When Real Food Is In The Minority

I took this picture with my cell phone while I was shopping at my friendly grocery store. It’s just a regular grocery store aisle – not the junk food aisle, but rather it’s across from the cereals.

Honestly, what a bunch of junk.

My husband and I were talking about this yesterday. Was the food at grocery stores always so junky? I haven’t added it up, but it seems to me that a good portion of the food sold in grocery stores isn’t necessary or good for us, but instead the real food is in the minority when compared to the processed junk food.

Case in point:

  • Cookies
  • Cake mixes
  • Brownie mixes
  • Most chips
  • Full-fat ice creams
  • Canned food full of sodium
  • Boxed meals
  • Sodas
  • Juices
  • Fruit chews for kids
  • Pop-Tarts and other “breakfast treats”

I understand the need for convenience, after all, we are all busy. But I get frustrated when I walk up and down the aisles and really look at what’s on the shelf. I, like most of you, always heard the recommendation to shop the “outside aisles” of the grocery store and avoid the endcaps. I never used to shop on the perimeter of the store because I loved all the “convenience” aka junky foods. I bought Oreo cereal for goodness sakes!

I don’t know why it struck me so intently this trip. I stopped after I took this picture and looked in my basket. My basket was full of enough food to feed the nine of us for a week without putting any junk into it. (I’m NOT perfect – we do eat junk on occasion, but even the little bit of junk we eat is unnecessary.)

When I think about how simple it is to make a salad, grill a piece of chicken and serve some fresh or frozen green beans that do not have any added sodium for dinner, I wonder how we as a society got so far away from simple, healthy foods. Was it when it huge factories and automation made it easy to mass produce food or was it due to our increasingly busy lifestyles? In any case, it doesn’t take a lot more time to make an easy meal than it does to bake a TV dinner in the oven or prepare a Hamburger Helper type meal.

Am I the only one who notices this? What do you think about when you think about how much food in the grocery store is full of sodium, fat, sugar and void of nutrition?  Diane

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  1. Hi Diane
    When I walk down the aisles of my local supermarket – I really can’t find anything that appeals to me. Since it has become ingrained in me to eat healthy – I just don’t really find those things appetizing anymore.
    But, I do feel for those people who are doing battle with themselves and are finding it hard to give all the packet stuff away. It’s so addictive! I remember what it was like to want packets of chips and chocolate … and I couldn’t possibly go past the softdrink aisle. I do think there is more and more junk in our supermarkets – and even if you don’t go near the aisles – there are still tempting displays EVERYWHERE! So, I decided to, wherever possible, only shop at the greengrocer, butcher and we have a lovely speciality food shop that is well priced. It doesn’t mean to say there isn’t anything tempting there – but at least what is there is good quality. But, as they say, everything in moderation and as long as you can get the balance right – it’s all good.
    I like the fact I am supporting local businesses, rather than the big money hungry companies too. I just go there for laundry stuff, soap etc – and I just go straight to those aisles, ignore the rest and get out of there!
    Lisa Mary recently posted…All I can say is … thank you!My Profile

    • That’s a good thing Lisa Mary! That shows that healthy eating is just part of who you are, and that is wonderful!

      I too find myself feeling sorry for people who are really addicted to foods that are bad for them. You are fortunate that you have small shops that sell great food and good quality food! We have little of that here, but I still visit the farmer’s market when it is open and try to make the best choices I can.

  2. I noticed that the outskirts of the grocery shops are the healthier isles, while the ones in the middle of the stores are the ones which consists of these foods which are processed, the ones you see in your photo.
    I can’t remember as child what the grocery stores looked like but I’m sure it was not filled with ready made cake mixes or boxed meals. Those came in later on when I was in High School.
    blackhuff recently posted…What motivates you?My Profile

    • This was an outer aisle! That’s what got my attention – I thought to myself, “Man, this junk food is right here next to the produce.” That’s bad.

  3. I notice it. I think that the extra sodium will raise rates of high blood pressure, the extra sugar will raise HbA1C and fasting glucose levels. I’m concerned that all of us will pay higher medical insurance due to the increase in disease rates. Not to mention the time and money spent at the doctor and/ or in pain.

