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Coping With Supermarket Sticker Shock

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Local nutritionist says maintaining healthy nutrition in hard times is still doable

By Chris Levister –

First it was the Great Recession. Then gas prices went through the roof.

Now, just as weary Americans are beginning to feel better about the country’s economic footing, the price of food is skyrocketing.

And predictions are that the cost to put breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table will continue to soar in 2011 -- not just here, but across the globe.

At last check milk, in Inland Empire stores, is as high as $4 a gallon.

Hamburger (85 percent lean) is $3.99 a pound. A dozen large eggs is $1.68. One pound of butter is $3.38. A head of iceberg lettuce is $2.88. The average price of a 16-ounce box of cereal hovers around $4 or more.

The reasons for this price spike are multiple. More farmland is being used to grow crops for biofuels, like ethanol, which is made from corn. Over six percent of the world’s grain supply is now being diverted to fuel production and the numbers will only go up as the price of oil continues to climb.

Another factor is increased demand for food worldwide. As the world population grows and developing nations become increasingly wealthier, there is globally more demand for quality food. Especially meat products are being consumed in much greater quantities than they were ten years ago. To satisfy those emerging markets, more livestock is being raised and additional grain is used for feed.

The reality is, we can't stop eating says San Bernardino nutritionist Connie Lexion. But we can change what we eat and how we shop.

Lexion is a consultant at Home & Health Promotion in San Bernardino. She shared ways to deal with higher food prices at the grocery store:

“Many cash-strapped families are turning to "survival gardens" to help dig out from the recession, says Lexion. These differ from the usual vegetable patch by delivering high yields from small spaces and producing wholesome foods that store well.

They were called 'victory gardens' during the world wars because they helped ease shortages, said Lexion.

“We call them 'survival gardens' now because they help families cut spending.

The term is part of a larger do-it- yourself trend toward growing more backyard veggies and eating locally grown food.

Survival gardens are used mainly to raise the kind of produce that you can grow for less than what you would pay at a grocery store — things like squash, watermelon and zucchini.

There's also the bonus that homegrown tastes better than store-bought. Just a lot more flavor, says Lexion.

She says cooking your own meals does not have to be that hard. With a little creativity and forethought, you and your family can enjoy both good food and savings.

Add more protein and less meat. Substitute beef roasts and steaks for less expensive chicken and pork. Use ground turkey instead of ground beef. Beans, legumes, nuts and grains are healthy and cost savers.

Pasta is a no-fuss, yet yummy food that most family members will not object to having for dinner, said Lexion. Pasta is also a good money saver because a few pounds of uncooked noodles will yield a lot once done.

Eat green salads. Spring greens are more nutritious than lettuce.

Delicious low calorie desserts can be made using Jell-O and Cool Whip. Encourage kids to make fun Jell-O jigglers.

Eat at home more often.

Dining out is expensive and often high in calories. Rather than eat out for the sake of convenience, turn dining out into a family treat.

Shop with a plan, have a list. Plan ahead for what you want to make for dinner during the next week. Check your cupboards to make sure you don't already have some of the ingredients.

Never shop hungry. Put on blinders. Stores are designed to appeal to impulse shoppers. Try to stick to your list.

Avoid prepared foods. They are pricey and often high in sodium and other not-so-beneficial ingredients, Lexion says.

Skip bottled water. “If you don't like the water coming out of your tap, buy a water filter.

The cost per gallon is much less than the cost of bottled water and it is easier on the environment.

Leave the kids at home when you're shopping. Even the bestbehaved kids will result in unplanned extras in your basket.

Buy in bulk. Freeze in small containers. Avoid wastage, heat individual or multiple servings.

Buy healthier snacks like low sodium baked chips and low sugar sodas and juices.

Build a menu around what is on sale she said. For example strawberries and blueberries are on sale for Mother’s Day.

Chip coupons and watch for supermarket ads. With a little creativity and forethought, you and your family can enjoy both good food and savings.

Experts say the alarming rise in food costs cannot be easily reversed. Unlike the housing market, the accelerating food prices are not a bubble waiting to burst. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the costs for world food supplies have reached record levels since the first price surveys taken in 1990.

World and national commodity indicators suggest that the cost to put breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table will continue to soar with little relief in sight.

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