(03/15/22) BATON ROUGE, La. — That last trip to the grocery store seems to be the topic of discussion in many areas following recent price increases.
LSU AgCenter nutrition specialist Sandra May says now is not the time to panic. But it is time to create a plan.
“We teach a lot of food dollar management because we deal with a lot of limited-resource audiences through our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education and our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program,” she said.
One of the charges from the federal government guidelines to the Cooperative Extension Service is teaching food dollar management “because people may be receiving SNAP benefits, WIC or on limited resources,” she said.
This looks different from when the pandemic started, she said. At that time, it was mainly just a shortage of toilet paper. But supply chain issues have caused shortages in other areas of the stores this time around.
May said another major difference is people are freer to move around than during the shutdown. However, gas prices are now a major consideration.
“To control your food dollar budget, you will have to plan your meals and snacks,” she said. “Try to plan out for a week if you can so you don’t have to run to the store 50 times.”
There are many ways to eat nutritious meals on a budget, she said. It may take some lifestyle changes, but that may not be all bad either.
Reducing portion sizes, especially of meat, will make a big difference in the food budget and will be good for your health also, she said.
“One thing we can all do is change the structure of our plates,” she said. “Why not make meat the side and make vegetables the main portion of the plate?”
May said there are many healthful and filling plant-based meal options that can be created on a budget.
“Everything healthy is not expensive if you go for the plant-based options like red beans and rice, sweet potatoes with a side of green beans. I even had a salad a few days ago and I added some chickpeas, and it was delicious,” she said.
Studies have even shown that eating a more plant-based diet can reduce the risk of certain illnesses like colon cancer and dementia, she said.
Her suggestion is to reduce the amount of meat in the diet, but not necessarily remove meat totally.
“No, we’re not saying you should stop eating meat because animal protein definitely has a lot of nutrients,” she said. “That’s mainly where we get the vitamin B12 that we need that plants don’t provide.”
May said reducing the portion size of meat can make a big difference in budgets and health.
“We don’t need as much meat as we think we do,” she said. “When we think of a pork chop or a hamburger, we are thinking 4 to 5 ounces when we only need about 3 ounces.”
She said when it costs more than $20 to buy three kid’s meals, that’s when you know that eating out is going to tank the food budget.
“People need to be mindful of how much they are eating during this time,” she said. “We have all suffered a considerable amount of stress during the past two years.”
There were discussions about the possibility of more cancer diagnoses due to the amount of stress people were dealing with at the time.
“Normally we tend to eat more when we are stressed,” she said. “So, the stress causes inflammation, which could aggravate other illness. And the extra calories will cause weight gain.”
It’s a bad position to been in but planning what foods you eat and when will help to stretch those food dollars and put you on the road to better health.
May said you can follow these eight tips to save money and eat a healthful diet:
— Take inventory of what you have already.
— Plan all meals and snacks for the next 14 days.
— Make lists before going to the grocery store.
— Stock up on fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system.
— Choose healthful snacks.
— Vary your protein.
— Make it yourself.
— Save at the checkout counter with coupons and store discounts.
Also check the clearance shelves for deals, she said.