    It makes me sad and it will take time and a lot of work unhooking ourselves from the addictive nature of it all. I want a better life for my daughter. I shudder when I think of the politics involved in the food in the middle of the store.

    It starts with food, and it starts with what I purchase to bring home, how and what I cook. I have taken that responsibility much more seriously over the last year and my own unhooking myself of the salty/sugary/ processed foods.
    Karen p recently posted…Practice- weight maintenance toolMy Profile

    • It makes me sad too. The health of every person is at stake. I want a better life for my kids as well. This makes me sad and worried because I think that in some cases, people really believe that it does not matter. They really believe that medicine can solve diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. and they can just go merrily along with no lasting or “unfixable” consequences.

  4. The only thing in the whole cereal aisle, that has any value in my opinion, is the plain/regular oatmeal. I am not sure any other cereal has a full serving (7g) of protein. It is cookies disguised to look like something else. Ditto the cracker aisle, same thing in different format. There are just some that are junkier than others.

    • Vickie – I am a fan of the oats too! Attune Foods cereal, Uncle Sam’s, has 7 grams of protein in one serving. It’s one that we eat and the kids like it as long as they add fruit to it as it has less than 1 gram of sugar. I was thinking about processed foods after I took this picture and realized that even 15 years ago when I was losing weight there was a LOT of junk around. I wonder if it is more or less than back then?

  5. You are definitely not the only one who notices this. For those with food issues, going to the grocery store is like sending an alcoholic to the ABC store. Unhealthy choices far outweigh healthy ones.
    Melanie recently posted…swim suit tortureMy Profile

    • So true. Boy it is hard to resist all that junk when food is an issue for you. I know it was for me. It was like the package of Oreos was calling my name and I usually responded. Sometimes I had to purposefully look the other way so I wouldn’t be tempted to just put it in my cart.

  6. It is craziness, isn’t it Diane – billion $ industry & money is power & all that stuff! I understand the need for convenience at times & lucky for us that there are some better choices BUT whole foods is the best way to go – I honestly thing people in general are getting lazier & lazier! Although from one right here that is lazy on lots of stuff but not my health & fitness! ;-)
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & Pretty HairMy Profile

    • It really is crazy. I think that lack of understanding, perhaps lack of cooking skills, and some laziness is all in play here. I’m lazy too in a lot of ways!

  7. Ok this is about the 4th time I’ve heard this message in some way or another from someone. It must be time I stop and listen!!! I’ve really been thinking about this and you’re totally right. I actually remember long years ago reading a book called “Stop the Insanity” by Susan Powter! And she even had a video where she took you around the grocery store only shopping on the perimeter! The truth is that you are right. It’s time I start simplifying and not buying some much packaged stuff. Even the “healthy” packaged things are really not all that healthy!
    Holly from 300 Pounds Down recently posted…Madame Blueberry and her wily waysMy Profile

    • I remember her! Don’t beat yourself up Holly – this journey takes a different road for everyone. Sometimes it’s just about working on one or two things at a time. It sounds like you are ready to start thinking about this part of your journey and that’s wonderful! I know you will find new foods, new preparation methods, and new favorites!

  8. That photo was a real eye-opener, and you couldn’t be more right – the dearth of natural good is alarming. Shop the perimeter – great advice.
    Gigi recently posted…Messages From the MoviesMy Profile

  9. That photo was a real eye-opener, and you couldn’t be more right – the dearth of natural food is alarming. Shop the perimeter – great advice.
    Gigi recently posted…Messages From the MoviesMy Profile

  10. I notice and it actually makes my shopping a little easier. Although I will purchase one of those variety packs of cereal for my daughter, the only thing I get from the cereal aisle is oatmeal. No need to go down the baked goods aisle or the ones with chips and sodas. I do occasionally purchase a bag of tortilla chips to go with “the best salsa in the world” which we purchase at our farmer’s market. I also still buy canned veggies including beans and tomatoes.
    Caron recently posted…Medical Reports and Other ThingsMy Profile

    • I avoid the baked goods area too! Who needs a cupcake the size of their head anyway? :)

      We buy tortilla chips when I don’t make my own, and I agree that canned veggies and fruits are a necessity – especially in the winter months. We do a lot of frozen vegetables too.

