(NaturalNews) Concerned about sacrificing your healthy diet to today's difficult economy? According to the International Herald Tribune, "The Department of Agriculture forecasts that food prices will jump by 4 percent or 5 percent in 2009, compared with 5.5 percent this year. Some predict much steeper increases." This is the largest increase in food prices in over 15 years. But there are changes you can make to your daily and weekly routine that will help you develop a reasonable food budget. Advance planning and networking with others can result in bountiful rewards for your taste buds, your wallet and your commitment to sustainable meals.
Try these six tactics.
1. Eat at home.
*A recent issue of Progressive Grocer reported that meals consumed at home cost about a third of those purchased away from home. That choice alone saves $66 of every $100 in the food budget. *An analysis presented at the Southwest Human Development Services showed that when in-home meals are made without convenience foods the savings are even greater. More importantly, the nutritional value of meals made from scratch is higher than those made from prepared foods or mixes. The difference extends to fresh ingredients as well. The report noted, "...bagged salads keep growing in popularity even though they cost nearly 5 times as much as buying and washing your own head of lettuce...Compare the volume in the bag that is edible to what you get in one head of lettuce, you are left with a price difference of about $1.50 but about three times more edible lettuce from the head of lettuce." *Eating at home allows you to be more innovative in food selection than in any restaurant. You can eat beans, tomatoes, avocado and salsa for breakfast if you choose. *Learn the time-honored methods of frugality your grandmother may have used. For example---advance meal planning; creative use of left-overs (one day's entree served over a salad the next day); using pricier food items as garnish rather than main focus of a meal; using healthy staple foods in a variety of ways; making home made sauces, drinks and cereals. And chances are grandma's generation ate well-balanced meals while conversing at the table, never standing up at the kitchen counter or while listening to media chatter.
2. Take it with you.
*Pack your lunch. Surveys indicate that two out of three employees pack a lunch at least once a week. The main motivation is to save money. Nutrition gets a boost too, because packed lunches generally have fewer calories and smaller portions. *Bankrate.com offers a Lunch Savings Calculator at http://www.bankrate.com/brm/calculators/savi... Plug in numbers for how often you plan to replace lunch out with a brown bag meal, finding out what your savings will be in a few years. The example given at the site shows that replacing lunch out during the workweek for four years results in savings of nearly $4,000. *Always have healthy snacks available. Avoid single serving packages and convenience snack foods, even the healthiest versions are expensive. Instead, pack your own in reusable bags and containers. Keep a bag of almonds in your backpack, a jar of pumpkin seeds in your car, some granola in your briefcase. This helps avoid impulse buys when you, your children or companions are hungry. *Don't leave the house without something to drink in a reusable container. It takes a few moments to fill it with water, juice or a quickly blended smoothie.
3. Share the cooking
*Create a lunch club with co-workers. This is an excellent antidote when boredom or time considerations make packing a daily lunch difficult. Two, three or more colleagues can take turns bringing homemade lunches for the others. This saves time several days a week for everyone. *Set up a potluck group with friends or neighbors. Get together on a regular basis either at one another's homes or at the local park. This is a great way to try new foods, exchange leftovers and enjoy companionable dining without the expense of a restaurant meal. *Create a cooking night cooperative, such a co-op. It allows people to swap chef duties in exchange for upcoming "catered" meals. For example, if four couples set up a cooking night cooperative for Tuesdays, each couple takes one Tuesday in the month to cook and deliver a meal to the other three couples on "their" night. On the other three Tuesdays a homemade meal is delivered to them as each couple takes a turn.
4. Buy wisely.
* According to a report titled "Food Without Thought" produced by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, U.S. consumers spend more than half of every food dollar on ready-to-eat food items. Most of these prepared foods are high in sugars, fats and additives. Processed foods, including frozen and baked goods, claim over 40% of total supermarket sales while fresh fruits and vegetables represent 9%. *Pay attention to regular prices so you can gauge the validity of "sale" prices. Buy when on sale. If product must be used soon, make double batches of recipes to freeze or share. *Buy in bulk for savings if necessary, splitting items with friends and family. Store food safely. Glass jars with tightly fitting screw top lids provide excellent storage for grains, beans, seeds, spices and teas.
5. Eat seasonally
*The "Food Without Thought" report indicates that U.S. farm policy has skewed pricing of foodstuffs in a profoundly unhealthy direction. It states, "...the real cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has risen nearly 40 percent in the past 20 years. The real costs of soda pop, sweets and fats and oils, on the other hand, have gone down." *Purchase locally grown produce items in season. Learn to can or freeze them for out-of-season use, if you choose. A Saturday spent with friends or family to pick apples, make applesauce and "put up" the results in canning jars can be a memorable yearly tradition. *Grow your own. Even a small yard can produce a substantial produce yield. Urbanites can choose community gardens, container gardens on windowsills and balconies, plus growing sprouts and herbs indoors. *Connect with area producers. Patronize farmers markets, join a CSA, visit local farm stands. Along with the fresh food purchased you'll also gain invaluable insight about the people who tend the land and the meaning of locally raised products.
6. Join or start a food-buying club.
*These cooperatives can be formed with fewer than a dozen people interested in purchasing food directly from distributors. Many operate using simple guidelines to share the work of sending in orders, unloading the truck at delivery time and splitting bulk food without any need for a central location or regular meetings. Lower prices on such items as Fair Trade coffee, vitamins and healthy foods make the effort worthwhile. *Check with individual distributors for sign-up details. Also check to see if the distributor delivers in your area, provides a listing of existing buying clubs and has a minimum order amount.
Sometimes a difficult economy causes us to rely more on ingenuity, thrift and community-building interdependence. We learn to pay close attention to what really matters in our lives.