Nutrition From the Ground Up: A Look at Food Sourcing and Building a Healthful Diet

Note: As part of National Nutrition Month, we'll be highlighting tips from our Registered Dietitians around the theme of "Nutrition from the Ground Up." For more info see our kickoff post or visit ADA's National Nutrition Month page.

By: Kerry Robinson, RD   Date: 3/29/10

March is National Nutrition Month® and here at the International Food Information Council Foundation, we've reflected on many of this year's themes, including tips to increase fruit and vegetable intake and ways to enhance variety in the diet. Today I'm discussing the theme "look locally" and how it intersects with nutrition and building a healthful diet.

Increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy is a worthwhile goal that takes serious effort, planning, and time to accomplish.  Achieving a healthful diet can become even more complex when you factor in additional layers and choices that relate to where the food is coming from (or where it is sourced), whether it's from a local farmer's market or CSA (community supported agriculture), the nearest grocery store or supermarket, or even your very own garden. 

When it comes to food sourcing, what's important to one person or family may not be as important to another. Circumstances such as food access, or convenience, income, and taste preference vary across the population.  So how can you build the foundation of a healthful diet while considering other factors unique to you and your family?  The key lies in customization.  Let's take a look at these examples to provide some perspective:

- A single working woman is looking for convenience and minimal food waste.  In this case, frozen veggies found in the supermarket are a nice option, as the preparation time is minimal and, in most instances, leftover frozen veggies will outlast their fresh counterparts when properly stored in the freezer.  Single serving frozen entrées are also a time-saving option.

- Two parents want to introduce their children to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and local dairy products.  A visit to the local farmer's market provides a great educational opportunity to help children discover new types of fresh produce and dairy.  It's also a way to interact with farmers and producers and to support the local community

- A former city dweller retires and moves out to a more rural area, where the nearest grocery store or supermarket is more than an hour away.  Stocking up on staple foods items that have a longer shelf-life, such as canned fruits and vegetables, grains, and canned tuna or salmon may be the most practical way to incorporate these beneficial foods into the diet.  

These examples are not all inclusive, and in many instances, you may find yourself visiting a variety of places to get your food.  However, these examples serve to highlight some of the many factors and individual situations that influence food sourcing and purchasing decisions. So, the next time you head out to pick up your next meal (or next several meals), don't feel overwhelmed, but instead feel confident that there are many pathways to building a healthful diet.