Learning how to change unhealthy eating habits starts with learning how to shop and stretch a food dollar.
By Brenda Porter-Rockwell
Raleigh resident Gloria Dunn’s face filled with shock when she was told processed foods have been aggravating her menopausal symptoms.
“Guess I’ll be making a few changes,” said Dunn, chuckling.
Dunn and about six other shoppers helped kick off Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s first-ever nutrition education event at Food Lion’s Cross Link Road location last Friday. Called “Cooking Matters at the Store,” the education event is designed to help families at risk for hunger make healthy and affordable choices at the supermarket.
Over the next few weeks, more than 400 individuals from low-income neighborhoods in seven counties are expected to participate in store tours. The educational event is made possible by a $10,000 donation from Food Lion.
“Being able to understand ingredient panels and what they mean is the goal,” said Inter-Faith’s director of communications Cindy Sink. “We hope they walk away understanding that the more ingredients listed on the panel, the more processed that item is.
On a nearby table lay three peach cobblers – one made with fresh peaches, one with canned peaches and one with frozen peaches.
“The idea here is that you can make them all taste good,” Sink said. “But which one is going to be best for your budget?”
Christine Davis, Inter-Faith’s volunteer tour facilitator, led the store tour, illustrating budget-friendly shopping tips by reminding the crowd to shop on sale, consider store brands, buy fruits and veggies in season and check prices against portion size. (A 14-ounce bag of pre-sliced apples for $2.99 or a 3-pound bag of red delicious for the same price?)
Farther inside the store, Davis pulled a can of green beans from the shelf and began reading from the ingredient panel.
“You’ll see they have listed the number of servings in each can, the calories per serving, the sodium levels, saturated fat, potassium and sugar contained. The ingredients are green beans, water and salt,” said Davis, who compared the 14.5-ounce can, priced at $.89, with the selection of fresh green beans at $1.99 a pound and a 1-pound bag of frozen beans at $.99.
“As you can see, the bag of frozen green beans says green beans and water,” she said. “This bag is less expensive than canned or fresh and has no sodium.
So I encourage you all to think about the differences as you’re doing your shopping.”
Davis then went on to further illustrate differences in packaged, fresh and frozen foods, using bread, rice, oats and dairy.
She acknowledged that taste can be a barrier to making healthy choices and encouraged a step-down program using milk as an example: Go from whole milk to skim to 2 percent to 1 percent.
One participant said he often drinks a gallon of whole milk in one sitting. He said he drank skim milk for a few weeks and lost about 25 pounds. But he never forgot the taste of whole milk and reverted back to his old ways.
“Think about how much better you felt without the extra weight. It does take time to get used to it, but you can do it,” Davis said, encouraging the man.
Moving on to the bread and grain aisle, Davis picked up a bag of pre-packaged chicken-flavored microwaveable rice, noting that, “You’re buying everything they put in it.”
In contrast, she showed off a small bag of uncooked brown rice, noting that by adding a little chicken broth, an egg and a can of mixed vegetables, “You’ve got instant fried rice. And there are many different kinds of brown rice, so you can have fun experimenting.”
Dunn said she likes to make pre-packaged macaroni and cheese for her grandchildren. Everyone agreed that this particular packaged food item would be the hardest to give up.
ReShaun Lawrence, also from Raleigh, said she attended a similar healthy-shopping program and had already been making “small substitutes” as a result.
She said she has been using ground turkey in place of beef, but, “I’m learning more today.” With the new information, she plans on adding in whole-grain pastas and low-fat cheeses.
The last part of the tour challenged participants to put their newly acquired knowledge to work. The test: Fill your cart with as many healthy items as $10 will buy. Participants were supplied with a $10 Food Lion gift card and reusable shopping bags.
One participant, who identified herself only as Keesha, loaded her cart with a bag of red apples, a dozen eggs, a bag of frozen broccoli, a bag of brown rice, a few bananas and a quart of skim milk.
“I have three boys at home, and these are the things we eat,” she said. “But I’m substituting whole milk for skim – so we’ll see what happens.”
At the end of the event, Dunn said she’d learned that turmeric is a good substitute for salt and that eating less meat and dairy will help ease her menopausal symptoms.