For the sixth week in a row, I’ve left the grocery store with a touch of sticker shock.
The first few occasions, I blamed it on the purchase of higher-priced items you need only periodically. Now, I (we) have to accept the rising cost of groceries as yet more fallout from a global pandemic.
Every month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports on the consumer food price index. Sure enough, in June the cost of food at home went up 5.6% relative to June 2019. Inflation is expected, but for the sake of comparison, in 2019, food cost increased 0.9%.
Without a bunch of numbers to muddle the concept, let’s simplify the point. Relative to last year, many households are spending significantly more on food, while simultaneously experiencing greater financial insecurity.
In the spectrum of needs vs. wants, food clearly holds its ground as a necessary purchase. So before panic sets in, know there are ways to save money on food without being condemned to a ramen noodle diet.
Shop in the center aisles of the grocery store. Canned, frozen and dried products may be cheaper than fresh and still provide a good source of nutrients. Examples include canned pineapple, dried lentils and frozen spinach. Substitute some animal protein with plant proteins. Brown rice and beans, which you’ll find in the center aisles, create a complete protein. Per 4 ounce serving, rice and beans (dried) cost about 12 cents, whereas ribeye sets you back $1.97. And while you may disagree, 4 ounces is an appropriate serving size. Look at the unit price rather than total cost. By purchasing the brand with a lower unit cost, you get more food for your money. Start your meal planning based on weekly sale items. You can also work backward by going to the store, purchasing marked-down items, then creating a meal plan – but it’s a bit riskier because of its shortened life span.Preserve food. Call it old-fashioned, because it is, but it’s also functional. Techniques include freezing, dehydrating, canning or fermenting. Follow trusted and tested recipes because safety is part of the technique. Trusted resources: USDA, CSU Extension’s Food Smart Colorado (or any state’s Extension office), National Center for Home Food Preservation and Ball (after 1994).According to the USDA, a family of four, with two children older than 6, that has liberal purchasing practices spends about $1,300 a month on groceries. The same family could save $670 a month by using thrifty purchasing practices.
Childhood is a crucial time for adequate nutrition to support lifelong health. When thrifty purchasing practices aren’t enough to eliminate food insecurity, there are resources available to keep food on the plate.
One such resource for families with school-age children is the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program, which offers free and reduced-cost meals. Socioeconomic status aside, here’s what the community needs to know about the program.
First, apply through student nutrition services even if you don’t think your family qualifies. Many families do qualify, allowing them to reserve income for other needs, which can benefit of the entire family. Two, districts with higher numbers of students approved for free and reduced meals receive more funding. This is to the benefit of every student in the district. Three, applications are available in Spanish and English. Finally, applying for benefits through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program will not trigger a public charge concern for families seeking U.S. citizenship.
Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at email@example.com or 382-6461. Nicole Clark