Youth program teaches students how to get deals on good foods and how to incorporate them into meals the whole family will like
Grocery bills that seem to get higher with every trip to the supermarket. Spinach that slowly gets mushy in the vegetable drawer. Kids who refuse to eat their beans.
Is it any wonder if parents sometimes feel like capitulating and serving up cheap, crowd-
pleasing macaroni and cheese from a big blue box?
The truth is, healthy eating doesn’t have to be so hard — or so expensive. That’s what educators at the Healthy Youth Program, the outreach arm of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, are working to teach local shoppers through a variety of classes and events.
“Budgeting is hard for everybody, and it’s even more intimidating when you’re on a tight budget,” said Kim Holmes, community relations coordinator for the Healthy Youth Program. “We teach you how to maximize your food dollar.”
The best way to do that is to change your idea of what dinner ought to look like. If you picture a big serving of meat as the starting point of the meal, then your grocery bills may be higher. One key to saving money and improving health, says Nutrition Educator Nova Elwood, is to fill your cart with vegetables, fruits, beans and grains, and cut back on meat and dairy purchases.
“You want to spend more on things that grow,” Elwood said. “People always think they can’t afford to eat healthy foods, but research shows it doesn’t cost more if you focus on plant-based foods. Research also supports that as a very healthy way to eat.”
Instead of a big dish of pot roast, dinner could be a casserole with some beans included. Tuna fish casseroles are inexpensive, and tofu will take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with, Elwood said. Dinner does not have to be all about the meat.
Don’t panic over veggies
Another thing to keep in mind is that increasing your plant-based food intake doesn’t mean you have to spend all your money on fresh, perishable greens, then go home and panic because you can’t eat them all before they go bad.
“With fruits and vegetables, we don’t tell people that there is a best way to eat them,” Elwood said. “If frozen works for you, buy frozen. It doesn’t make sense to buy a bunch of fresh apples, if that’s not what you’re going to end up putting in your body.”
When buying frozen or canned food, just make sure to check nutrition labels to see that there isn’t too much added sugar and salt.
The sugar and salt that can sneak into pre-packaged foods is another thing a savvy consumer should watch out for, Elwood said. A good rule of thumb for ready-to-eat cereal is that each serving should contain less than 5 grams per serving of sugar, and at least 3 grams of fiber. Bread should also contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Another trap to avoid is the end-base: those eye-catching product displays at the end of the aisle. Even if it’s an item on your shopping list, it’s still better to walk to the shelf where it is normally stocked, where you can compare prices and nutritional content with competing brands, Elwood said.
These are the kinds of tips that educators from the Healthy Youth Program are teaching at classes the institute offers on smart grocery shopping. In a recent partnership with Grocery Outlet, Healthy Kids representatives led class participants through the store and showed them how to read nutrition labels and how to stretch their food dollar; each participant also received a $25 gift certificate to Grocery Outlet.
Other classes and outreach programs include cooking classes, summer camps and school gardens. Another program involves teaching low-income shoppers tasty ways to cook vegetables. For instance, food banks often receive donations of produce, but recipients don’t always select it.
“People just don’t know what to do with it,” Holmes said. “If you don’t know how to cook squash, why would you pick it up?”
These classes and programs are all ways that the Linus Pauling Institute hopes to improve lives, Holmes said.
“People think of the Linus Pauling Institute as just for research, but it was always the hope to have an outreach arm,” she said. Founded in 2009, the Healthy Youth Program focuses on nutrition because of its potential to impact many facets of children’s lives.
“It is so easy to eat poorly in our society,” Holmes said. “If they are obese, they are at increased risk for just about everything. We look at this as a way to help children enjoy better health.”
Think outside the box with veggies, protein
Here are some tips and tricks for increasing plant-based foods in your meals:
• If your kids don’t like vegetables or legumes, don’t be afraid to get sneaky.
“Making enchiladas or casseroles with a sauce that kids like can mask the taste or texture,” said Nova Elwood, a nutrition educator with the Linus Pauling Institute’s Healthy Youth Program. And don’t shy away from dressing it up a little. “Put some cheese on top,” Elwood said. “Use a strong cheese — with a sharp cheese, you can get more flavor with less of the cheese.”
• Remember that protein is more than just meat. Other sources of protein include peanut butter, nuts and quinoa. If you’re making school lunches, you can include crackers and dip, or dried fruits and nuts. “It doesn’t have to be a big sandwich. It can be lots of little things,” Elwood said.
• And if all else fails? Scramble up some eggs. The humble egg used to get a bad rap because of its cholesterol content, Elwood said, but research now shows egg consumption is not likely a contributor to high blood cholesterol. “They are the most absorbable kind of protein, plus they’re inexpensive and easy to prepare,” Elwood said. “Almost anyone can make an egg.”