Shoppers tour Smithfield grocery store to learn about healthy foods

pseligson@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

Many people might think they know their way around a grocery store, but shoppers at a store in Smithfield on Thursday, Oct. 24, learned new ways to shop.

As part of Food Day, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle came to the Food Lion on Bright Leaf Boulevard to teach about healthy shopping and cooking. Volunteers gave passersby tours of the grocery store, explaining topics such as unit pricing and the differences between fresh, canned and frozen produce.

“We’re trying to give them the tools they need to make their own healthy choices,” said Ruth Sappie, a volunteer who gave one of the tours.

Volunteers gave shoppers calculators, notebooks, pens and bags to help organize their shopping. Sappie started with an explanation of MyPlate, which replaced the Food Pyramid. The plate shows four roughly equal sections of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, with a small cup of dairy on the side.

Sappie asked shoppers to first notice that, according to the plate, about half of their food budget should go to fruits and vegetables.

The group moved on to the produce section, where they divided the price of carrots by the weight of the package. The more a person buys in bulk, the cheaper per pound the carrots are.

“One way to save money on produce is to buy in large quantities,” Sappie said.

But fresh produce isn’t the only option: the tour also went over canned and frozen produce.

Sappie said people should look at the nutrition label and the ingredient list for canned and frozen vegetables and fruit. Food companies often add salt and sugar to make the food last longer, she said.

For instance, fruit is often canned with syrup rather than its own juice, said Sara Stohler, another volunteer on the tour.

“That’s the price between canned and fresh,” she said.

On the frozen aisle, shoppers examined packaging. They noticed that special packages, such as a vegetable medley rather than just one vegetable, often had added ingredients, especially salt.

“If you want to put salt in, put it in at home,” Sappie said. “At least you know how much you’ve added.”

The tour also looked at breads; Sappie said to go by the ingredients, not just the labels on the front, and that breads with whole grain listed as the first ingredient are best.

And when choosing between skim or whole milk, Stohler pointed out that the amounts of calcium and protein are the same, only the fat and calories change.

Sappie said healthy shopping and cooking have many layers. Shoppers have to think about cost, how to feed a whole family, whether the food is healthy and how long the food lasts. The tour is meant to give people options, she said, not tell them they have to buy one thing over another.

At the end of the tour, volunteers gave each shopper a $10 gift card and the challenge to buy foods that make one meal on MyPlate.

Doris Bister of Smithfield said the tour provided good information she will use in the future. Recently diagnosed with diabetes, she has been trying to pay more attention to what’s in the food she buys.

“It’s nice that they would do this for people who really wouldn’t think about it,” she said

Another shopper, Nancy Young of Smithfield, agreed.

“I think it’s a way to open people’s eyes to nutritional food instead of what’s just quick and convenient to your family,” she said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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