New Yokefellow program shows how to save at the store

Aug. 16, 2013 @ 08:45 AM

Shaving a few dollars from his grocery bills every month could make all the difference for Brian Coffey.

Coffey, 50, is unemployed, a computer technician who applied for food stamps but has yet to receive them. He buys groceries for himself and and his wife, who works part-time and goes to school full-time. He always tries to keep the grocery costs down by having a strict list and sticking to it, saying self-control is key.

Money spent at the grocery store can be the largest budget item in a family’s books, and in a weak economy, money spent or saved at the grocery store can help give families with tight budgets a little more wriggling room. That’s why Yokefellow of Caldwell County, a local charity that provides clothes, food and emergency financial assistance, has started “Cooking Matters at the Store,” a series of educational shopping trips.

Leah Goulds, food pantry coordinator at Yokefellow, led the group’s first expedition to the Food Lion on Wilkesboro Boulevard Thursday afternoon with the help of volunteer Martha Proffitt.

Leaving by bus from Yokefellow, three participants were led around the grocery store, shown about nutritional properties of different foods and taught tactics to spend less at the grocery store. At the end of the tour, each participant is given a $10 Food Lion gift card and challenged to use the tactics they learned to buy one thing from each essential food group, making a complete meal for less than $10.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina sponsors the program, and Thursday’s trip was the first for Yokefellow. Officials plan to put on the class every month indefinitely.

Yokefellow wants to use the program to give people healthier food choices, Goulds said, to “plant a seed” and teach participants about unit prices, stretching government benefits farther and simply how to get more out of money spent at the grocery store.

On the bus ride to Food Lion, Gould shared information about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “My Plate,” the visual representation of food group proportions that recently replaced the food pyramid.

My Plate shows fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy, and the proportionate servings of each, and Gould made special note of fruits and vegetables, which together make up 50 percent of the plate.

Goulds and Proffitt first led the participants to the produce section, comparing unit prices and showing which products are better to buy fresh, canned or frozen, the different nutritional values and costs among those options.

For example, green beans at Food Lion cost $1.96 per pound fresh, 67 cents for a 14-ounce can, and 99 cents for a one-pound frozen bag.

Next came breads, with Proffitt and Goulds showing how to tell which ones were healthier, whole grain versus refined grain, which were high in fiber, which is important for feeling fuller longer, and which ones were the best deals.

Cereal was compared by fiber, sugar content and cost; ways to save money on meat, fish and poultry were discussed, along with preparing them healthily; and dairy products were analyzed for their price and nutrition.

Leaving the kids at home (to avoid impulse buying), buying store brands, buying in bulk and keeping a specific list were all money-saving tactics explored by the group.

Saving money at the grocery store is important for participant Cathy Villagomez, 54, who buys groceries every week for herself, her husband and their 15-year-old son. And because she works as a certified nursing assistant, homebound clients are sometimes on that list too. Villagomez said she signed up for the program “to learn how to stretch every dollar with the economy as low as it is,” saying she already knew and practiced a lot of the things talked about, but said it helped to remind her and refresh some things she already knew.

“I try to keep my son out of the store,” Villagomez said, about a tactic she often employs. “He likes trying to make the grocery list.”

For more information, or to apply for the program, visit Yokefellow at 1602 Harper Ave. in Lenoir, or call 828-754-7088.