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From picky to healthy eater

Avoid the temptations of grocery store marketing strategies

young boy eating vegetables reluctantly

I suppose this is going to be a column,” my son said as I pushed a grocery cart and he added items to it.

We had paused in the produce aisle and he added bananas, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, potatoes, several types of peppers and other colourful produce items.

He examined the items carefully and looked at the prices before putting them in the cart. Truly, I was amazed and increasingly amused as we strolled through the store.

“I wish I could see what is going on in your brain right now,” he teased.

I was thinking: “Who are you and what have you done with my son?” This nearly 23-year-old guy was not a great vegetable eater as a child. He was more interested in sweets and now he was earning a gold star.

He has been a frequent subject in the 20-plus years I have written a column. In fact, as we walked, he began writing my column for me. His version was very entertaining.

We paused to pick up cans of beans, rice, peanuts, peanut butter, shredded cheese, two jugs of fat-free milk, yogurt, ground beef and other items. My husband looked in the cart and whispered to me, “This is all healthy food!” I grinned.

“Do you need some bread?” I asked as I reached for his old favourite: white bread.

“Actually I prefer whole grain bread,” he replied.

This was serious. Maybe my real son had been abducted by aliens.

“Wow, you are really eating well,” I commented.

“I gained 15 pounds, so I watch my snacking, and I eat a lot more vegetables now,” he noted. “I lost the weight.”

I think he deserves an “honorary dietitian award,” I thought to myself. He didn’t fall for any of the methods used to sell food. He compared brands and prices, chose a variety of foods and didn’t even ask for a package of his favourite cookies.

Most grocery stores are arranged in a strategic manner to entice us to stray from our shopping lists and perhaps stretch our budget a bit. Marketing specialists and psychologists often help plan the layout and advertising strategies to encourage us to buy things.

For example, in his younger days, my son was enticed by highly sweetened cereals with beckoning cartoon characters at his eye level. Food is positioned on the shelves to get noticed.

Stores are arranged to promote lingering and impulse buys. Is the deli or bakery in your path? The delicious aroma of fresh-baked bread makes you want to bring home some baked goods, even if you have two loaves of bread in your freezer.

Maybe you need a gallon of milk. To get it, usually you need to travel to the back of the store. You may grab a few items on the way.

Often, items are grouped to promote buying additional items. Yes, having special seasoning mixes right by the meat is convenient, but maybe you weren’t planning to buy the seasoning.

Consider the layout of the store, and stick to your list. Try shopping the outer aisles, where most of the staples are located. Watch out for the end caps. Marketers know that we are much more likely to buy items on the ends of the aisles.

Beware of the signs that put limits on items, such as “Limit: 12 cans.” Psychologists have reported that by placing a “limit” on things, people are more apt to buy the upper number.

Compare unit prices (price per ounce or other unit). You may find a better deal, but keep in mind, it’s only a good deal if you use it within a reasonable time.

I think we picked up most of the ingredients for this easy recipe. I’ll have my son try it and we will angle for a dinner invitation.

Bean Enchiladas

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-oz. can refried beans
  • 1 c. sour cream, fat free
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 c. enchilada sauce
  • 4 10-inch flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions to skillet and sauté until tender and translucent, about two minutes. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add beans, sour cream, cilantro, jalapeno, cumin, cooled onions, 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Stuff each tortilla with bean filling and roll. Place each enchilada in a baking dish. Pour enchilada sauce on top of enchiladas. Sprinkle remaining cheese. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and enchiladas are heated through. Garnish with cilantro.

Makes eight servings. Each (1/2 enchilada) serving has 260 calories, 11 grams (g) fat, 30 g carbohydrate, 3 g fibre and 270 milligrams sodium.

This easy recipe includes several healthy ingredients.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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