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A shopper grapples with products and technology in a grocery store [CREDIT: pxhere.com, Viki Mohamad]

Grocery Shopping for Your Health: Canned foods and more

In the last post in our “Grocery Shopping for Your Health” series, we spent some time talking about eggs. Today, we are leaving this area of the store and heading over to the canned food aisle.

This aisle packs an assortment of canned (and jarred) fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, meat, soups, stews and myriad other shelf-stable options.

Grocery Shopping for Your Health iconHaving a pantry filled with shelf-stable food options can be vital in Florida, where hurricanes can shut down normal food-supply chains for days or weeks. But, keeping shelf-stable foods on hand also grants you convenience and flexibility with your daily meals year-round. For example, canned vegetables are a great food item to add nutrients to your dishes by adding them into casseroles, and soups.

Canned and jarred foods also can save you money, offering less-expensive alternatives than their fresh-but-out-of-season counterparts.

The variety of canned and jarred goods has exploded in recent years. Check the shelves in this aisle and you’ll likely find an array of pre-seasoned foods, like cinnamon-flavored applesauce or tomatoes flavored with herbs, stacked alongside the standard cans of corn, peas, beans and the like. I keep a variety of canned foods in my pantry for my family recipes to swap in as I see fit, such as setting aside the roasted peppers in favor of olives. Be creative!

Read the label

Convenience and creativity are great. But, we still need to read the label to know in detail what we’re actually getting in the can or jar.

Take canned fruit, for instance. You probably noticed you can purchase fruit as “packed in its own juices,” “packed in fruit juice,” “unsweetened,”  and in “light syrup” or “heavy syrup.”  If you want less sugar, then select the can that has fruit packed in its own juices. Fruit packed in syrup (light or heavy) has added sugar and calories.

You’ll also want to read the label to get a fix on the sodium content of canned or jarred vegetables. Look for “no salt added” or “reduced sodium” options, more of which you can find in stores now.

And, of course, check the labels on canned or pouched fish, meats and poultry. These items can be very convenient, and can add extra flavor and nutrients to a salad, casserole, etc. Some items come packed in water, while others are packed in olive, vegetable, canola or other oils. And packing in oil means packing in some extra calories, compared to the water-packed versions.

And read the sticker

PRO TIP
Save money by buying fish, meat or poultry canned as “chunk” rather than “solid.”

You can save money when selecting canned or pouched fish, poultry and meat by shopping for chunk versions rather than a solid varieties. And, read the cost per ounce on the shelf sticker to make an accurate comparison.

PRO TIP
Comparison shop by checking the “cost per unit” (e.g., cents per ounce) of similar items, as noted on store shelf stickers.

 

Cans of "chunk"-packaged tuna in a store display. [CREDIT: pxhere.com]

Cans of “chunk”-packaged tuna in a store display. [CREDIT: pxhere.com]

Be flexible, too. With such a great variety of canned and jarred meats, many times you can make a quick update to your favorite recipe based on what’s on sale or available in the store. As example, you could swap out the canned tuna and instead use canned chicken or turkey.

Also in this aisle, you’ll find an amazing array of canned soups and stews, and even some convenience items. Again, these are great foods to keep on hand for a hurricane or any emergency. They are essentially a meal in a can. But, make sure to check the sodium level of these items. opting for the “less sodium” options or “no salt added” products if that’s a concern.

Some canned soups can also be high in fat. For example, creamy soups often have higher fat contents and more calories than soups made with broth. Even here, manufacturers now sell low-fat and fat-free options, though. As we’ve said before, remember to read the nutrition label and compare the different varieties to make the best decision for your daily diet.

PRO TIP
Cut down on sodium levels in instant noodle packs by using just half the seasoning packet and adding dried or fresh herbs.

One last sodium tip. Many of the instant noodle mixes, dehydrated mixes and entree mixes can be high in sodium. If you enjoy these foods but are concerned about your daily sodium intake, then use half of the seasoning packet and consider adding herbs—especially fresh varieties—to the dish. You can also add in fresh or canned vegetables for added nutrients and flavor. You might be able to add enough “extra” ingredients to create two meals and stretch that food dollar even farther.

Don’t underestimate the value of the canned foods aisle. Here, you can find an amazing variety of shelf-stable, convenient and even money-saving foods.

NEXT: We’ll stay in the canned food aisle to talk about beans and other legumes.

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