Friday, February 15, 2008

The Fine Print

When I was young, I was taught the basic rules of frugal grocery shopping by my marvelous mother. "Buy on Sale," "Buy Bulk," "Buy Generic." Especially "Buy Generic." Why pay more for a name when the product is the same?

Only, I started noticing that it wasn't the same.

It started with mayonnaise. One day I glanced at a label and saw that my generic brand mayo had MSG in it, whereas Kraft and Best Foods didn't. I've been trying to avoid MSG ever since I was pregnant with Bean and learned that pregnant women should try not to eat it, so I stopped buying that particular generic brand mayo.

But that got me thinking, and reading labels. And I discovered that generic brand canned goods often have twice the sodium and sugar as the name-brands. Things you wouldn't think should even have sugar in them, like canned kidney beans or tomato sauce, not only had surprising amounts of sugar or corn syrup but other unpronounceable chemicals, especially at a certain store that is known for "always" having the low price.

So I've turned into a major grocery store Label Reader. The problem is, I keep learning about more and more things that I need to avoid. I mentioned that I've been trying to stay away from MSG for years-- well, I just learned that MSG also goes under the names "hydrolyzed vegetable protein" and "maltodextrin," so that's two more words to go on my black list while I'm reading labels.

You can't avoid everything bad in this polluted world, but you can try to avoid some things. And you can try to make the healthiest possible choices for your family based on your budget. That has been precisely my challenge: to buy the best quality food possible for the cheapest possible prices. It's kind of fun. When I find something that is higher-quality and healthier that is very affordable it can be exhilarating.

Some of you might be thinking I'm really weird or neurotic for being so into this, but I've really noticed a difference in my family's health and my own energy level as I've tried to make healthier choices at the grocery store. And I've learned as a young mother that how I'm feeling and how much energy I have makes all the difference between dreading my children and enjoying them. Since I can't avoid the children when I'm feeling crummy, anything I can do to improve my health is worth it, even if I end up standing the the grocery store aisle for hours scrutinizing the labels and looking like a complete geek.

Just be glad you don't have to go grocery shopping with me!


Jenilyn said...

Generic food brands also don't last nearly as long in food storage. I have a neighbor who bought both Hunts and generic tomato sauce. The generic cans started bloating and going bad before their expiration date, but she had no problem with Hunts.

Birrd said...

I knew that about oil. I bought a bunch of generic vegetable oil once for food storage and it went rancid really fast. I only buy name-brand oil now unless I know I'm going to use it right away. Anyway, I never thought of it carrying over to canned items as well. I guess that Sam's Club membership is going to be even better than I realized.