The cost of all foods increased by 4 percent last year, creating the highest annual increase in food prices since 1990, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. The agency predicts food prices will rise another 3 percent to 4 percent this year, largely because of rising fuel and commodity prices.

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The cost of all foods increased by 4 percent last year, creating the highest annual increase in food prices since 1990, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. The agency predicts food prices will rise another 3 percent to 4 percent this year, largely because of rising fuel and commodity prices.

As fuel goes, so goes food

Grocery prices predicted to increase with energy costs

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Story at a glance

• The average national cost of unleaded fuel has increased nearly 70 cents since last year.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture attributed rising food prices to increased fuel and commodity costs.

• The Department of Agriculture's economic research service predicts the Consumer Price Index for all foods to increase 3 percent to 4 percent this year.

• The Colorado State University Extension Office offers "Eating Well on $5 a Day," a course individuals or families can sign up to take.

• To register or for more information, call 824-9180.

In the 30 years Sylvia Queen has lived in Craig, she's never seen food prices as high as they have been recently, she said.

That's not to say the cost of other items and services hasn't increased, too.

"Now, everything seems to be going out of sight," she said.

Queen lives on a fixed income and has to find ways to make her dollars stretch farther and last longer than before.

Because bills and housing costs are usually non-negotiable, she cuts costs where she can - usually at the checkout counter.

Queen and other area residents may have to pinch pennies tighter at the grocery store. Recent reports indicate that rising fuel costs have helped create increased food prices.

The average price of gas has risen almost 70 cents since last year. The national average gas price for unleaded gas is $3.26 per gallon, AAA's Web site reported. In contrast, unleaded fuel cost $2.57 per gallon last year.

Although average gas prices in Colorado are at 9 cents a gallon less than the national average, the state's current $3.17 a gallon median cost has increased from last year's $2.57 average.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rising energy costs have followed consumers to the grocery store.

The agency predicts the trend will continue.

In 2006, American consumers spent 6.6 percent more than they did the previous year, the Department of Agriculture's economic research service reported.

The Consumer Price Index for all food - including that in grocery stores and restaurants - increased 4 percent last year. The figure represents the highest annual increase in food prices in 17 years, the economic research service Web site reported.

According to the Web site, the price of food purchased for at-home consumption has increased by 5.8 percent since January 2007, with poultry, eggs and dairy prices showing the highest increases.

Because of increased feed and energy costs, poultry prices increased 8.3 percent from last year, the economic research service reported. Eggs and dairy costs in January were up by 34.7 percent and 12.8 percent from 2007, respectively.

The USDA expects food prices to continue climbing this year.

The economic research service predicts the CPI for all foods to increase 3 percent to 4 percent in 2008.

The service attributed the forecast increase to rising energy and commodity costs.

Economists from the research service were unavailable for comment.

Elisa Shackelton, Colorado State University Extension director, thinks increasing food prices could hit home for Moffat County residents.

Shackelton teaches a class through the extension office that helps area consumers build healthy menus on a limited budget. During the class, Shackelton guides students through a supermarket of their choice, showing them the types and quantity of foods that yield the most nutrition for the lowest price.

The name of the course: Eating Well on $5 a Day.

But, Shackelton thinks she may have to change the title of her class if food prices continue rising. Building a healthy menu on $5 a day has been "a little hard" recently, she said.

"I think (the cost of food) really is a big concern," she said. "I think we're going to see food prices continue to go up."

Still, she added, consumers can stretch their dollars to purchase nutritious foods.

"There are healthy foods on sale," she said.

The trick, she said, is looking for bargains and sticking to five basic foods: Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and high-protein foods, including tuna and peanut butter. Shoppers can spend about $1 purchasing one serving or more from each group, she said.

Although Shackelton usually teaches the class to a group, individuals or families can sign up for the course for free.

The course takes about an hour, Shackelton said, and can be conducted at area grocery stores.

To enroll or for more information, call 824-9180.

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