to batter before pouring into prepared pan.

Coconut: Omit vanilla and add 1/4 cup flaked coconut or 1/2 cup coconut milk and 1 tablespoon rum to batter before pouring into prepared pan.

Pineapple: Cut sugar for bottom of pan to 3/4 cup and substitute sugar in batter with a 6-ounce can (3/4 cup) pineapple juice.

Here's a one-pan meal also from Kraft for a weeknight meal.

30-Minute Almond Chicken

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 pound)

1/4 cup Italian Dressing

1 cup chicken broth

2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed, halved

1 cup instant white rice, uncooked

1/4 cup sliced almonds

Cook chicken in dressing in large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat 4 minutes on each side, or until evenly browned.

Add broth; bring to boil. Cover; simmer 5 minutes. Add beans; cook 5 minutes, or until chicken is done (165 degrees). Remove chicken; cover to keep warm.

Stir rice and nuts into beans. Remove from heat; cover. Let stand 5 minutes; fluff rice. Serve with chicken.

Serves 4, each with 400 calories, 19 grams fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 560 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar.

*Editor's note: I would cut fat, calories and sodium in this recipe by using a reduced-fat dressing and low-sodium broth.

Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, sboyle@bnd.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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