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Eating Healthy and Reducing Food Waste

Friday, February 24, 2023

A lady shopping for groceries.


Interest rates, utility bills and food prices have skyrocketed lately, making it more difficult for consumers to make ends meet. With grocery prices at an all-time high, it’s more important now than ever to make wise choices at the supermarket in order to put healthy meals on the table, stay within budget and reduce food waste. Household food waste represents about 44% of all food waste generated in the United States.


One of the best ways to stay on a budget is to plan meals, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Extension nutrition education specialist.


“Planning your meals in advance and buying only what is needed for those meals will help reduce your grocery bill. Plus, a meal plan can help incorporate leftovers, which reduces food waste,” Hermann said. “Sunday’s roast can become Tuesday’s beef stew. A roasted chicken can be turned into other meals such as chicken salad or a chicken potpie. Wasting food is simply throwing money away.”


As you make a meal plan, look through the refrigerator, freezer and pantry to see what’s already on hand and plan around those ingredients. Be sure to include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Visit the USDA’s MyPlate Kitchen for recipe ideas. Check out sales flyers and plan meals around things that are on sale. If your budget allows, stock up on shelf-stable items or things that can easily be frozen.


“When making your grocery list, be sure to include things such as fruits, vegetables and milk that may not be part of a recipe but are basics for healthy eating,” she said. “Meat prices are higher, so in order to save money consider planning some meals with less expensive alternative proteins such as beans, peas and lentils. Try to make half of your meal from fruits and vegetables, then fill in the rest with healthy proteins, dairy and whole grains.”


It’s important to make and stick to a shopping list. Organize the list into different sections of the store to avoid backtracking through the aisles. Because stores place the priciest items at eye level, look at the upper and lower shelves for better bargains.


Hermann suggested reading the Nutrition Facts label to help guide consumers in purchasing healthy foods. Look for reduced fat or low-fat on the label.


“Compare labels on similar foods to see which one better fits a healthy eating plan,” she said. “Keep in mind fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are healthy options. Seasonal produce will cost less and be at its peak flavor but buy only what you can use before it spoils.”


Check out this SNAP-Ed seasonal produce guide to help explore different fruit and vegetable options throughout the year. In addition, if the local supermarket doesn’t offer a large selection, consider other purchasing options such as farmers markets for the freshest produce.


“Drink water instead of soda and other sugary beverages. Tap water is easy on your wallet and has zero calories,” Hermann said. “A reusable water bottle is a great way to take water on the go and avoid the high cost of bottled water from a convenience store.”


Another great tool to help ensure consumers use food while at peak quality and reduce waste is the USDA FoodKeeper app available for most smart devices. Consumers often throw food away because they’re not sure of its quality or safety. This app serves as a guideline to help consumers better understand food and beverage storage. It also provides safe food handling and preparation information.


USDA’s MyPlate website has a helpful section called Healthy Eating on a Budget. Check it out for ideas to keep your food budget in check all while providing healthy food choices for the family.

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