  11. I agree that the healthy aisles are around the perimeter and there is a lot of junk food out there but in most of the groceries stores I go to which “are the standard grocery store” we have organic/gluten free aisle which I think is a amazing. The cereal aisles always has at least 4 to 5 good options to choose from. I have notice it has gotten more healthier in Canada.
    Joy recently posted…Weigh InMy Profile

    • We have a small “healthy” section in our grocery store too. Some of it is organic, but a lot of it in ours is energy bars, juices, and organic crackers and goldfish. I think we are just not very enlightened here in the South.

  12. What I recall is that treats were always somewhat junky, and that actual FOOD — savory meal stuff — was less so. But we rarely to never had it in my house when I was growing up, so when I went food shopping with my parents, I just got used to going to the meat and produce sections and walking past most of the other stuff. The only aisles I typically go down are the ones with cleaning and paper products, and when I’m running out, I go down the coffee aisle or buy rotelle or pastine.

    It really is awful out there nowdays. And I buy my share of junk — sometimes I get a wild hair and get a jar of Nutella, and I like ice cream as much as anyone. But jeez.

    • We rarely had junk in the house either when I was growing up and I never thought much about it because my friends were no different. It just wasn’t as bad as it was now. I do walk all the aisles because the hamburger helper (junk) is on the same aisle with the rice in my grocery store, for example. It would be nice if the stores would just clearly define the aisles but I’m sure that will never happen!

  13. You are definitely NOT the only one to have noticed. I love looking in other people’s carts when I’m at the supermarket. Sometimes I feel like walking up to strangers and saying, “Do you REALLY need all that junk?” (actually I’ve fantasized about pitching that concept as a realty show :-). Every time I see a commercial on television for a new snack food I think about how crazy it is that they keep on coming out with new and unhealthy products as our country gets bigger and bigger. What the heck is up with pitching toaster strudel to kids as a “fun” breakfast?

    • That would make a wonderful television show! Kind of like the old “Candid Camera.” Whenever I see that Toaster Strudel commercial I think to myself, “Really? Really?”

  14. It’s been like this for years! And I’ve noticed for years…and it just keeps getting worse. What’s insidious is the clever way the stuff is marketed and labeled, to make it sound healthy, when it is SO not.
    KCLAnderson (Karen) recently posted…Knowing MyselfMy Profile

  15. I notice and still struggle at times to make the healthiest choices. I try not to judge other people and their food choices because we are all at different stages in our journeys. I’m always working on making healthier choices each day. For me, when I was at my heaviest it wasn’t about eating for convenience, although I agree many junk types foods are very convenient. It was about feeling my emotions and using food for comfort and so I wasn’t concerned about the nutritional value of the food I was eating at that point.
    Jaki (Slim Down U) recently posted…The Next ChapterMy Profile

    • I try not to judge either because I know that just a few years ago that person with Oreos, Breyers ice cream, M&M’s, and buckets of junk in her cart was me. Great point about the emotions playing a big role into the foods we choose at the grocery stores.

  16. Its fascinating looking at what people actually put in their baskets and buy. I like to try and guess what they are up to that week based on the contents of their basket. It certainly seems that most foods comes in packets and boxes, and an awful lot of stuff is processed. Its not often you see someone with a basket full of fruit and veg.
    Sarah recently posted…What to eat at weddings!My Profile

  17. It is so true that grocery stores are full of “junk” food. Some of the food items are absolutely ridiculous. I saw a big display of crunch candy bars that are all different flavors of girl scout cookies. Really? It really doesn’t take all that much more time to fix a healthy snack.

    One issue for some families is the cost. It is so much cheaper to eat the junk/processed food. I saw the episode on ABC last night of Extreme Weight Loss and that was the person’s issue: money. She said she couldn’t afford the meat and veggies to make a healthy meal.
    Elizabeth recently posted…Find Your StartMy Profile

    • It is all about ease and convenience. I also wonder if there is also a lack of knowledge involved as far as cooking and food preparation goes. After all, if a 22 year old mom doesn’t know how to cook very well and doesn’t have family or friends that do, what is going to be her first choice? Something easy, fast, and cheap. I understand the cost factor, but I also know that it is better to spend $3.00 on apples than $3.50 on a bag of chips. I did see a television show where the parents were feeding the kids from the dollar menu at fast food restaurants because they couldn’t afford other kinds of food. That made me so sad. The outcome was good though, because the family was being helped by a doctor and a nutritionist who were able to really teach the family how to cook and how to make better choices at restaurants and the grocery store.

