Don’t let food take the bite out of your wallet

Alberni registered dietician Sandra Gentleman schools readers on healthy eating issues.

The rising cost of food has caused turmoil in many parts of the world and is a concern for people everywhere. There are many reasons for prices to be increasing worldwide,  and there are strategies for individual consumers to help save money on one of the most essential weekly costs.

Enough cannot be said for using part of the fertile soil in the Alberni Valley for growing food. The climate and conditions for agriculture are ideal even for the average homeowner. Many have available land to turn at least part of their property into food producing gardens.

There are so many fruit trees and bushes that bear luscious fruit throughout the summer and autumn. Harvesting the in-season produce really can be a healthy activity to utilize what is already available.

In addition, with more people growing and harvesting food, it builds capacity to become more self-reliant on Vancouver Island for food security. Also, venturing to the Valley’s various  farmers markets and supporting initiatives by the local agriculture community helps save money and allows you to feel “green”.

For packaged food items that have a shelf life, buying in bulk can help to reduce the cost per unit. Also, purchasing generic or store brand products will generally offer similar quality for less money.

For vegetables and fruits, it’s a better idea to buy only as much fresh produce that can be used within three or four days. After that, the nutritional value decreases.

In terms of produce, gold standard would be freshly picked and eaten within a few days. Frozen vegetables and fruits are picked at their peak ripeness, and therefore, are the next best thing to fresh.

Canned varieties still offer some nutrition, but with the processing, sodium (salt) in tinned vegetables, and added sugar in the syrups of packed fruit offer less nutritional value for your dollar. It is healthier to eat fruits and vegetables, than not have them in your diet, so, for those people who don’t eat fresh items, some processed options are better than nothing.

Many produce aisles offer overripe, discounted fruit, which can be purchased for the purpose of freezing and using in baking or other recipes, such as smoothies.

Planning for the trip to the grocery store will also help reduce the total bill. Making a list of what’s needed for the cupboard and fridge helps minimize impulse buying. Shopping after eating means hunger is not driving food choices. Research has shown that higher fat, more convenience “junk” foods are typically chosen if the shopper has a grumbling stomach while at the store.

Taking the time to read labels, and getting a good sense of the value and nutrition in packaged foods will help improve choices.

By sticking to the perimeter of the store, most of the food staples can be found in the four major sections: whole grain products in the bakery, lean meats, fish and skinless poultry in the deli, produce, and low fat milk products in the dairy section.

A couple of aisle stops to find cupboard grocery staples not typically around the perimeter include canned beans (an excellent protein source, convenient and easy to add to salads and soups).

Whole wheat noodles, brown, wild rices along with buckwheat, quinoa and other whole and ancient grains add low cost food variety to the grocery bag. Also, canned fish with bones, such as salmon, sardines and herring are nutritional powerhouse essentials that are found in the canned food aisle.

(Tinned fish packed with bones have high nutritional value, including elements such as; omega-3s, protein, calcium and vitamin D for bone health.)

With a few ground rules for shopping, these ideas, along with many other creative solutions of food purchasers over the years (with home economy in mind), the weekly grocery bill can be reduced to save hard-earned dollars.

Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings on Vancouver Island. She is passionate about healthy, active living.

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