The Food Bank for the Rockies announced that it has opened its doors to government workers affected by the shutdown. They'll be setting up shop at Dick's Sporting Goods Park today. Other mobile pantries in Denver this weekend can be found here. The Larimer County Food Bank always accepts anyone who needs a little help. If you’re affected by the shutdown, or just need a little help between paychecks to afford the many expenses we have on our plates today, here are some tips to save money on food.
Visit FoCo Food Assistance’s website if you live in Fort Collins. There are tons of ideas on getting free or low-cost food in the area.
Sign-up for SNAP benefits. So far they will continue through February despite the shutdown. The financial threshold to qualify varies by state and family size, but for a household of 1, the maximum gross monthly income is $1,316. SNAP benefits provide you with a debit card to use on food purchases at any grocery store that accepts EBT.
Visit free food events in town. There are often fun, free events in towns that offer refreshments or samples. In fact, FoCo Food Assistance shares an event with free food happening in Fort Collins, CO almost every day on Facebook. Like our page to see events in the area. In the Denver area, merchants offering freebies to furloughed workers can be found here. Outside of Colorado, you can search Facebook “Events” on the left-hand side of the website and filter down for your city, desired time period, and “food” category. Then visit those events. You may make some connections while you’re out snacking!
Go to your local pantry or food bank. It’s time the stigma of attending a food bank is lifted. If you’ve never gone, you may be surprised to know that today pantries offer a “shopping” style approach. Once you check in, you can choose the foods you’d like rather than taking “hand-outs” at a window. Bring your ID, reusable grocery bags, and some patience. Most pantries today offer fresh produce, yogurt, cereals, and snacks. You may feel like this is a last resort, but so many hard-working people, including college students, nuclear families, and professionals who can’t make ends meet use food banks and pantries. In the Fort Collins area, there are over a dozen pantries and you can find a list of them on FoCo Food Assistance’s “Pantries” page.
Get you grocery store’s loyalty card. You can save money by getting your grocery store’s loyalty card. Often supermarkets list two prices for food items- a general public price and a card-holder’s price. It takes about 5 minutes to sign up at the Customer Service desk.
Download coupons. Once you have the loyalty card, chances are you can download the supermarket’s coupons to the card and simply scan the card at checkout. Otherwise, you can download coupons to your phone or clip them from circulars. King Soopers sends customized coupons in the mail for products you actually buy once you sign up for the loyalty card.
Purchase in bulk. Decide on large meals that you can make in advance such as soup, casseroles, and oatmeal. Find recipes here. Then buy the ingredients in bulk, which will save you money (and time cooking).
Buy cheaper foods. Instead of buying meat and poultry, buy proteins like beans, lentils, nut butters, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, eggs, Greek yogurt, rice, and corn. To ensure you get sufficient protein and B12 on a non-meat diet, review this checklist. Instead of organic fruits and vegetables, buy local produce from the Farmers’ Market. You can also save money on food by avoiding the pre-cut veggies and ready-to-cook meals. There is a premium on any food that takes the leg-work out of preparing it.
Buy frozen and canned fruits & vegetables. Believe it or not, frozen fruits and vegetables are equal or better in nutrition than fresh. This is because fruits and vegetables tend to be picked at peak nutrition levels and frozen that way. When buying canned vegetables, make sure to get “No Added Sodium” or rinse the veggies to reduce the salt levels before eating. When buying canned fruit, buy fruit in its own juice or water to avoid added sugars.
Shop Farmers’ Markets. You can often get deals at farmers’ markets. For instance, the farmers’ apples may seem expensive, but ask if they have “seconds.” Seconds are blemished fruit that farmers will often sell for a reduced price.
If you are approved for SNAP, many states offer “double bucks” or similar deals where you can buy vouchers for fresh produce at the market’s head table with your SNAP card, and they will match your purchase with additional vouchers. It’s a 2 for 1 deal!
If your family is going through a tough financial time right now, I hope some of these ideas help you to get through it without compromising your health. Remember that you’re not alone. There is help. For questions or additional ideas, feel free to talk to a Registered Dietitian at ZEST Nutrition: ZESTNutritionService@gmail.com.