Planning For Seniors: Food Glorious Food

Planning for seniorsSkien, Norway 1973. Eva and ,our two young children were on a  summer visit with Norwegian friends in the beautiful mountain area of that country.  Today Norway is the 4th richest country in the world. In 1973 while not a poor nation, it continued struggling up from the Nazi occupation during WW II. Our friends were middle class. While many Europeans still lived in apartment houses, they had their own homes, a personal vehicle, washing machine, two bathrooms and four bedrooms. They lived well for Norwegians of that day. Garbage pick up in Skien was every two weeks. How well I remember walking with Jan, his three girls and our two children to the collection point. He carried his one garbage bag in one hand to the collection point. One small bag of garbage for 4 adults and 5 children….every TWO WEEKS!

Do a quick mental calculation. How much food in dollars do you suppose you have thrown in the garbage, or put down the disposal in say, just the past 5 years? Staggering how much we buy and then throw away. It is sobering to think how much extra money we could have kept in our pockets and still been well fed.

The USDA shows that an average 2 person household of the Social Security age bracket spent between $550 and $664. in March of 2011 That is a  2011 statistic. Food prices are up since last year, and “eating out” at restaurants is not part of the calculation.

How can we waste less and therefore spend less on food?

Some attempt to save on food by making a full time business of cutting out coupons, buying in bulk so that your item is .22 cents an ounce vs .29 for the smaller size. If this works for you, great.

We have found that we actually eat better and healthier for less by imitating our European friends and buying for “one meal at a time”. In Norway, our host family normally had eggs, bread, milk, cereal and fruit stocked in the pantry/fridge. After breakfast they would plan the main meal of the day (midday) and decide what to buy then walk to the town center and buy for it. For supper, we would have a tea, bread, cheese, fruit and what ever was not eaten at noon. If anything was left over from this meal, it appeared at breakfast.

We are Americans and our eating habits are a result of many years of abundant, inexpensive food.

There is a middle ground that can work to contain escalating food costs and still allow us to eat well.

It is not practical to walk to the store. Daily driving adds cost. What we can do is plan our main meals a few days at a time and buy accordingly. It is rock solid true, planning = better use of money. Not planning = waste. We don’t plan well a week at a time, but we are OK with planning three days main meals ahead.

They call it “Whole Paycheck” We do a great deal of shopping at Whole Foods and Fresh Market.
Meat is normally the most expensive meal ingredient. I love wild Alaska salmon, Eva prefers tilapia. At this store we can buy a fresh 4 oz cut of expensive salmon and a portion of tilapia, both individually wrapped and seasoned at no cost if we request. Same service is available on all meats. Asparagus comes in bunches “? a lb” I don’t want a lb. I want 8 stalks. Yes, they will open a bunch let me select the 8 I want and price it for me. New kind of apple in the bin, they will on request cut and let me taste it before buying. Eva will not eat beets. I can buy two golden beets for a little price. Whole Foods stocks carrots loose and without those leafy tops. We can hand select and come home with exactly as many perfect ones as we want. Whole Foods bulk section allows buying for example a cup of Black Rice, or just enough pecans to top a sweet potato casserole. If I have the desire for real maple syrup on Sunday’s pancakes, I can buy just enough. Store brands are sometimes good value, and sometimes not. We find both Whole Foods and Fresh Market to have consistently good ones at prices comparable to chain stores. One of these stores is en route to our church, the other close to our doctor’s office. We bring our shopping lists with us.

Another way to stretch your meal buying, is buy from your own freezer and pantry, rather than emptying them all in the garbage when you discover out of date or old items. Don’t make it a chore, start with one item tomorrow and make it a habit until the cupboard is bare.

Planning takes effort and time, so does cutting coupons and running from one store to the other to get bargains. In the end, planning wins.
Till next time….

Don Bell, your Senior Savings Advisor

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