  18. Wow, that’s bad. I’m almost completely insulated from this because the only time I venture into the center of the store is for the baking aisle and condiments. So vinegar, mustard, olives, spices, etc. I’m almost never in the snacky aisles and that saves me the aggravation of seeing the health-crushing junk marketed as ‘food’ these days.

    I’m pretty much a strictly perimeter shopper – produce, meats and cheese, dairy. Keeps it simple.

    • This wasn’t even in the center! It was right next to the produce/bread section on the perimeter! The bad food is invading the healthy food at my Kroger but I’m onto their scheme and mindful to not be taken in. :)

  19. I rarely shop in a regular grocery store these days because I’m very turned off by all the “non food.” We belong to a year-round CSA (I know we are lucky in California) and get a lot of our produce from there. At the Farmers’ Market (which is also year-round), we also buy produce, bread, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, meat, and fish. I do make trips to the grocery store for pasta, oatmeal, rice, etc. I also shop at a Korean grocery store about twice a month.

    I really like your point that preparing healthy food doesn’t have to take a lot of time. I think what it really takes is planning (and I know I sometimes have trouble with that when life gets hectic…). I am working from home today and pan-grilled a small piece of salmon for lunch and ate it with leftover tomato/cucumber salad. It literally took 10 minutes to prepare.
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted…Summer food, exercise, & lifeMy Profile

    • You are very lucky in that respect Andrea! I agree that planning ahead is the key. Last night I made a dish with whole wheat pasta topped with lightly sauteed fresh vegetables and chicken I had made the previous day. It took all of 15 minutes to make. While that was cooking I cut up a watermelon, baked a loaf of whole wheat french bread and set the table for the 9 of us! Fast food at home.

  20. I agree! I have noticed this and I try to avoid these stores because it is sad to see this stuff!

    • It is hard though isn’t it? I wish we had some smaller health food stores where we live, but we are pretty much limited to the Wal-Marts and Krogers of the world.

  21. The only way it will stop if for the public to stop buying it. From looking at the contents of other people’s carts, I don’t foresee that happening any time soon.
    Sharon recently posted…Return To The MountainsMy Profile

    • You are totally right. I don’t see any end in sight, in fact it seems to get worse. The public is “hooked” on convenience and we are all suffering for it. Our kids are suffering, our economy (health care) is suffering, and I think our mental health suffers too when so many of us end up overweight or dangerously obese.

  22. It amazes and disgusts me how many awful choices we have in this country. I definitely avoid most aisles, unless I need something specific, like tea, cleaning products, cat food…I don’t even eat cereal anymore (not even Kashi) because I scramble eggs for breakfast. It’s gotten so out of hand, the amount of “convenient” junk we can buy.

    And am I the only one who silently judges people by the contents of their grocery carts in the check-out line? I am such a snob anymore.
    Meg (@LadyMegSoprano) recently posted…Life Is, Indeed, Good.My Profile

    • Yes – we can judge the shopping carts without judging the person who puts the food in there. Sometimes people’s carts make me sad because I know how bad some of their choices are for them.

  23. One more thing–affordability. I lost my job a year-and-a-half after adopting my new healthier lifestyle and I still managed to stick to a very healthy diet. I cut corners where I could and learned NOT to waste anything. But I bought fresh produce, good meat, eggs, etc. on a very limited unemployment budget ($1,800 a month, with $1,000 of that going to rent). It took some creativity and planning, but it can be done. So the argument that people on limited incomes not being able to afford healthy options is simply untrue. You look for sales, don’t buy produce out of season, clip coupons for things like meat, prepare in bulk and freeze stuff, etc.
    Meg (@LadyMegSoprano) recently posted…Life Is, Indeed, Good.My Profile

    • You are so right about careful planning and good choices making healthy foods affordable. I saw a woman the other day whose cart was full of about 20 Banquet turkey pot pies, beef pot pies, and chicken pot pies. I know they are inexpensive, but with some preparation we can make and freeze a healthier version of those that is also affordable.

