Every week, I sacrifice the desire to sleep in for the early morning trek to the commissary. They say the early bird gets the worm, but we all know when it comes to shopping at the commissary, the early bird gets the best selection and avoids waiting in long check-out lines. If you’re anything like me, you scurry through the produce section and down every aisle trying to find all the best deals.
At the same time, I am fretting over whether I am making healthy choices for the sometimes-finicky-but-always-hungry brood at home. Meal planning has become a requirement for stretching our food budget, and now thanks to a new program from the folks at DeCA, I can get my shopping done in record time while still ensuring I’m making smart choice about what we’re eating.
In addition to the recently launched Out of the Box recipe program that offers quick and healthy meal options, commissary shoppers can now find some of the best healthy products to add to their baskets just by looking for the new color-coded shelf tags.
The Nutrition Guide Program or NGP for short, highlights the following 6 food categories:
Green = Organic: As certified by the USDA.
Dark Blue = Low Sodium: For those folks looking to watch their salt intake, these labels can help you quickly identify products with 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
Ruby = No Sugar Added: As you probably guessed, this label indicates food items in which no sugar was added during production. This doesn’t mean these products are sugar-free. Look for this label on products like applesauce or baby food.
Brown = Whole Grain: These products are made with whole grains and must contain at least 8 grams of whole grain to earn this label.
Light Blue = Low Fat: With lots of rules about what can be considered low-fat, these labels are a great way to quickly find truly low-fat options. All products indicated by these labels contain 3 grams or less of total fat per serving. Additionally, for meal or main dish options, like in the frozen food section, foods must have 3 grams or less of total fat per 100 grams of the product.
Sand (Light Brown) = Good Source of Fiber: You’ll see this shelf label on products that contain at least 10% or more of the daily value for fiber per serving.
These easily-recognizable shelf labels are derived from ingredient lists and nutritional panel values as well as guidelines from the FDA and USDA.
Shoppers will also notice some shelves marked with a thumbs up symbol. Products on these shelves are specially marked as highly nutritious foods good for high performance. These “thumbs-up” products align closely with the DOD’s Go for Green and the Marine Corps “Fueled to Fight” dining facilities nutrition education programs.
Most shoppers find it easy to recognize healthy options in the produce section, but the prepackaged and frozen food sections can sometimes be a little harder to navigate. Currently there are more than 600 “thumbs-up” products, making decisions about what to buy easier.
While you won’t see the NGP shelf labels in every department, you will see them for the following products: organic baby food, chilled meats, baking goods, condiments, beverages, bread, frozen foods, organic candy, canned goods, grains, pasta, and side dishes, cereal and breakfast foods, snacks, soups, and whole grain cake mixes.
The DeCA website points out that these shelf labels are not meant to be a substitute for consumers reading food labels. If your family has special dietary restrictions or allergies, it is still important to read food labels.
They also suggest that by the time you make it up to the checkout line your basket should contain lots of fresh produce, lean meats, eggs, and foods rich in healthy fats like fish, nuts, seeds, olive/canola oil and avocados. The remainder can be packaged items, but try to use the thumbs up symbol to identify those food items high in nutritional value.
It’s OK to splurge on that favorite flavor of ice cream or something from the cookie aisle, but those foods should be an exception to your daily eating habits, not part of your normal diet.