How focusing on colour changed the way I shop
Incorporating colour into my shopping routine has transformed the way I think about cooking - and I couldn't recommend it more highly.
I wasn't always strategic at the grocery store. Years of living in Paris meant my shopping routine closely resembled a relaxed Saturday morning stroll, as I wandered from stall to stall picking up whatever caught my eye. I relished my weekly food shopping outing, from the mesmerising cheese counters to the noisy fishmonger yelling out the day's specials. Inevitably I would forget some crucial ingredient, or I would be too heavily laden with groceries to pick up wine, and need to pop down to the shops at least once more later in the day. Life was too good - a real cliché of the Parisian food scene.
More recently I've found myself living in a bit of a food desert. Other than one organic fruit & veg market a 10-minute walk from ours (my salvation!), the only shops in close proximity are corner shops and a small Tesco Metro with perennially broken fridges. It's a half-hour walk to the nearest large shops, a distance which seems to get longer the more bags I fill. In short, a dramatic situation for someone with a borderline unhealthy obsession with grocery shopping.
Alas, food shopping has become a bit of a mission. At first, we tried ordering groceries online, which - while helpful for heavier, bulky items - didn't work for us. I crave a bit more time with my fruit and veg before buying it (practically to select optimal size / colour / ripeness but also because I enjoy it), and way less plastic and packaging than is typically involved with supermarket delivery. I'm all about fruit and veg delivery services like Riverford Organic and Oddbox, but I'm slightly concerned about receiving a box of persimmons and rhubarb and not knowing what to do with it.
Our dearth of options has forced me to get creative, and get planning. I've had spend more time thinking about we need or might want, which has led to some unintended benefits. Thinking on a weekly basis (I'm imagining lots of eye rolls at this point - but in my defence, I lived five years in Paris without children!) means I can take a holistic view of what plants I consume and how they fit together. I realised fairly quickly that I had fallen into a serious rut when it came to buying veg. Lots of tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and zucchini (courgette), with a few seasonal stars (artichoke, corn, etc). Fruit was a slightly more diverse category for me because I make a lot of juices and smoothies, but overall I was in a bit of a plant food rut. Focusing on colour became my saving grace.
Nutritionists will tell you that colour serves as a fairly reliable guide to the nutrients present in fruits and vegetables. (For a quick & dirty explanation, click here). A widely recommended target is 10 different plant foods a day, and a total of 30 weekly. The target includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, legumes... basically anything from a plant. A good guide to consuming a balanced diet is eating a rainbow of colourful, plant-based foods every day.
Visualising my diet by colour changed the game. At first, I started making a simple list of my plant foods, and counting how many I reached I week. The habit quickly morphed into an Excel rendering of my rainbow, and then into the outlines for an APP to render more useful results (underlying nutrients, health benefits, etc). Focusing on colour has made diversity in my daily plant foods inevitable. It has also made my meals more inspired, creative, and healthy. In the store, I am consciously looking for colours I feel like I might be missing, or funky combinations I haven't tried. I also feel better about what I'm eating, as I can point concretely to one healthful thing I've done each day.
I'd recommend giving your shopping list a little makeover, and trying out a few days of eating the rainbow. We're super keen to hear your feedback, advice, critiques... don't hold back!
How to integrate colour into your shopping routine
A few tips that have worked for me:
Colour-code your shopping list, checking to make sure you're picking up every colour of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, tan-white, green, blue-purple)
Set realistic goals of plant food diversity, working up to 10/day and 30/week
Check out what's seasonal and fresh, as the ingredients generally pair well together
Experiment with herbs and spices, opting for fresh where possible
Keep in mind that "colourless" (tan-white) foods are packed full of nutrients too!