  24. It is crazy the foods that manufacturer’s promote, and even crazier that so many of us are so anxious to “try” the new food. (And the coupons are a big draw, of course.) Whenever I take the kids with me to the grocery store, and that isn’t often, they are astounded by the choices there. My 4-year-old loves the colorful boxes and the characters on those cereals. I just stay strong and say, “No.”

  25. My grocery store continually adds unhealthy foods and subtracts healthy ones that I like to buy.

    I guess I’m not in the crowd that drives their choices.

    I can still find whole foods, however, if I look for them :-)
    Dr. J recently posted…Lab Notes: Mental Health Needs of Seniors on Rise; Truvada Will Be Used to Prevent HIV InfectionMy Profile

  26. Margaret says:

    We hit produce, meat and dairy, with short excursions to get coffee, tea, salad dressing (two kinds only), peanut butter and occasionally spices. We do have some dark chocolate and nuts, otherwise no snack foods, no chips, no pre-prepared meals. Doesn’t take too long to grocery shop that way. Not too hard to ignore all those boxes of snack crackers which I love because anything that makes me eat the whole box is not allowed in the house.

  27. I know what you are getting at (high caloric content, but little nutritional value), but what really is “real food”? Lettuce, for example, is the product of centuries of human-induced hybridization, after all. Its unadultered forefather is a rather bitter tasting thing most of us wouldn’t want to have on our plates.

    For my problems with the definition of “processed”, “real” and “natural” foods, have a read:

    evilcyber recently posted…Inspired By The Olympic Games?My Profile

  28. I’ve noticed the junk food creeping in to the outer parts of the stores as well. There are rows of cookies on display next to the cheese, and candy in other convenient places. It’s so annoying. No wonder people feel like it’s impossible to eat healthy. That’s what the grocery stores are telling us.
    Carrie@FamilyFitnessFood.com recently posted…Prop 37 – California’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food ActMy Profile

  29. this is sooo true! on a recent vacation i decided to skip restaurants and eat only from grocery stores as the trip was mostly driving along the north eastern united states.

    there is so no fresh prepared ANYTHING about 70% of the time – i had to keep my own cutlery/dishes/cutting board/chopping knife in the car. the entire trip id buy some whole veggies (pepper, carrot, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower) then cut it and dip it in mashed avocado and then buy a single serve plain chobani greek yogurt. i had to eat this almost the entire trip because it was some of the only unprocessed food i could buy. i sometimes opted for the wholy guacomole brand since it had no preservatives but i even innocently bought some breakstone cottage cheese then looked more closely at the ingredients right before eating and noticed it had “food starch” in it. like what is that, needless to say i threw it out but what a bust. the only grocery store i ate conveniently at was whole foods in portland but we were only there for 2 days :(…some shaws arent too bad because some have a salad bar with plain cut up veggies – but hannafords was god awful almost eveywhere i went – and one time at a shop n save a kid was actually surprised i was asking if the pre cut fruit was made up in store or shipped in and couldnt understand that i didnt want to eat something from god knows where. im so thankful living in ontario i have multiple farmers markets all around me and if you ever want to know what heaven looks like you need to see the produce at the farmers market in St Jacobs Ontario .

  30. As a historian, I had to chime in here. The big things, I believe, that lead to these types of convenience meals in the home were a) the television: always advertising easy foods. No one advertises lettuce, chicken breast and vegetables to make a decent meal. b) more women entering the workforce: with mothers being gone for a good part of the day, convenience meals were turned to more and more. I think the 50s/60s is when these things started to happen. and also, while mother is away, the next generation of children (now adults) never learned how to cook or prepare foods properly. and c) you’re totally right about big business. Take Coke for example. Coca-Cola was a drink that could be found in the pharmacy when it started. I hear that the “formula” was even different back then. The bottles and portions were much smaller as well. When they found their niche, they expanded beyond belief. Coke was “the thing”. My friend was just telling me last night that he dad grew up in the generation where, if your stomach hurt or you got car sick, you drink coke. So we can thank advertising and lack of time for today’s eating habits (among many many other things, I am sure). I think there is a real upward trend, however, of people who are buying from farmer’s markets and eating less sugar and processed foods. I myself and trying to can my own foods, I know what is in them and I can control what I put inside of the jars. Thanks for this post, it really got me thinking!