Balancing budgeting and healthy eating

Brownwood Bulletin
Courtney Parrott

Consumers may see an increase in food prices at their next grocery store visit, which can complicate healthy eating habits. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts have examined what drives consumers to purchase certain foods and how rising prices can impact choices at the grocery store.

As National Nutrition Month comes to a close, it is important to remember to stay mindful of healthy purchases while maintaining a budget.

“The average American’s food choices surround taste, price and convenience,” said Jenna Anding, Ph.D., RDN, AgriLife Extension nutrition specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Food Science and Technology, Bryan-College Station.

Anding said consumer trends point to healthfulness more and more as the driver of food choices, but in the current landscape, price may be the most powerful determining factor.

The economic factor

“We are seeing the largest increase in prices since the early 1980s,” said David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension professor and economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics.

 Anderson said the most notable reasons for food price increases have been the COVID-19 pandemic and recent droughts in the Midwest. Disruptions have affected the supply and demand of goods and services while highlighting the vulnerabilities in the food system.

The period that was spent at home, with great dependence on delivery services and contactless efforts, has been a driver of pent-up demand, he said. Consumers have been spending more time ordering groceries instead of eating out and using less gas in their vehicles, which has created more long-term discretionary spending.

But now that prices are higher, consumers are tending to buy less, Anderson said. Over time, however, prices are expected to moderate, and he does not expect there will be long-term growth in food prices like in the past year.

To offset the increase in the average food budget, Anderson suggests exploring less expensive substitutes. It is important to remember that changes in food prices are easiest to see because these are the things consumers interact with daily.

He also noted that although consumers may see higher prices in store, there is a “disconnect” from what is paid and what farmers are making. He said the bigger issue at stake is loss of cattle due to increased feed costs and less vegetation due to drought.

Importance of a balanced diet 

Anding said consumers need to get the healthiest foods for their dollar.

While eating guidelines are beneficial when determining meal portion sizes, not all guidelines were created equally.

“You must look at the diet in its totality,” Anding said.

Certain foods are more nutrient dense than others, but they can all fit into a well-rounded diet. Specifically, the integration of foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts, legumes and grains along with fruits and vegetables allow for more freedom to eat other foods to satisfy cravings and hunger cues.

“As a nutrition educator, I’m a firm believer that all foods can fit in the diet,” she said. “It all comes down to how much and how often you eat them.”

She said this is an important concept to remember when trying to find the balance in food habits and lifestyle choices.

Anding said no one food group should be eliminated completely, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate guidelines are an easy and effective way to ensure consumers are filling their plates with the nutrients they need.

“People choose to eat food, not specific nutrients,” she said. “You are the decider in what foods you consume, but it is important to practice mindful eating habits use moderation in eating all foods you enjoy.”

Buckle Up and Slow Down!

Now more than ever driving is one of the most dangerous things that you do every day. Vehicle crashes and fatalities on our Texas roads and across the nation have gone way up! According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) there were more than 4,480 people killed on Texas roads in 2021, making it the second deadliest year since TxDOT began tracking fatalities in 1940. Nationwide, an estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, up 18.4% over 2020. In Texas, traffic fatalities were up 15 percent from 2020-2021. Driver behavior is one of the causes and also one of the most important solutions. Failure to wear a seat belt and speeding are the main reasons for this increase in fatalities. Of the 4,480 people who died in vehicle crashes in 2021, 1,522 were killed due to speeding and 1,219 were killed because they were not wearing a seat belt. By simply always wearing your seat belt, reducing your speed and remembering to keep your distance behind the vehicle in front of you, you can give yourself room to live.

Making sure that children are in the proper car seats, and older children and adults are using seat belts is the most crucial step you can take to protect yourself and those you love in a crash. Those few seconds it takes to buckle can save your family and friends from having to go through a needless tragedy. Seat belts are your best defense against injuries and fatalities in vehicle crashes.

Speed matters in a crash. The higher the speed you are traveling, the more energy is developed which translates into more damage to the vehicle and to the occupants. Most people underestimate the time it takes to stop a vehicle. When you see a vehicle ahead of you suddenly stopping, or some other reason to stop, the first thing you need to do is to react and decide to take action. Typical reaction time is three-fourths of a second then another three-fourths of a second to move your foot to the brake pedal. That is a total of 1.5 seconds. At 70 mph, it would take 387 feet to stop your vehicle. Keep in mind that a football field is 360 feet long. That is why it is so dangerous to follow too closely.

Follow the 3 Second Rule. When the vehicle in front of you passes a fixed object, you should be able to count at least three seconds before you pass the same object. Increase your following distance in

bad weather. Again, give yourself room to live and leave enough distance between you and the vehicle in front. 

What is your hurry? Consider that 30-mile trip at 55 mph would take 32.7 minutes, when you increase your speed to 65 mph, you save 5 minutes. At 75 mph, only 8.7 minutes are saved. Is it worth it to put your life and the lives of others at risk to save less than 9 minutes of saved time?

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Passenger Safety and KidSafe Initiatives along with Family and Community Health Educator Courtney Parrott, Brown County reminds drivers and passengers of these important safety tips.

Make sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled and that child passengers are correctly in their car seat and the car seats are buckled securely to the vehicle.

Unbuckled passengers are also dangerous to others in the vehicle. In the event of a crash, the unbuckled passenger becomes a large projectile flying around the vehicle, who can injure or kill other occupants in the vehicle — including those who are buckled up!

Do not drive over the speed limit

Remember that speeding also means driving too fast for road or weather conditions

Use the 3 Second Rule to make sure you are not following too close behind the car in front of you.

Give speeding drivers plenty of space. Speeding drivers may lose control of their vehicle more easily.

Be an active driver and be watching for other drivers who may be driving recklessly and give them more space.

In Texas there has not been a day without a fatality on our roadways since November 7, 2000. Let’s end this deadly streak!  Remember as a driver your behavior can make a difference! Follow these safety trips and give yourself room to live.