If you are the one at home who does the shopping, you will be well aware that an ever-growing number of products can make picking up healthy options at the supermarket more and more difficult.
Not only are food labels tiny, but each retail chain stocks different brands and ranges, and then who really has time to study every single item that you put into the trolley?
So as a dietitian (and mum of two), what are some of the items I routinely put into my basket, and the foods I skip entirely when I am doing the shopping for my own family?
Adam Liaw's slow-cooked oat porridge with apple, almond and maple syrup. Photo: William Meppem
What a dietitian buys
Oats These are one of the healthiest, most versatile ingredients in the supermarket as well as one of the cheapest. Not only can you use oats as a quick, easy and nutritious breakfast option for the whole family, but I routinely use oats as a base for baked goods such as homemade cookies and fruit crumbles as well as blended into a flour for banana bread and loaves. Oats are also useful to bulk up smoothies and yoghurts and for as little as $1 for 500g, they are a must for any family on a tight budget.
Natural yoghurt There a million different types of yoghurt in supermarkets but you cannot go past a plain Greek or natural yoghurt when it comes to versatility. It can be enjoyed with oats or added to smoothies, or mixed with fruit as a snack or frozen into yoghurt ice-blocks. It can even be used in recipes to make creamy sauces or as a substitute for sour cream.
Long-life milk While long-life milk has slightly less vitamin B than fresh milk, its protein and calcium amounts remain similar to that of fresh milk and so for the convenience and price savings I always keep a supply of long-life milk at home.
Canned tomatoes are convenient and healthy, and can be used in any number of dishes. Photo: iStock
Tinned tomatoes Whether it is as a base for pasta or Mexican dishes, to whip up a quick soup or as a sauce base to marinate fish, chicken or meat dishes, there would be few weeks that I do not go through a couple of cans of tomatoes. Canned vegies also have an extremely low price per serve.
Frozen vegies While fresh vegetables are always a great choice, the truth is that they can have a very limited lifespan and can be heavily affected by seasonal price variations. On the other hand, keeping a supply of frozen vegies – mixed packets, peas, corn, spinach and kale along with individual portion packs means you always have options on hand to bulk recipes. You're also never caught without vegies for dinner and you can stock up when they are on sale, making them extremely cost effective.
Low-salt stock Like canned tomatoes, a good quality chicken or beef stock can turn the most basic of ingredients into a tasty meal in minutes. Whether it is to make a soup, casserole, risotto or even to give meat or chicken some extra flavour, I seek out the lowest salt stocks I can find and always keep a supply in the pantry.
Kidney beans There are many different varieties of legumes, but my choice is kidney beans for their taste and versatility. You can mash them into burgers, bulk out any mince dish with them, make your own baked beans or add them to soups and salads to boost the fibre and protein content for as little as $1 a can.
White rice tends to be high GI and is exceptionally easy to overeat. Photo: iStock
What a dietitian never buys
White rice Although it is considered a dietary staple, white rice lacks the nutrient density wholegrain brown rice offers and with an extremely high glycaemic index, is exceptionally easy to overeat. If I am reaching for a family meal base, I opt for wholemeal pasta or quinoa, or serve dishes that use rice as an ingredient with cauliflower rice.
Fruit juice While fruit is a nutrient-dense food offering a range of vitamins and dietary fibre, fruit juice is a liquid sugar that's exceptionally easy to overconsume. It's also a concentrated source of energy and is relatively expensive. If you love juice, opt for vegie-based juices and skip the fruit juice section entirely.
Margarine There is nothing good nutritionally that can be said about processed vegetable oils made into a solid fat and added to foods, no matter how healthy the labels claim spreads are. Nutritionally you will always be better using extra virgin olive oil, nut spreads or even a little butter than you will be using margarine.
Frozen pastry items These are one of the few foods in the supermarket likely to contain some extremely damaging trans fats, a byproduct of processed vegetable oils and margarines. This means pies, sausage rolls and other cheap pastry items are highly unlikely to be seen in a dietitian's trolley.