Mid Illinois, Springfield / Decatur

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Eating Well on a Budget

 County Market November 08, 2014

Everyone wants to eat healthier, but a hectic lifestyle and the cost can make it seem very difficult. These are the most common complaints people have in adopting a healthier lifestyle that is also budget-friendly. The answers are as close as the nearest County Market grocery store. There, you’ll meet Hope Danielson and Melanie Kluzek — the Live Well Health and Wellness Team, who teach you how to make better food choices, stretch your food dollar, and provide budget-savvy tips.

“We are your health advocates. We help consumers make sense of all the nutritional misinformation and help guide them in making better choices throughout the aisles of the grocery store,” said Melanie. “We provide customers with all the tools they need to save money and eat better.”

“For example, cutting up your own veggies like a whole head of cauliflower as opposed to buying pre-cut vegetables will save you money because you don’t have to pay for the convenience of having it already cut and ready to eat,” said Melanie.

The team makes regular presentations and conducts store tours designed around a particular theme, such as diabetic-friendly recipes, or ways to cook and incorporate seasonal produce into your diet. They also offer brochures that provide basic information, meal solution ideas, and cooking tips for their particular diet. This “survival needs” information is an important first step.

“Many people don’t know where to begin once they have been diagnosed with a disease such as diabetes,” said Melanie. “It is so important that they first meet with a clinical dietitian to get them started on a meal plan. The next step is to learn how to navigate the areas in the grocery store to make healthier choices to support their new lifestyle and help them reach their goals. That is where we come in.”

Having a medical condition requiring dietary changes is difficult, and more so when living on a budget. Hope says the tour is an important way to bring the information and application together.

“The tour gets you out of a rut and helps you to discover what else is out there,” said Hope. “Instead of going to the familiar, we encourage them to try something different, like eating kale instead of spinach, or swapping spaghetti squash in the place of pasta. Making these kinds of changes gives you healthy alternatives.”

The team provides “lunch and learn” presentations to businesses and schools to discuss the latest nutritional information, the benefits of healthy living, and the best food choices. They meet with the store’s department managers to plan what to offer in the upcoming weekly advertisements and what new food products to offer, such as healthy deli salad choices, and how we can provide more whole grain options.

Getting started
The first step is planning ahead. To plan your purchases, review the sales flyers, do an inventory, and make a list of the items that you really need. Before you leave, make sure you don’t go to the store hungry.

“You’re more likely to shop impulsively if you’re hungry, and not stick to your list,” said Hope. “If you’re not hungry, you’re going to examine your purchases and realize that while you may like or want an item, you’ll ask yourself if you need it. By making an inventory and sticking to your list, you won’t waste money or food.”

Before making your list, review the sales flyers to plan your purchases.  Melanie and Hope always ensure healthy items are included in the sales. Additional savings can be found in buying food in bulk, using coupons and purchasing in-store brands.  Many times, in-store brands cost less and are just as healthy as the name brand, even with the coupon. Savings are also available with the County Market Max card store promotion which rewards you for buying the foods and items that you use the most. For example, your 10th gallon of milk is free, so you earn rewards while you’re saving money purchasing items you regularly use.

Saving money doesn’t mean just buying smart, it also involves making sure food that was purchased isn’t wasted. A weekly inventory of the pantry and refrigerator helps you to use food before it spoils. For example, if spinach is starting to wilt, add it to spaghetti sauce or a soup. It will provide flavor, fiber, and added vitamins. It’s also more cost effective to buy fruit and produce when it’s in season, and turn to frozen or canned packed in 100 percent juice when it’s not. Other money-saving tips include freezing leftovers, dicing and freezing onions and peppers for later use, and making two meals out of one.

Hope points out that eating healthy means a balanced diet. A rigid commitment to not eating something isn’t good overall. Instead, she believes in an “all foods fit” philosophy and uses the “My Plate” visual to encourage the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables and a small portion of lean protein and whole grains.

“There are diets that recommend giving up carbohydrates and loading up on protein, but your body needs and will crave carbohydrates. The ‘My Plate’ is a much better approach to giving your body what it needs,” she explained. “The protein should be only as big as a deck of cards or the palm of your hand — about a quarter of your plate. Aim for whole grains on another quarter of the plate, with the remaining half being fruit or vegetables. Varying the colors of fruits and vegetables is also highly recommended.”

Meat and produce are typically the most costly part of the meal, but protein sources come from many foods. Having a “meatless” meal once or twice a week can really save you money, and you can still obtain protein from plant-based foods like beans, legumes, soy, tofu, nuts and nut butters. Some economical choices are frozen fish, canned tuna and salmon packed in water, and buying meat in bulk.

Sticking to It
Planning to eat healthy on a budget also involves a healthy dose of discipline. After a hard day, it’s much easier to eat a microwave dinner or grab something at the nearest drive-thru. It takes a little time to make a salad or a meal, so pre-chop vegetables and ripe fruits as soon as you get home from the grocery store so it is convenient when you are in a time crunch.

“Meals prepared at home are always a better choice than eating out,” said Melanie. “Restaurants and drive-thrus may seem like the less expensive route, but it can really add up, and the amount of sodium, calories, fat, and sugar can be a day’s worth in just one meal.’

“You save money and can eat healthier because you are the one controlling how the food is prepared and know that it was a leaner cut of meat and was cooked with little-to-no salt or unhealthy fats,” says Hope.

The discipline comes in being prepared before you are hungry. Rather than grabbing something from a vending machine, have a prepared healthy snack available whenever you need one. For example, a hardboiled egg and whole grain crackers or a slice of whole grain bread with natural peanut butter.  This will help take the edge off and keep you and your kids feeling full until meal time.

Life sometimes interrupts your planned meal, but don’t abandon your efforts. Staying flexible and adjusting to “Plan B” can help you maintain your goals.

“We say, ‘Always try to do the best you can’,” said Hope. “The goal is to eat as healthy as you can 80 percent of the time, so you have room to indulge 20 percent. Fill up on the healthy food first so you’re getting the nutrients your body needs.”

The Live Well program is a complimentary service to help the community make better food choices for health and wellness. By demonstrating that customers can eat well and stretch their food dollar, the Live Well team takes satisfaction in knowing their efforts are providing the tools people need to live healthier, happier lives.

“We are here to guide people in the right direction and give them the confidence they need to make better choices for their health and well-being,” said Melanie and Hope. 

More information, recipes and tips are available at Mycountymarket.com. To set up an individual meeting, attend a group tour or class, call Hope Danielson at 217-221-5629, or email hdanielson@niemannfoods.com. To reach Melanie Kluzek, call 217-546-8537 or email her at mkluzek@niemannfoods.com. Back to Top

 County Market| November 08, 2014
Categories:  Feature

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