How to stretch your food budget — and eat right

DOVER — For those with a limited income, learning the right way to shop can be key to a healthy diet.

Asia Thurston is the community nutrition educator at the Food Bank of Delaware in Milford where she teaches classes like “Spending Less, Eating Better.”

“What I would tell people to do is, you have to plan,” she said.

“I know, I know, I know it’s tedious. A lot of people I know, they say, I don’t want to plan.”

“If you don’t plan, you’re going to wind up spending more money than they really expect to.”

Every plan starts with a budget, she said.

Ms. Thurston said people should check before they go to the store so they don’t end up buying items they already have.

“Usually what I tell people is, once you’ve created your budget, go ahead and check your cabinets and check your refrigerator to see what you don’t have,” Ms. Thurston said.

When you’re at the store, she said, compare unit prices, which are usually posted on shelves below the food. Consider choosing store brands over name brands — they’re about 20 percent less expensive.

“You have to compare to see which one is a better buy. That’s one of the other things people don’t do,” Ms. Thurston said.

You should only buy what you can eat, but if you have a big family, buying in bulk can be a great way to save money. You can also buy in bulk with a friend and split the expenses.

Then there are coupons, sales papers and supermarket rewards cards. Coupons may save you 10 percent to 15 percent off your grocery bill. Ms. Thurston said the Sunday paper, on average, has $50 worth of coupons.

Compare your shopping lists to the sales circulars and try to shop where the items you need are discounted.

Then there is price matching. Several stores — most notably Walmart — will match any local competitor’s advertised price.

If you find a good deal, bring the circular or online printout with you when you shop, and let the cashier know you are price matching before she rings up.

Even those who eat three meals a day may be malnourished because of the quality of what they eat.

“How about those chips?” Ms. Thurston said. “ … there’s no nutritional value there.”

Try to purchase nutrient-rich foods; foods with more fiber, vitamins, minerals and low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.

“I think one of the most important things is to read labels. Everyone’s saying ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry, get something in the stomach,’ ” Ms. Thurston said, “but if it’s not a food item that offers nutritional value, why would you want to intake it?”

Use dates to select the freshest foods. Shop for in-season fruits and vegetables.

Ms. Thurston said that she prefers to shop when the stores aren’t crowded so that she can buy the freshest food, rather than picked-over items.

She said that she often sees people buy quick meals they can pop in the microwave. But they may not be healthiest choice. And besides, cooking from scratch is usually less expensive.

“The problem nowadays is people don’t know how to cook anymore and this is why they don’t have any money left over,” Ms. Thurston said.

If she knows she has a busy week coming up, Ms. Thurston said she takes out her slow-cooker so dinner can be on while she’s at work.

The Food Bank of Delaware offers nutrition education programs for adults, children and seniors.

Some of the lessons covered include meal planning, budget planning and shopping, food safety and cooking skills.

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