Nutrition On A Shoestring (Part 2)

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This week, we’ll take a look at some ways to save money on food while still eating healthfully.

I’d like to thank those of you who have shared your comments, opinions, and suggestions this past week, by the way. It seems like most of us are feeling the pinch, not just at the gas pump, but at the grocery store as well.

Food prices have remained relatively stable over the past couple of decades, increasing about 2.5 percent every year. However, food prices rose 4 percent in 2007. And according to the United States Department of Agriculture, food prices are expected to increase by roughly 5 percent this year. What gives? There are several reasons for the hike in prices, including the following:

  • Better economic outlook in developing countries—this means that people can afford to eat more expensive foods, such as beef. In turn, more grain is needed to feed the cattle.
  • Increase in the world’s population.
  • Increase in the cost of fertilizers.
  • Weather woes in certain parts of the United States that affect crops.
  • Higher demand for corn for use as ethanol, which means that less is available for food.
  • The rising cost of the gas needed to transport food to your local grocery store.

Although you might not easily relate to the above factors, they’ve already had a trickle-down effect. For example, you’re probably paying more for that loaf of bread due to the increase in demand for wheat. Fruits and vegetables cost more, in part, due to bad weather and due to the cost to transport produce from, say, California or Florida to wherever you live.

So what can we all do to limit sticker shock at the supermarket? Check out these tips:

  • Try to plan out your meals for the week. This will save on having to drive to the store several times to buy various ingredients.
  • Clip coupons, but only for those items that you actually use.
  • Consider buying some frozen vegetables to supplement fresh vegetables. Frozen vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh vegetables as long as they’re not packed in butter or cheese sauces.
  • Buy the store brand of foods, as long as they’re cheaper than the better-known brands.
  • Change the way you use meat and chicken to stretch them out a little. Try casseroles, stir-fry dishes, and shish kebabs, for example.
  • Save leftover vegetables, chicken, meat, etc. to use in soups, stews, or casseroles.
  • Try having one or two meatless meals each week. You’ll save a bundle by occasionally eating bean-based meals (think black beans and rice, lentil soup, or bean enchiladas). Give tofu a try—it’s great in a stir fry dish.
  • This may sound silly, but scrape all that peanut butter or mayonnaise out of the jar. Use a small spatula to get every last bit.
  • Be choosy about organic foods. You don’t really need to buy organic fruits and vegetables with inedible skins or peels, such as oranges, bananas, and avocadoes.
  • If you have the room, buy in bulk, especially canned goods, dried beans, grains, and peanut butter.

Finally, think more broadly about what else you might do to save money. For example, can you bring lunch to work more often? Bring a snack bag of low-fat crackers or some nuts instead of visiting the vending machine? Skip the twice-a-day Starbucks latte habit? Drink tap water instead of bottled water? Learn how to cook instead of relying on frozen meals or eating out as much? Some things you may be willing to change, others you may not.

We can all think of ways to save money on food and gas and hopefully help the environment at the same time.

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