10 Tips for Eating Right in Times of Food Insecurity
Caitlin Guess MPH, RDN, CSR, LD
Food insecurity happens when there is a change in food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources. In 2017, nearly 680,000 South Carolinians were experiencing food insecurity. The risk for becoming food insecure increases when money to buy food is limited or not available, which is happening more now due to widespread layoffs and furloughs.
To combat food insecurity it is important to focus on healthy meal planning, food shopping, and safe food preparation so that food is used in the most effective way possible.
Here are 10 tips for food planning, shopping, and preparation to make sure you are eating right.
- Check what you have on hand. Look at the foods in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and plan meals around what you already have; don’t forget to look at expiration and best by dates. This will help you limit the number of trips to the grocery store and avoid spending money on items you don’t need.
- Make a shopping list ahead of time to stay focused, get the items you need, and keep your shopping trip short. Aim to buy enough food to cover your household for two weeks. Since stores may not have some specific items, create a list with general items like “fruit” or “bread.”
- Check your shopping options. Many grocery stores offer in-store pickup, curbside pickup, or delivery. These services may be helpful during times of social distancing and may make shopping less stressful. Be aware of adjusted store hours and check for early shopping hours for seniors or front-line workers if applicable.
- Choose a mix of fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable foods. With fresh foods, buy a variety in quantities that you would normally buy. Consider buying small amounts at a time to avoid having to throw away spoiled produce. Don’t be afraid to get some things frozen instead of fresh. Breads, meats, vegetables, fruit, and even milk can be purchased frozen and kept for longer. Shelf-stable foods include pastas, rice, legumes, nut butters, and dried and canned goods. Look for low- or no-salt/sugar added varieties.
- Get the most bang for your buck by focusing on nutritious, low-cost food choices. To stretch your budget, find recipes that use beans, peas, and lentils; sweet or white potatoes; eggs; peanut butter; canned salmon, tuna or crabmeat; grains such as oats, brown rice, barley or quinoa; and frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
- Shop for foods that are in season. Fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are usually easier to get and less expensive. Check out the USDA Snap-Ed guide (http://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide) for a list of seasonal produce. Remember, frozen and canned produce have all the same nutrients as fresh and may be more affordable at certain times of the year. Look for fruit that is canned in 100% juice or water and canned vegetables that are labeled “low in sodium” or “no salt added. “
- Visit a farmers’ market for locally-grown fruits and vegetables that are in season for less money than you would pay at the store. The City Center Farmers Market and Pee Dee State Farmers Market are two great local options.
- When packing and unpacking groceries, separate raw meats from other foods. Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables—like berries, lettuce, fresh herbs, and mushrooms—within two hours of purchasing. This will keep them from spoiling. DO NOT use any disinfecting products on food (including soap) as bacteria in food is killed by cooking.
- Before eating, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush. For canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.
- Use a food thermometer when cooking to ensure the safety of red meat, poultry, and seafood. These foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria and prevent food borne illness.
Caitlin Guess is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at the Diabetes and Nutrition Institute at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. She is a certified specialist in renal nutrition and is a member of the National Kidney Foundation. She is passionate about teaching others how to use nutrition for disease prevention and health promotion.