In a tough economy, it is tough for those living paycheck to paycheck to develop a strong budget that can absorb fluctuating food and gas prices, but Tonya Wogoman, nutritionist with Barry County's University Extension office, has some hints that might help.
"Plan ahead," Wogoman said. "Write a menu for meals and snacks that covers several days and shop for those items."
By creating a weekly or bi-weekly menu, consumers can follow a specific shopping plan and avoid those impulse purchases.
"Planning meals in advance saves time and money," Wogoman said. "Family households are less likely to run out of food before the end of the month."
By shopping in bulk and dividing food into single-serving or meal-sized portions, consumers can stock up on staple items, such as whole grain pasta, brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, canned or dried beans, eggs, ground beef, chicken and canned fruits or vegetables.
"See what foods are already on hand," Wogoman said. "Then write down the foods needed for family meals and snacks. Use coupons to stretch those shopping dollars."
Wogoman also urges consumers to shop smart, using food labels to make healthy choices.
"So many food items are processed these days," Wogoman said. "It's best to buy whole foods when you can. By reading food labels, shoppers can determine the serving size, amount of calories, fat, protein and other nutrients in that item."
Wogoman said consumers should seek food items that provide 100 percent of the daily recommendations for fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron while limiting fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium as much as possible.
Consumers should also check package dates to ensure they do not choose expired food products, make sure refrigerated foods are cold to the touch and frozen foods are solid.
"Consumers should check cans for dents, rust or bulges," Wogoman said. "They should also make sure the safety buttons are all in the down position or that package seals are not broken."
Shoppers can also save food dollars by buying store brand items when possible.
"Again, people need to check labels for nutrition information and avoid those higher in sugars and fat than the national brands," Wogoman said.
A recent Consumer Reports study matched 21 national brands with 21 store-name brands. The national-brand products won only seven of the 21 match-ups, while the store-brand products won three. The rest of the products tied for similar quality. By saving an estimated 30 percent of a typical $100 weekly food dollar budget, a typical family could realize as much as $1,500 in savings over the course of a year.
Savvy shoppers also know that pre-packaged convenience items cost more. Instead, many people divide leftovers into individual servings to take to work for lunch or freeze for a later time.
Many consumers are also finding ways to go meatless one night per week, substituting legumes, eggs, cheese or other protein source, which are less expensive.
Wogoman is one of two nutritionists in Barry County who are available to discuss nutrition, fitness and food safety with students, families and adults.
Based on the based around MyPlate and MyPyramid programs, Wogoman teaches people of all ages about the food groups and how much to eat from each one.
Wogoman also offers information at the United Methodist Food Pantry in Cassville. She will be available for consultation at the food pantry on Feb. 9, 13, 14, 15, 20, 23 and 27.
"I'm very impressed at the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats offered through the food pantry," Wogoman said. "It's important for people to eat more whole foods and avoid processed food items."
For more information on healthy eating on a budget, contact Wogoman or Jacquie Howell at the Barry County office of the University of Missouri Extension at 847-3161.