Aisle by Aisle: Browsing the Bakery

Choosing cookies, cakes, pies or fresh breads can be tricky -- here are a few tips to make the best choices when browsing the supermarket bakery section.
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My top shopping tip: Go to the market on a full stomach. This helps keep your brain and belly focused on the shopping list and makes it less likely to snatch up too many unnecessary goodies, especially in the snack aisle or bakery. Choosing cookies, cakes, pies or fresh breads can be tricky -- here are a few tips to make the best choices.

Breads, Bagels and Rolls

Most items in the bakery look freshly baked, but are they? Chances are they may not be. To be sure, ask the person manning the counter if the items are made in the store, from a nearby bakery or shipped in from a factory. Many breads are baked off-site and frozen, only to be warmed up when they get to the market so they have that “freshly baked” feeling.

Breads baked somewhere else will typically have a food label -- use this to check if they are a healthier choice than packaged varieties in the bread aisle. If you’re lucky to have freshly baked breads, choose one kind that you really enjoy. If they’re shipped in, you might also hit up your farmers' market or make your own instead. You can store freshly baked bread in the fridge or freezer to keep it fresher longer.

Muffins and Pastries

A large muffin can weigh in at around 400 calories with tons of saturated fat and loads of sugar. Be especially wary of low- and non-fat varieties that use lots of extra sweetener to replace the missing fat. I tend to choose mini muffins that max out at about 50 calories each. If I’ve got a breakfast date at a grocery store like Whole Foods (they have seating available), I’ll choose 1 or 2 mini muffins and grab a fresh fruit or non fat yogurt. I’d rather go for smaller amounts of the real deal than fat-free versions that may not be as delicious.

Other pastries like danishes, donuts and scones can have upwards of 450 calories each, but vary depending on how much filling is used and the size of the pastry. Choose donuts without the creamy filling to skim calories. Some stores may also offer donut holes; they're typically around 70 calories each. Just don't overeat them!

Cakes, Cookies and Pies

Occasional sweet treats can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Some of my faves are chocolate cake, fruit tarts and, of course, chocolate chip cookies. My new favorite birthday cake is strawberry shortcake. I buy it once in a year for my special treat. For the house, I’ll buy the smaller-sized goodies like bite-sized brownies or cookies, but only one package or enough for 2 cookies per person. When I purchase a cake, I ask for the smallest size, which is typically 6 inches. Meringues and biscotti (twice-baked cookies) are also better choices and tend to be lower in calories and fat than other cookies. But remember that even if they’re marketed as “fresh,” these pastries might be factory-made and shipped in. If they’re pre-made off site, you can always check the label for added preservatives and calorie content.

And, of course, you can always bake your own treats. Here are some delectable summer sweets to try.

TELL US: What's one thing that always trips you up in the bakery section?
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