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OR Families Recession-Proof their Diets

August 20, 2009

PORTLAND - The federal government says food prices fell slightly in July, which is good news for the 600,000 Oregonians receiving food stamps - about one in six, according to June estimates by the Oregon Department of Human Services. CareOregon has been counseling low-income families about smarter food buying.

The group's health education coordinator, Denise Johnson, says the key to sticking to a budget is advance planning - she warns shoppers not to even enter a store without a shopping list. Before going shopping, she advises, always check the ads to see what's on sale, then pick out the freshest items because they're the healthiest and plan the whole week's menus around that shopping trip.

"We understand that it's important to have convenience, but a daily diet that revolves around foods that are pre-packaged is really going to contribute to higher sodium intake and to high blood pressure."

Johnson says it really is possible to spend less on food and get better nutrition - but only by buying fresh. She acknowledges it takes more time to plan meals and cook from scratch instead of relying on fast foods. But in her view, it's a trade-off: Consumers can either spend the time up front preparing healthy meals or spend it at the doctor's office later, for chronic health conditions caused by a poor diet.

At this time of year, Johnson adds, visiting a local farmer's market can fit into any family's weekly routine. The goal should be to come away with the brightest possible mix of produce in the shopping bag.

"Farmer's markets are great resources for buying locally. If people just begin by choosing fruits and vegetables by their bright, fresh color, that increases their chances of getting greater variety into their meals."

More budget nutrition information is available at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/fch (click on "Healthy Eating").

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices fell 1.1 percent in July, after rising 1.5 percent in June.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR