Easy, Healthy, Cost-Effective Eating

By Patrice Powers-Barker, OSU Extension, Lucas County
The Truth Contributor

Even if you do not make New Year’s resolutions, there is something about the new year that encourages us to pause, reflect and realign our intentions. Although it was not written as a resolution, I recently read an article by the Blue Zones that said, “you should learn to cook at home.” Not only did they encourage people to cook at home, but they also offered tips to make it easier, faster and more enjoyable. It does not have to be hard work.

Most Americans are well aware of cost increases, especially related to food. In the past year, prices for staples like eggs, milk, cereal, bread and butter showed some of the largest increases in costs. Eggs and margarine prices increased around 38 percent!

The Consumer Price Index lists other price increases over the last year such as chicken (16.6 percent), soups (18.5 percent), cereals (17.4 percent), and milk (17 percent). Some food items cost the same amount of money, but food and beverage companies have made packages smaller. This is called “shrinkflation” and another approach is called “skimpflation.” Skimpflation is where the price stays the same but lower cost ingredients are substituted to the original formula. An example might be trading almond extract (flavor) for protein rich almonds.

There is a little bit of good news in relation to food costs. Not all foods have increased in price as much as those listed above. Some fresh fruits like apples, bananas and citrus have not seen large price increases. Although chicken and eggs have been used as lower cost protein ingredients, some other meat products have not seen the same price increase and there are many non-meat foods that offer protein to the diet.

In 2023, all food prices are predicted to increase between 3.5 and 4.5 percent, food-at-home prices are predicted to increase between 3.0 and 4.0 percent, and food-away-from-home prices are predicted to increase between 4.0 and 5.0 percent. This is less than a year ago when food prices were predicted to increase around 10 percent.

The Blue Zone’s recommendation to “learn to cook at home,” is based on over 20 years of studying the healthiest communities around the world. Blue Zones mission is “informed and inspired by the world’s longest-lived culture, our mission is to empower everyone, to live longer, better.”

Cooking your own food can help you save money as well as help you be happier and healthier! One study noted that living longer was not just linked to the nutritional value of the food but also connected to the steps of cooking, including planning, shopping and socializing. From that, Blue Zones recommends five tips for making cooking easier and more enjoyable.

  1. Planning meals includes the menus as well as shopping and cooking plans. Although we cannot control the prices of food at the grocery store, we can be good consumers by comparing prices, reading the nutrition label, and choosing healthy, lower-cost ingredients for delicious recipes. Also, plan to pre-prep some of the food for later menus such as cooking rice or quinoa and using it for more than one recipe.
  2. Eat together and take time to enjoy the meal.
  3. Learn some basic cooking skills like chopping vegetables, and some simple recipes like soups, salads and basic dishes that can be changed up with different seasonings or swapping out different ingredients. Swapping out different, comparable ingredients is an example of stretching the food dollar and is very different than a food company using skimpflation.
  4. Plant a garden. In Northwest Ohio in the middle of January, most of us are only dreaming of warmer garden weather. Blue Zones points out that in the healthiest communities around the world, people garden. Even if it’s not a large, outdoor garden, consider growing a container fresh herbs indoors.
  5. Always eat breakfast at home. This recommendation from Blue Zones is to help us reduce trips through the drive through or only choosing coffee in the morning. Starting the day with a balanced breakfast is not only good for our health but can also be an economical meal at home.

As great as these suggestions are, I can think of other recommendations that can help me eat healthier and save some money on food. What will work for you this year?