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Value for less

by Melissa Rollock

Eating for less – Plan, Produce, Prepare is the theme for this year’s Nutrition Week. But what does it mean for the consumer who has to pinch pennies in these tough economic times? It certainly does not mean eating at any expense, says Assistant Nutrition Officer at the National Nutrition Centre, Glencill Taylor.

“We are looking at eating for less but with the goal of having a healthy diet. We want persons to make healthy food choices in all of our recommendations,” she pointed out in a recent interview.

Taylor explained that the key to eating healthy on a budget was to stick to the three “Ps” – Plan, Produce and Prepare. The first step is to plan one’s shopping and family meals ahead of time to avoid any extra expense or poor food choices. The team at the Centre recommended that persons prepare a budget so they would know how much money they wanted to spend on food. The next step in the planning process is to write a grocery list.

“We recommend that you plan around what we call the Six Caribbean Food Groups. While you are planning, you want to make use of foods that are seasonal because they are usually lower in cost. You should utilise the foods that are available. Check your cupboards to see what’s available; check your food supply and utilise them in your planning process.

“Based on the supply that you already have then you should make your grocery list. If you plan to cook, for example, cou-cou on Thursday, then you know you’re going to have to buy some okras and cornmeal. So your grocery list is going to be based on those meals that you are planning to have instead of planning some meal out of the clear blue sky then to realise it is expensive to buy a certain ingredient,” she advised.

Once in the supermarket, the nutrition specialist urged individuals to read their food labels.

“We want persons to remember to check the serving size. People often think the container is the serving size that the manufacturer is referring to – no. For example, an individual may buy a soft drink and consume it all in one sitting. But when you look at that serving size, it will usually say about eight ounces per serving. Someone not recognising that and they see ‘130 calories per serving’ might think the entire bottle is 130 calories when in fact, it is 260 calories. So we want people to realise that everything in that label such as the fat and sodium content, is related to that serving size. If you double that serving size you are doubling up on calories,” she explained.

Lack of label reading

Nutrition Officer in charge at the Centre, Dianne Broome, said a lack of label reading was specifically linked to Barbados’ chronic disease problem.

“[Especially] in terms of obesity and diabetes which are attacking both adults and children. So, even though you are planning the meal and know what you have, you must know how much sodium or fat is in whatever produce or products you buy,” she noted, adding: “One of the issues is that some products carry labels that are in other languages so you can’t read the label. There are standards set out by the [Barbados National Standards Institution] so one has to wonder how these products make it onto our supermarket shelves.”

In an effort to encourage label reading, the Centre has designed label reading cards which are small enough for shoppers to carry in their purses or wallets.

Taylor noted that checking labels was just as important when it came to the price of a product. She said some cheaper products contained similar or higher nutritional content than those with brand names so it was important to compare labels. She also suggested stretching “meat dollars” by using peas and beans instead. These usually contained more fibre and protein than meat.

The next step to living healthy on a budget was to produce your own fruits, vegetables and herbs. The assistant nutrition officer suggested planting seeds from store bought produce to grow at home. If space was limited, she suggested that individuals plant in containers or opt for fruits and vegetables which grow on vines such as melons or passion fruit. By growing their own food, persons may avoid using products with artificial preservatives. Instead, they should opt for freezing fruits and vegetables for future use.

“The idea is to eat less processed foods, and eat as natural as possible,” Taylor stressed.

Producing local foods would also help to reduce the country’s already high food import bill, she noted.

The last “P” in the equation is “prepare”. Both Taylor and Broome recommended that Barbadians start preparing more meals at home. One of the keys to this is to involve children in the process.

“We want to [include the children] because then we can get them to try the meals that they prepared. From our experience, a lot of them would come to [the National Nutrition Summer] camp over the years and parents tell us a lot of the children did not like to eat things like carrots but since attending the camp, they are eating them and they are even teaching their parents how to cook certain healthy foods.

Empowering people

“A lot of it has to do with empowering people to change their habits. I am not saying you wouldn’t eat fast food but rather than having it every day you go back to the basics. A lot of young people don’t cook so we need to get them interested in cooking at home. It is also cheaper. I know time is a factor for a lot of people but you can cook a lot of one-pot meals in a short space of time. But you have to be willing to change. We can only give the knowledge and keep bombarding people with the information and hope that they will change,” Broome stated.

She said the strategy for changing attitudes was to target the family at the community level. Additionally, she indicated that the Church also had to play a major role to in turning people from their bad eating habits. To this end, the Ministry of Health, through its Health Promotion Unit, has been working with faith-based organisations.

“You go to some church activities and they have refreshments and you find a lot of fried foods so we are trying at all levels to try to get people to eat more healthy meals. I think we are getting there slowly but surely,” Broome said.

To cut back on their food bill, the Centre encourages persons to pack their lunches for work and school. Also, prepare foods in advance, cook double the amount and freeze the extra for another day.

As Nutrition Week comes to a close, this is the message that Taylor hopes people take with them:

“Eating healthy isn’t expensive. We want people to know they have options to address their concerns. You hear all of the time that healthy foods are expensive. But we don’t want people to stop there. We want them to recognise that there are options,” Taylor stressed.

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