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Recent trend reports and studies continue to emphasize a growing challenge to supermarket dietitians: The cost of food is beginning to rival taste in the choices our shoppers make in the aisles. It’s a potentially troubling combination of factors that reminds us that part of our job this fall is to help consumers strike the right balance between wanting to save money and still eating healthy.

As the volume of locally grown seasonal foods starts to diminish in many market areas, there is even more reason to find ways to help shoppers recognize “value” in ways that extend beyond the price tag. Now, you know this blog has to have a nutrition message, and indeed that is where we are going!

Introduce ways shoppers can make small changes without over-extending the budget. Try suggesting store brands; it’s a good starting point. Here are some other possibilities you can discuss:

• Add a meatless meal at least once a week — beans or lentils. They’re nutritious and protein-rich, but do provide some recipes and tastings.

• Pack lunches rather than eating out or doing the drive-thru. Show some suggestions and price comparisons.

• Get back to basics for breakfast at home or an easy grab-and-go. They can be money savers especially if you price out for them the cost of oatmeal and coffee at some specialty shops.

• Combine lower cost produce with higher cost add-ons to provide variety and supplemental nutrition. Spinach and grated carrots on your Iceberg lettuce salad or in-season apples or pears as the main event with a hint of other fresh fruits are easy starters.

• Focus on money-saver meals using lower-fat cuts of meat that are perfect for the crock pot or oven roasting, chicken thighs, seafood specials and pasta. Team them with specialty greens or fruits and veggies in serving sizes that are affordable. Be sure to point out the nutrition benefits that come with the lower-fat options and the nutrients and fiber that come with the add-ons.

Be sure to stress the benefits of adding extras that make meal. Try whole grains, learn to steam or microwave veggies for peak nutrition and low waste and keep serving sizes reasonable for both nutrition and cost. Experiment with foods in season for new tastes — pumpkin or squash soup, scalloped apples and pears, and cabbage as a soup, salad or side dish. Taste, nutrition and, yes, an affordable cost are achievable and in demand!

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