A sweet, sweet fantasy of mine is winning a Whole Foods shopping spree, renting out the entire place, pumping Queen's "I Want It All" through the sound system, and popping a few wheelies on the grocery cart. I'd grab as many gourmet cheeses and craft beers as my arms could carry and my cart could hold. When I was done exploring every outlet of the store from the coffee to the seafood, I'd make my way to the bagging area and do a high-five line with the workers on my way out. Whole Foods is a gourmand's mecca, and as my dream suggests, it's easy to go crazy.
The trouble with grocery shopping, in general, is that it's hard to stay focused, especially at Whole Foods when options abound and vendors tantalize you with free samples. And even though our intentions may be to shop healthfully (cheeses and beers be damned), the "good-for-you" options aren't always cut and dried. That's why we enlisted the help of nutritionist Maria Bella, owner of Top Balance Nutrition in NYC for her exact weekly grocery list. Ahead, take a look at her favorite fridge and pantry staples as well as a breakdown of why she chooses each.
"I am all for six colors of produce on a daily basis. It certainly does not always happen, but it makes it fun to shop for food. I believe that we can stay healthy while eating all the foods that we enjoy, and there is no reason to force ourselves to eat bland salads when there are so many other ways to incorporate produce into our daily menus.
"I love root vegetables and roasted parsnips with sweet paprika when I come home. They are so low in calories that I can eat massive quantities without gaining any weight.
"Riced cauliflower with chopped onions is another great option. (I purchase onions already peeled and finely chopped as I am no longer lying to myself—I would rather pay more, increasing my chances of actually using the food and doing some cooking.) I cook riced cauliflower with cumin for a pleasant Middleastern flavor. I also eat carrots in different colors: orange, yellow, purple—they look amazing when roasted.
"I love buying butternut squash that I use to make soup with ginger and cumin—it's low in calories and freezes well (and can be served with plain Greek yogurt mixed in for added protein with some flaxseed crackers on the side).
"When it comes to fruits, my philosophy is berries and more berries. And I know that I am a strange case here, but I prefer the taste of vegetables and am not a big fan of fruits. Mostly, I purchase fruits that are freeze-dried, which are neither frozen nor dried and have the crispy consistency of chips with organic fruits being the only ingredient on the label. I may have those as a snack when I travel."
"There is so much information out there now regarding dairy. Personally, I stay away from milk because of skin breakouts. Many people also become somewhat lactose intolerant as they age. Greek or Icelandic yogurts have less lactose and more protein because they are both strained. They are also a good source of probiotics for our gastrointestinal systems to function properly, and they provide a good amount of calcium for us to maintain strong bones. Plain Greek yogurt can be used to be mixed into butternut squash soups or tomato soups. Goat products have smaller fat globules that are more natural for human digestion. I put spreadable goat cheese on flaxseed crackers topped with apple butter for a sweet snack.
"I do stay away from rice milk, as it's pure sugar water, and I avoid coconut milk, as it is very high in saturated fat. We do need saturated fat to function, but even the healthy oils, such as olive oil, have small fractions of saturated fat per serving. Most healthy people get enough at the end of the day.
"Although eggs are really not considered dairy, they are sold in the dairy section of the store. I purchase whole eggs and also packaged egg whites. I have been known to get dirty looks for that, but many brands of separated egg whites get the orange color because of added vitamin E and are not heavily processed. Egg whites are only 20 calories each and do not have fat or cholesterol, making them a great volume food that can be used to make omelets, egg white muffins, frittatas and more. I make an egg white omelet in the morning with egg whites, black beans and salsa using the entire container of egg whites. It sure holds me over until lunchtime."
"We do not need meat or meat products to function and be healthy. Personally, I do love a great bison steak, as those are incredibly lean and fairly low in calories. I also do enjoy roast beef. Whole Foods frequently carries bison roast beef, depending on location.
"For poultry, 99% lean ground turkey is used in my house for turkey meatballs and turkey meatloaf that I make with one cup of plain oatmeal per pound of turkey to retain the moisture and add a little bit of fiber. I sometimes purchase chicken tenders that I use to make baked chicken fingers with whole wheat bread crumbs or whole wheat panko mixed with garlic powder, cilantro, and a little bit of shredded parmesan for flavor.
"As far as fish, anything goes. I love fatty kinds, as they fill me up so much more. I often purchase frozen salmon or turkey burgers, as they are easy to prepare, but I have also been known to make my own salmon burgers with ginger powder and wasabi paste and freeze for later. Cheap, tasty, high protein, low carb—appropriate for many diets and dietary restrictions."
"I do not have anything against grains. Though personally, I feel much fuller getting my carbohydrates through starchy vegetables, such as squash, carrots, and beets. I bake beets in foil and serve them as baked potatoes for dinner. But I also have one full-fat, full-sugar regular dessert every single night. My favorite ones are chocolate mousse, crème-brûlée, and French macaroons. They give me more satisfaction than 1/2 cup rice or a baked potato, but we are all very different.
"I make sure that my desserts are absolutely decadent and luxurious. It is fascinating to me that we treat money with respect—I would not spend $300 on a random, useless purchase—but we treat our bodies completely oppositely. So I now allow myself to eat anything as long as it is only the absolute best quality. Having my dessert at night also eliminates the fear of going to bed hungry and gives me a small serotonin boost to get me through a great night of rest."