There are dozens of smart phone apps allowing shoppers to digitally plan their shopping trips, but a new survey says 34 percent of low- and middle-income families don't use grocery lists.
"Some of our shoppers describe their grocery shopping habits as "European"," PCC Natural Markets nutrition educator Nick Rose says. "They go to the market every night after work, check out what looks good, see what foods are 'speaking to them' that night."
The problem with spontaneous shopping - a method especially popular with unmarried eaters -- is it's expensive and potentially unhealthy, Rose says.
"These shoppers end up spending more money on food, because they shop more often, and because they are more susceptible to food marketing," he explains. "They want to try the newest thing, which is more likely to be a packaged item."
According to Share Our Strength, many shoppers who feel they don't have the time or money for healthy meals could benefit from charting weekly menus and creating grocery lists.
"Assumptions are rampant about the dining habits of low-income Americans, including that they are frequent consumers of fast food and that they do not eat together often as a family or prioritize healthy eating," according to the study's introduction. "Low-income families are cooking dinner at home, mostly from scratch, and are highly interested in making healthy meals."
What's holding them back, the study concludes, is the perception that healthy food is expensive and takes too long to prepare. Only 32 percent of survey respondents identified frozen vegetables as "extremely healthy," despite consensus among nutritionists that frozen vegetables are at least as healthy as fresh. The report claims shoppers who are taught how to make lists are better at stretching their food budgets while choosing healthy options.
Share Our Strength, a hunger relief organization, partnered with ConAgra Foods and Walmart to produce its study, provoking some skepticism from Rose. Still, he agrees with the grocery list recommendation.
"Shopping with a list is like having a New Year's resolution," he says. "You may want to eat more greens, or finally cook that weird-looking squash, or cut back on your cheese consumption, but if you go to the store without that list, you are much more likely to revert to your habitual shopping patterns, rather than making any desired positive changes in your diet."