Smart food shopping

Karl Wells
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The market research firm Ipsos Reid recently surveyed Canadians, who claim the current economic situation has affected the way they shop for groceries. (The Beef Information Centre paid for the survey.) Forty-one per cent of those surveyed said that when buying food they are most concerned with affordability. Only 22 per cent were concerned with nutritional value and a paltry seven per cent were concerned with taste and flavour.

For someone who spends as much time as I do being concerned about the taste and flavour of our food, it was disheartening to see that seven per cent figure.

Minestrone stew. Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

The market research firm Ipsos Reid recently surveyed Canadians, who claim the current economic situation has affected the way they shop for groceries. (The Beef Information Centre paid for the survey.) Forty-one per cent of those surveyed said that when buying food they are most concerned with affordability. Only 22 per cent were concerned with nutritional value and a paltry seven per cent were concerned with taste and flavour.

For someone who spends as much time as I do being concerned about the taste and flavour of our food, it was disheartening to see that seven per cent figure.

I can assure you that "taste and flavour" would have ranked much higher in countries like Japan and France, regardless of the economy.

They won't put anything into their bodies that doesn't look and taste good and the fact is, it is possible to save dollars on food purchases without compromising flavour or nutritional value.

Credit and Debt Solutions (CDS) is a credit counselling service at 22 Queen's Rd. in St. John's. Several months ago, it launched something called the Financial Literacy Project.

Kathy Mackey is the volunteer co-ordinator for the project. She is also an amazing cook and thrifty grocery shopper.

Part of the service Mackey provides to clients at CDS is counselling on smart food shopping - in other words, how to make economical purchases at the grocery store that don't result in bland, boring or poor nourishment for your family.

Experienced

Mackey learned to cook by her grandmother's side when she was a young girl in Hungary. She went on to marry and raise four children, who all have an appreciation for good nutritious food.

I spoke with Mackey recently about her own shopping methods and ways we can all cut costs on the weekly grocery bill. I began by asking her if it's a good idea to check flyers and newspaper adverts for specials before we make our weekly grocery list.

"Yes, absolutely. And coupons, you know, and I don't mean the 10- and 15-cent coupons. Nowadays that's just not worth going out of your way for, considering the gasoline. But when they are saying, "pork roast is on half price," that's worth it. And I would buy that item in quantity, as much as I could afford or as much as I have need for in the foreseeable future. I'd bring home a lot. If, for example, a pork roast is on sale, I might buy two or three, slice some of it up for pork chops, and the remaining bits that fall off, I would make a pork stew out of it. I would cut off one chunk, suitable for my family's size, as a pork roast and I would freeze them that way. I'd label them, and date them. Then when I'm looking for something in the freezer, I know exactly what I see."

At the market, Mackey always begins by shopping on the periphery of the store where all of the fresh produce, meat, fish and dairy is located. She recommends being particular about the protein you buy.

"First of all, I would never buy regular ground beef. You're buying nothing but fat, and fat is of no nutritional value. You're much better off buying extra lean or at least the lean ground beef. Buying ground pork is also a very good choice. It's more tender than the beef, and pork is not as fat nowadays as it used to be. Even if it meant buying a lesser amount and extending it with a handful of breadcrumbs, I would do that rather than buy a cheaper, fattier version of the same meat."

Carbs

As for carbohydrates, Mackey aims for fresh produce, but fruits and vegetables at the right price.

"Another great way to save is to simply buy reduced fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of them are on half price now. I plan my meats for the week, but not the fruits and vegetables. I go to the grocery store and the first thing I head for is the reduced counter to see what there is. If there are lots of apples, then by golly we're having apple crisp, or an apple strudel or fresh apples or compote apples with our cereal in the morning. If there are tomatoes and they're a little soft, they're wonderful in stews and soups. You can also cut them in half, put a piece of cheese on top, the real cheese please, and put it under the broiler for a minute and you have good quality vegetables and nutrition on your plate.

"And don't shy away from potatoes and rice. They are extremely versatile. All legumes are very, very inexpensive. You can make a huge pot - enough to feed about 10 people - of really good, home-baked pork and beans for less than $2. So, there are many ways of cheaply cooking. Lentils are pennies, just a whole variety if you just go down to one of these stores where you can buy things by the pound rather than buying the whole package. You can see what you want and how much of it you want."

What about the middle aisles of the store?

"The only reason you need to go into the main aisles is for the flour, some sugar, the baking items that you might need, the cleaning items that you might need. In our house we even drink very little juices. We eat the whole fruit. You need the fibre; you need the other nutrients that fruit has, not just the juice. Yes, the juice is convenient, but it is also extremely well processed. So, no, I don't buy much in the middle isles at all."

Finding time

Mackey is also a strong advocate of making your own bread to save money. However, even with her ability to persuade, I don't believe that's an idea that will fly with most. I was prompted to ask what she would say to people who'd argue they don't have time to spend preparing meals from scratch.

"It's planning and planning again. There is no magic pill if you want to eat well. Low cholesterol, low fat, low sugar, low salt, you cannot have preservatives. Someone has got to be doing it. I would enlist the entire family to help. I think that by the time a child is four years old they are well able to help with small things and that may be a nuisance because maybe the mother can do it a lot quicker, but this is a long-term investment. You have to teach them, so by the time they get to be seven years old they can most certainly take a few minutes of every day to help you - setting the table, peeling the vegetables. Maybe you have to leave for work early and they don't have to leave for school until 8 o'clock. It can be their job to take the meat out of the freezer so it will thaw by the time you get home from work to continue on with it. The magic word is 'planning.'"

My conversation with Mackey inspired me to put her methods into action when I went shopping for groceries at my local supermarket.

Just as she suggested I would, I found some reasonably priced meats and vegetables.

Then I went home and made a warming and economical minestrone stew. The leftovers were saved for another day, another smart food idea from Mackey.

By the way, if you'd like to take your own personal consultation with Mackey, she's available at Credit and Debt Solutions every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at 753-6122 ext. 27.

Hearty Minestrone Stew

Courtesy Beef Information Centre

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) low sodium beef broth

1 small can stewed tomatoes

1 cup (250 mL) small pasta, such as alphabet

1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper

1 cup (250 mL) extra lean ground beef

1 cup (250 mL) frozen or fresh mixed vegetables

1/2 cup (125 mL) canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Cook ground beef in pot over medium-high heat. Remove beef from pot when done and set aside. Combine beef broth, tomatoes, pasta, salt and pepper in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in cooked ground beef, vegetables and kidney beans. Cook until vegetables are tender. Add water if too much liquid evaporates. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 339 calories, 19 g protein, 6 g fat, 54 g carbohydrate.

Korean Beef Lettuce Cups

Courtesy Beef Information Centre

Ingredients:

2 cups (500 mL) extra lean ground beef

1/4 cup (50 mL) low sodium beef broth

1/4 cup (50 mL) hoisin sauce

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Bibb or romaine lettuce leaves (trimmed of stalk end)

Fresh lime wedges

Shredded carrot and cucumber

Chopped cilantro or mint

Cook ground beef in skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef broth, hoisin sauce and green onions to beef. Heat through, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Spoon warm beef mixture into individual lettuce leaves to serve. Top with squeeze of fresh limejuice and serve with toppings such as shredded carrot, cucumber, chopped cilantro or mint. Roll up with your hands to eat. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 207 calories, 19 g protein, 10 g fat, 11 g carbohydrate.

Organizations: Ipsos Reid, Beef Information Centre, Queen's

Geographic location: Japan, France, St. John's Hungary

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