By Ed Runyan

Plan meals, stick to list, stop impulse buying

CORTLAND — Looking over a list of suggestions for how to reduce the impact of rapidly rising food and gasoline prices, Marie Economos, Trumbull County office director for the Ohio State University Extension Service, pointed to two she thinks are the most important:

Plan meals and use a shopping list.

Economos, who is also the county’s family and consumer science educator, said the two suggestions require some work, but they can save a great deal of money by eliminating impulse purchases and reducing the cost of legitimate purchases.

People who plan their meals in advance and use a shopping list generally do a better job of buying only the things they need, reduce the number of trips to the store to about one per week, comparison shop to find the store with the best price and sometimes secure coupons to reduce the price, Economos said.

“The way they set up the stores, they encourage you to impulse buy,” Economos said. Making fewer trips to the store will reduce the number of temptations to overspend, she said.

Among the tips she endorses is leaving nonfood purchases off of the grocery list because items such as health and beauty items, and paper goods can be cheaper at discount stores.

“The list helps you stay focused on what you really need,” Economos said.

The nonprofit Governance Accountability Institute in San Diego recommends shopping alone and after a meal, saying it reduces the chance of buying on impulse.

“If you go shopping hungry or with another, you’re shopping for more than one appetite and the result is always increased spending,” the institute says.

It’s important that people find ways to cut their food costs, Economos said, because right now people are responding to the higher prices by cutting out healthy things their families need.

One thing the OSU Extension Service has noticed is that many families have reduced their intake of milk, fruits and vegetables.

“Over a period of a few months or years, that will have [negative] long-term effects on children and families, because we know how important milk, fruit and vegetables are to the kids’ diet and to the adults, too,” Economos said.

The U.S. surgeon general reported in 2005 that the average American consumes far less calcium than recommended. Such deficiencies lead to osteoporosis and other health problems later in life, the OSU Extension Service says.

“The problem is likely to get worse as people purchase less milk,” said Joyce McDowell, leader of the Extension Service’s statewide community nutrition projects.

If people save money in some other area, they will be able to afford to buy the healthy foods they need, she said.

A possible way to get more calcium, Economos suggested, is to substitute dry milk for regular milk. Many food giveaway locations don’t provide regular milk but do have dry milk, which is mixed with water like baby formula.

“If it’s really cold, it’s actually pretty good,” McDowell said of dry milk. McDowell and others say dry milk can also be used in casseroles, sauces and such items as puddings, custards, quiche and bread.

Sam Owen of Lordstown, a General Motors retiree who was interviewed while shopping at the Aldi’s store on Mahoning Avenue in Austintown, said dry milk is “excellent for any kind of cooking or baking,” though he never got used to the taste of dry milk as a beverage.

In her job, Economos talks to a lot of parents about feeding their families. “What I’m seeing is a lot of people who never eat at home,” she said. Home-cooked meals are more nutritious and less expensive than eating out, she said, adding that home-cooked meals also provide money-saving leftovers.

Economos said she understands that many families today are busy and often don’t take the time to plan out meals.

But with the monetary and nutritional cost of eating out — the Governance Accountability Institute says food costs now make up 37 percent of a family’s budget compared to 30 percent a few years ago — this might be the time to start eating at home again, Economos said.

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