Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Stretching your grocery dollar | SteamboatToday.com

Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Stretching your grocery dollar

Yampa Valley Health

Eating local is an investment in our neighbors and our community, but it often costs more than what we'd otherwise pay at the grocery store.  An unofficial poll shows local middle-income families of four spend an average of $600 to $1,100 per month on food.

Food marketers and grocery stores have invested billions to understand consumer taste and behavior, and a few small changes can help you use that same information to make healthier buying decisions and save money along the way.

Shop with a list

In general, every minute you spend in the store costs you money. The faster you can get in and out of the store, with everything you need for a week, the more you will save. Menu-planning services can be a great tool for saving money. Emeals.com and relishrelish.com are examples of sites that let you choose meals for your household and ensure you always have the grocery list right on your phone. The sites also let you input special diets, budgets and the number of diners.

The wider the aisles, the slower you will go and more you will buy from that aisle.  Some stores also use textured floors to slow down your shopping in certain sections, and warehouse stores are notorious for constantly moving the staple items just a little bit to keep you looking.

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Warehouse stores give the impression of efficiency, but studies from Cornell University show that the more food you have in your pantry, the more you are likely to eat, so stocking up and storing it within sight often means that you spend more and eat more.  If you shop in a warehouse store, commit to repackaging into smaller portions and put next week's food into the garage freezer or in another room.

Make your own snacks

A few reusable containers and some well-selected snacks can save you money and reduce your environmental impact. Fresh fruit, homemade popcorn, nuts and seeds are foods that your budget and body, and your doctor will approve.

A handful of nuts or seed are the perfect high-protein snack for a mid-afternoon slump. Toast them, eat them raw, use them to garnish a salad or spread them as a nut butter. If your child has a nut-free classroom, clarify which nuts are included and research options at foodallergy.org. While a bag of nuts may cost $9 or more, the number of servings and nutrients you get from that package is far more than granola bars and other prepackaged snacks. For the biggest savings, portion nuts into 1/4 cup servings rather than carrying the whole bag.

Popcorn can be popped in a plain paper bag in the microwave or on the stovetop by heating 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon popcorn kernels over medium heat. Cover the pot and shake every minute until popping slows. Top with olive oil, cinnamon sugar or salt to taste.

The foods that are visible throughout your day directly correlate to your weight.  In the Cornell study, women who had any breakfast cereal, diet or regular soda around weighed 21 pounds more than then those with snack free desks and counters.  Women with fruit on the counter weighed 7 pounds less than the snack free counters.  Filling your cart with produce and avoiding the wide open snack and soda aisles will save you both money and weight.

Eat beans

Though not popular in Paleo-type diets, beans are touted as the world's best longevity food because they are eaten daily by all of the longest-living populations on the planet, according to research on Blue Zones. Beans are full of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, plus they are inexpensive, high in protein and can be made to taste delicious. A bag of dried beans with some chopped onion and water, left in a slow cooker for eight hours, will equal three cans of store-bought beans with less packaging waste for a total price of $3. They can then be frozen into two-cup portions, ready for the next meal.  For the most savings, use them to replace meat a couple of times a week.

Switch to cash

Before your next grocery trip, decide how much you have to spend on food for the week and get that amount in cash. Cash has a tangible value that makes you conscious of every item you put in your cart. Data from fast food restaurants shows that people spend 18 to 40 percent more when paying with a credit card, and those earning a reward like miles spend even more.

Grow or source your food

Start planning now for gardening and hunting season or your next fishing trip. Join a community garden, reach out to the local Master Gardener program or stop by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office or look at their website for great resources.

Take the money you have saved and head to your local grower or to caamarket.org for fresh, local products and celebrate the wonderful things your neighbors are raising in the Yampa Valley.

Kathy Yeiser is a member of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition and a class leader for Financial Peace University.  She can be reached at k.yeiser@yahoo.com.

Black bean burger

• 1/2  cup prepared salsa

• 30 ounces cooked black beans, rinsed

• 1 cup tortilla chips, well-crushed

• 1/2 cup white onion, grated

• 1  egg, beaten

• 3 Tablespoons olive oil or mayonnaise plus 1 ½ tablespoons for cooking

• 4 teaspoons chili powder

• 2 teaspoons ground cumin

• 3/4 teaspoon salt

Mash all ingredients together with a potato masher or fork. Let stand 10 minutes. Form mixture into eight burgers about 3 inches wide. Heat 1 1/2 Tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add four burgers and cook until heated through,  3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve on whole grain buns with your favorite burger embellishments. Recipe from Eating Well Magazine.