LiveWell Northwest Colorado: How affordable is it to eat healthy in Routt County?
Have you ever thought that buying groceries in Routt County cost more than most other places? If so, you are correct.
As part of a Routt County Food Assessment report, members of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition compared common food item costs for a family of four in Routt County with the rest of the U.S. We found that it costs about 34 percent more to buy groceries in Routt County.
Other data that was gathered from Map the Meal Gap shows that the average cost of a meal in the U.S. is $2.74, in Colorado it is $2.84 and in Routt County it is $3.76. So the average cost to make a meal in Routt County is 25 percent higher than the rest of state.
We have a national culture that expects and demands cheap food. However, cheap food comes with a price — our health.
Choosing healthy food can be costly particularly for those with low incomes and who live in rural communities far from food distribution routes. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that consuming healthy food costs an additional $1.50 per day per person, which for the average American equates to $10.50 per week or $550 per year.
However, in Routt County we would need to add another 34 percent to that, so eating healthy here may cost an additional $2 per person per day.
Enough math — the bottom line is that it does cost more to buy groceries and to eat healthy in Routt County.
So how can you eat healthy and affordably in Routt County?
Plan before you shop. Purchase items at the best price. Prepare meals that stretch your food dollars. The article printed in the Steamboat Today Yampa Valley Health on Jan. 5 provided some suggestions on planning before you shop and preparing meals that stretch your food dollars.
Hints for purchasing items at the best price:
• Use store flyers: Pick healthy items that are on sale and stock up.
• Compare unit prices: Use the unit price to compare different brands and different sizes to make sure you’re getting the best deal. The unit price is the cost per a standard unit (like ounce or pound) and is usually found on a sticker on the shelf beneath the product.
• Buy in bulk: It is almost always cheaper to buy foods in bulk. Smart choices are family packs of chicken, steak or fish and larger bags of potatoes and frozen vegetables.
• Try store brands: On average store brands are cheaper by about 27 percent and their quality usually meets or exceeds that of name brand products.
• Shop mostly the perimeter of the store: Spend most of your grocery budget on natural foods found around the outside of the store like fruits, vegetables, dairy products and protein foods that are good for your body. Limit your shopping in the middle isles to staples like pasta, canned tuna and peanut butter, avoiding other expensive and often unhealthy packaged foods.
• Shop when you are not hungry or stressed: People who shop when they are hungry or stressed tend to buy more food and also unhealthy food.
Routt County residents do have to pay more for food, but there are ways to cut food costs without giving up on making healthy food choices.
Barb Parnell is the LiveWell Northwest Colorado community coordinator.
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