A typical run to the grocery store for Synthia Mitchell usually goes fairly quickly. She just grabs name brand items she likes, tosses them in her cart and heads out.
But her latest trip to the store was different.
“I was checking the labels and comparing, which I had never done,” said Mitchell, who recently went on one of three Shopping Matters tours at a Winn-Dixie in Opa-locka.
The tours were thanks to a $500 grant awarded by the anti-hunger nonprofit, Share Our Strength, which the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation matched.
Shopping Matters, an initiative of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters, a program that helps low-income families get the most out of their money at the grocery store and aims to teach shoppers the basics of healthy shopping on a budget .
The interactive tours are led by volunteer nutrition and culinary experts like Cassandra Mathieu, extension program assistant for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program with the University of Florida.
“I try to tell everyone that there are no such thing as bad good, it’s what we add to it,” said Mathieu.
She and other guides took residents through various sections of the supermarket teaching them tips such as reading nutritional labels, buying store brand products to save money and picking up meats and other cold items at the end of a shopping trip to reduce the risk of contamination.
She also went over MyPlate, the nutritional guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture which lays out food recommendations, and other health information.
Mitchell took notes throughout the tour.
While Mathieu was giving a lesson on which cereals are best to purchase Mitchell began comparing two boxes of oatmeal - one brand name and one generic.
She was delighted to see that the generic brand was cheaper than the brand name she usually goes for but was turned off when she saw the words “sugar-free” written on a box.
“I am starting to see this is going to be a process,” said Michelle, 60. “It’s going to be a challenge, but you can change at any age.”
Others on the tour were also up for the challenge.
“I didn’t know about all the fat and sodium in meats. This really opened my eyes,” said Sharika Hardy, 24, of Opa-locka.
Hardy said she wanted to take part in the program to help improve the health of her two children.
“I usually go for the chips, canned good,” when shopping, said Hardy, adding she is going to change her habits and incorporate more fresh fruit into her family’s diet
Mathieu said one of biggest hurdles people face when trying to lead a more healthful lifestyle is switching their mentality about food.
“We do what our parents did,” Mathieu said, suggesting that people tend to eat what they grew up with. “But we can change.”
Mitchell, who grew up on a diet of fried foods in Fort Valley, Ga., said she anticipates changing her mentality about food being a challenge.
“I’m from Georgia, we eat white bread and real butter, not imitation stuff,” said Mitchell, who decided to start her journey to healthier lifestyle after being diagnosed with several medical conditions, including high blood pressure and got gastric bypass surgery in February.
She has since lost more than 50 pounds.
“After the surgery I was eating smaller amounts of food but I wasn’t having healthier food,” said Mitchell.
Shayna Mitchell, a compliance and demographic coordinator with the Opa-locka CDC said it was important to her to bring this Shopping Matters tour to her community after she took notice of the unhealthy lifestyle many around here were leading.
"Most people don’t really understand how important it is to eat food that is healthy," said Shayna Mitchell, who is Synthia’s niece.
She said she thinks the tours helped lead people to a more healthful lifestyle.
"I know I learned a lot.”
Those who would like to learn more about arranging a Shopping Matters tour in their own own community can visit shoppingmatters.org.