Aging Well: Eating well without breaking the bank


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The Moffat County Extension Office will offer the class "Eating on $5 a day" if there is sufficient interest. For information, call Elisa Shackelton at 824-9180.

Many people loathe grocery shopping, and it's no wonder - a plethora of products, busy lifestyles and increasing food costs can make the task overwhelming and very expensive.

This is a particular problem for older adults and others struggling to eat nutritiously on fixed incomes. However, knowing inexpensive - yet healthy - food to choose, as well as a little planning and organization can make dollars go further while helping people feel good about their diets.

"It's not hard eating better : It's just about becoming a savvy shopper," said Elisa Shackelton, who specializes in nutrition and consumer issues at the Moffat County Extension Office.

Healthy, not expensive

Finding affordable items from the five basic food groups - fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat or protein - was the focus of a class Shackelton taught called "Eating on $5 a day."

The class was based on three important guidelines: Buying foods in the least processed form, buying foods in season and on sale and preparing food at home instead of eating out.

Flashy packaging and processing can make items expensive, so consumers aiming to save money should keep these products low on their priority lists. However, healthy staples such as fruits and vegetables also can be expensive if consumers don't consider all their options, Shackelton said.

"There's a ton of food available," she said. "It's like being a detective to find it."

When buying produce, for example, shoppers should compare prices on fresh, frozen and canned, because all are considered healthy.

Consumers also should consider how much food they really need. It's OK to just grab a handful of green beans or break a banana or two off a bunch, Shackelton said.

Organic produce can take a big chunk out of a food budget, but consumers might consider buying only organic items that are in season and likely to have large amounts of pesticides when grown commercially. These are typically things that spoil quickly, such as strawberries, peaches, raspberries, spinach and pears. (For more information, visit

Protein, an important part of the diet, doesn't have to be meat. Eggs, nut butters, tuna and canned beans are less expensive sources of protein. Fresh or frozen fish and meat often come in individually wrapped servings, though ready-to-cook meats - marinated, boneless, skinless or precut - are more expensive.

Local farms and ranches are great sources of food that is sometimes less expensive than comparable products found in stores. Fresh produce, cheese and range-fed and/or natural meats are among products that can be found at farmers' markets or sometimes purchased directly from the source.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture's Colorado Food and Agricultural Directory lists businesses producing food throughout the state - visit the consumer resources section of the department's Web site,

A valuable process

For good nutrition, people should include items from three to five food groups in each meal, Shackelton said.

Pizzas, soups, salads, burritos, stir fries and casseroles are among meals with endless combinations of different foods and good with or without meat.

"It has to become a new way of shopping," she said. "It's about making sure your home is stocked with something from all food groups and cooking what you're in the mood for."

Older adults who find cooking cumbersome and difficult may opt for pre-made or frozen meals. This may be less expensive than eating out, but preparing meals is much more beneficial to the body and mind, said Roberta Gill, dietician at the Visiting Nurse Association.

"I like to encourage people to keep preparing food and seeing what's new at the grocery store," she said, adding that finding and reading recipes, comparing prices at the grocery store and trying new food helps keep people active and encourages a good outlook on life.

"I just think the whole process is great," Gill said.

Extra savings

Savvy shoppers are disciplined: They aim for one or two well-planned trips to the grocery store each week and avoid spending too much time during each trip.

"Going to the grocery store is not a matinee," Gill said. "The more time you spend in the grocery store : the more money you will spend."

Efficient shoppers also make and stick to their lists. "Slash your food bill," an article from AARP The Magazine suggests shoppers make copies of a master list with staples they need to replenish weekly and add other items as needed.

Gill offers other tips: Compare the price per ounce or pound when choosing the best deal and don't shun generic or store-brands - shoppers may be pleasantly surprised.

"Even if you save a dime or a nickel on each item, that all adds up to substantial savings," she said.

Clipping coupons from newspapers and Web sites such as and knowing when to use them is another savings key. Typically, coupons are for seasonal products so shoppers should wait a week and check grocery store circulars to see if those items also go on sale, Gill said.

This article includes nutrition information from "Meal Planning: Healthy Eating on a budget," an article on

Tamera Manzanares can be reached at


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