Eco-friendly choices can trim food costs, boost food quality and health
Changes in food shopping behaviors and cooking can cut grocery costs, improve food quality and health, while also reducing utility bills and one's own environmental impact, according to Kansas State University professor Mary Meck Higgins.
"We hear about the importance of sustainable agriculture, but don't always associate sustainability with our own habits," said Higgins, who is a food and nutrition specialist with K-State Research and Extension and a registered dietician.
"Sustainability simply means meeting our own needs without compromising the needs of future generations, including our children and grandchildren," she said. For example, many of us take going to the grocery store and choosing the foods we want for granted.
Grocery shoppers may not realize that the farmer raising the food is typically earning about 14 cents on the dollar, said Higgins, who explained that a large part of current consumer food costs is driven by the costs of storage, transportation, processing, packaging and marketing.
Higgins, who advises choosing nutrient-dense foods in their most natural, unprocessed form, said: "Think about it. When was the last time you saw an advertisement for a pear?"
Consumers have choices, in that they can pay more to cover the cost of all the extras--or pay less, by adopting eco-friendly, health-promoting habits. To begin, she makes the following recommendations:
--Explore your community and near geographic location to learn more about foods that are grown locally--or within 50 to 100 miles of your home.
--Learn more about seasonal foods grown in your area, which often can be lower priced when "in season." For example, in Kansas, strawberries are typically most plentiful in late spring and early summer; apples reach their peak in early fall. Zucchini squashes are abundant during summer months, while acorn and Hubbard squashes are squashes available during fall and winter months.
--Shop farmers and other seasonal markets; talk with local growers about seasonal foods and ask for cooking, preserving, storage and other tips on foods they grow. Shopping locally typically offers fresh, local foods; enhances community vitality, as the money stays within the community; and reduces the need for long-term food storage and transportation and the environmental impact attributed to it.
--Look for markets that support sustainable agriculture by selling local foods and practice sustainable business practices, such as food bins that allow consumers to choose such items as dry cereal, fruits, and nuts that match their needs with minimal packaging.
--Explore local food cooperatives, community-supported agriculture programs, and lower food cost programs, including those through which consumers can invest time in community service to qualify for discount purchases. In northeast Kansas, Prairieland Foods is an example.
--Learn more about food and nutrition and their connection with health, quality of life and disease prevention. Many resources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "My Plate" program are free (www.choosemyplate.com).
--Take a look at the number of meals eaten at home each week and meals eaten away from home. A restaurant meal typically costs twice as much as the same food prepared at home.
--Brush up on cooking skills or sign up for a class to learn more and meet others who share your interest in preparing healthy meals and snacks.
--Plan meals and snacks for a week at a time; review recipes and make a list of ingredients needed, and compare the list of ingredients needed with ingredients on hand before shopping.
--Make a shopping list; take it with you and stick to it.
--Shop when markets will be least crowded (usually early morning, after supper, or mid-week).
--Check advertised specials that could yield a savings, but dismiss ads for products that don't match your needs.
--Buy quantities that do match your needs; a bushel of apples will not be a bargain if time for freezing, drying, canning or making applesauce is not available.
--Once home, store perishable items first.
More eco-friendly time and money-saving ideas are available at local K-State Research and Extension offices and at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/library/fntr2/mf3060.aspx.