By: YaQutullah Ibraheem MS, RDN, LD
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
While food costs present a very real cost of living challenge for many families, Americans are finding ways to cope and are cutting back on other living expenses including transportation, clothing, recreational and other luxuries.
We select food items based on food costs, taste, and preparation convenience. While all of these are important options to consider, none is more important than your long-term health and quality of life. Welcome to the final frontier. The American affinity for that which is quickest, easiest, and least expensive often results in our gravitating towards choices that are not always the healthiest which leads us to high sodium containing canned foods, processed foods high in fat and sugar that we think may be a quick fix for our hunger and that don’t break the bank, but you get what you pay for and you are what you eat. In the long run, quality nutrient content fall by the wayside as out waistlines expand and out blood pressures increase.
With the steady rise in food costs of breads, grains and cereals, a 9% increase according to The Consumer Price Index, many Americans are resorting to discount food pantries, food banks, government assistance programs and other options in order to meet their nutrient needs. Meal planning, understanding what to purchase and how to get the most of it is key.
Now don’t go and get rid of all of your favorite foods but learn to plan meals and add a bit of creative pizzazz to spice up some of the goods that you have in those cabinets.
Here are a few tried and proven ways to maximize nutrient intake while minimizing monthly food costs for families and individuals.
When meal planning, several factors come to mind including the number of family members being served, the number of total meals a family consumes at home, frequently purchased items, considerations for work and school lunches and other considerations. Eating breakfast at home can save an average of $900.00 dollars annually. Just think of how much a family of four could save by preparing daily lunches.
When purchasing items, label reading is essential in order to get the most nutrition out of items purchased. Key nutrients include Folate, Iron, Vitamin C, Calcium, Vitamin A, protein, saturated fat, and fiber that help with vision, bone growth and development, lean muscle maintenance, brain function, and maintaining good bowel health and regularity. Trans-fats are restructured fat molecules not naturally occurring in nature that have been included in foods in order to increase shelf life and stability. Many items are now Trans fat-free, but when shopping for dairy and other animal products, look for items low in saturated fats, i.e., less than 2 grams per serving. As a general rule, items are a good source of a nutrient if it provides 10% or more of a particular nutrient and is an excellent source if the food item provides 20% or more of a particular nutrient. When it comes to health, quality wins out over quantity.
For items that are frequently purchased, a bulk purchase from bulk food clubs including Sams Club, Cosco, BJs, and others, are more cost effective for whole wheat high fiber breads, grains, cereals and other non-perishable dry goods and freezable items. These items can be easily incorporated into prepared lunches and for breakfast at home. Rethink non-essential food items that offer little or no nutritional value such as soft drinks, cookies, candies and other impulse items.
Meal Planning and Shopping Tips
The average American eats 2-3 times the recommended portion size indicated on a Nutrition Facts Label. Pay attention to portion size and minimize plate waste by being aware of the number of servings in a food package. For example, when preparing meals at home pay attention to the number of servings per food container or package. For grain and cereals items ½ cup for hot cereals and ¾ for cold cereals is considered a serving size. Use this information to plan for the number of meal portions to be served and how many servings you can yield from items purchased. Portion control is also essential to adequate weight management.
If dinning out is one of your favorite past times, be aware that the amount of food served is about 3 times the normal recommended portion size. So, don’t feel like you have to devour the entire entrée at one sitting. Eat a bit and save some for later.
It’s natural to snack so why not plan a healthy way to do it? Instead of making multiple trips to the vending machine at work or school, save the change and purchase items including granola bars, yogurt, salt free pretzels, whole fruits, carrot sticks, whole wheat peanut butter crackers, and other healthy items that can be packed and taken with you to school or work. This is a great way to ensure good nutrition while also preventing unbudgeted expenses.
Purchasing in Season Fruits and Veggies
Using the weekly supermarket sale papers when shopping is a good habit that will help us shop sales and save money on food costs. Purchasing items fruits and vegetable in season such as squash, potatoes and other items in the fall and winter and berries and tropical fruits in summer allows you to save money and get a variety of nutrients throughout the year. Other items including many vegetables may be purchased fresh frozen, stored and used in meals.
One way to begin is to know where you stand and make adjustments as necessary. Another way to know how much you spend on groceries is to keep a record of how much your family spends on food for a two-month period. After you collect this information, you can determine how to reduce your monthly food budget. Everyone has to eat, but you can eat healthy and cut budget costs significantly when you plan accordingly.
Your healthy is your wealth so invest in it!
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