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Stomaching Security

food in·se·cu·ri·ty , noun

  1. the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

Have you ever walked into a grocery store with an empty belly and only a few dollars to spend? That is the reality for many college students and adults living in food insecurity. Sometimes, that few dollars has to stretch to feed an entire family. It can be overwhelming. Countless options in the aisles and a desire to make healthy choices compound the dollar-stretching reality.

The Idaho Foodbank has a class to help those who are food insecure make the best of their situation.

Cooking Matters, a course designed by national non-profit Share Our Strength and facilitated by Idaho’s largest distributer of free food, teaches those with minimal resources how to shop, prepare and cook inexpensive and healthy meals for the whole family.

I had the pleasure to volunteer teaching this class over the course of the past six weeks. Previously I wrote how eating lunch with my peers opened my eyes to this issue and my experiences during the first weeks of teaching this class. Now, I want to share with you my student’s biggest takeaway from the class.

Shopping smart can mean a lot of different things. From a nutrition aspect, shopping smart means steering clear of junk food and packaged items. From a financial standpoint, shopping smart could mean getting as much as possible for as little as possible. The skill we worked to instill in our curious students was a balance of each: Make the price tag and the nutritional panel work together for the best possible outcome.

Organic panic is real. That’s what I call the recent craze over organic foods in our society. Many are scared that the chemicals sprayed on their food while it’s growing will kill them. Don’t get me wrong, as a prior culinary professional, I understand the benefits of organic food. However, the price tag on these products is generally unrealistic for those with food insecurity. That’s why my class was thrilled when we described unit pricing. Finally, this approach offers an easier way to compare prices! Little did they know, it was there all along. 

Budget shoppers benefit from unit pricing. It’s on every shelf price tag, but I would be willing to bet 70 percent of those who read this blog won’t know what it is. That little number in the corner of the shelf price helps you compare similar products to find the best value. Checking price per pound or price per ounce could be the deciding purchasing factor for you and your family. It could also save you a lot of money in the long run. For more information on unit pricing, you can read Iowa State University’s breakdown of the system.

After explaining unit pricing, we challenged the class to go to the grocery store with a budget of $10 to buy all the items that they needed for a meal. 90 percent of the students claimed that checking unit pricing was the biggest reason they were able to stay within the budget. And there is your proof!

While unit pricing was their biggest takeaway from the class, there are plenty of other ways to shop smart. 

  • Don’t go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. It may seem like common sense, but when you are hungry, it is hard to think straight. When our bellies are empty, we tend to grab all the items on the shelves that appeal to our taste buds. Typically, the haul leaves you without the proper items to make a meal.
  • Walk in with a plan. Along with eating before you shop, heading to the store with a plan or recipe is always a good idea. It keeps you focused on the items you need to make a meal. This can help you stay on track and within your budget.
  • Compare prices. Using unit pricing or just comparing brands will keep you from spending more than you expected.
  • Get creative with substitutions. If you see something on sale, see if it fits in your recipe. Using sale items not only keeps you from spending big bucks, but it can also be a fun alternative to cooking the same meal over and over.

I would love to invite you to try the $10 challenge: Spend less than $10 to cook one four-serving meal. Whether or not you are food insecure, budgeting is a major struggle for most Americans. So use unit pricing; I bet many of you will be able to stay within your budget and cook something pretty delicious! Bon Appetit!

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Written by Courtney Green

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