With food inflation on the rise, a trip to the store can mean fewer groceries in your cart and fewer dollars in your wallet.
Many people are feeling the pinch of higher food costs, but those most severely affected are people living on fixed incomes.
During Pork Month, the National Pork Board is offering ways to use pork in tasty, economical, and nutritious meals.
“Taste and cost are the top drivers of food choice. If we start with what people love and help them understand what is affordable, we can really make a difference in helping people build healthier dietary patterns,” said Shelley Maniscalco, registered dietician with Nutrition on Demand.
Maniscalco, as well as experts in academia, government, and non-profits in the food policy sector, were assembled by the National Pork Board to update dietitians and others through a recent webinar, “Insights from Food Modeling Research – Putting the Thrifty Food Plan into Practice.”
They talked about what it takes to put an optimized, affordable, and nutrient-dense eating plan into practice, and how this can help society.
We aren’t imagining the higher cost for food.
Food prices were 11.4 percent higher in August 2022 vs. August 2021 according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). (Food Price Outlook, 2022 and 2023)
According to the Economic Research Service (ERS), grocery store or supermarket food purchases increased by 13.5 percent during that timeframe. Restaurant purchases increased by 8 percent.
For all of 2022, the ERS predicts – compared with 2021 – food-at-home prices will increase 10.5-11.5 percent, while food-away-from-home prices will increase by 6.5-7.5 percent.
Pork is one of the standouts in the report, as wholesale pork prices are predicted to decrease between 1-4 percent in 2022 vs. 2021, due to larger supplies.
The National Pork Board believes pork can help consumers create a nutritionally-optimized, affordable eating plan.
“Pork is a high quality, affordable, and nutrient-dense protein that satisfies many tastes and cultural preferences,” said Kara Behlke, National Pork Board director of nutrition and dietetics. “And that’s why our producers are passionate about advancing research and knowledge on this topic, so that we can bring people together to be part of the solution.”
The USDA offers food plans at four different cost levels – Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal.
The Thrifty Food Plan serves as the basis for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) maximum benefit allotments. For August 2022, a four-person home (male and female, 20-50 years, and two children, 6-8 and 9-11 years) will need $221.50 weekly, or $959 monthly.
That might sound like a significant amount of money for groceries until it’s divided by person. A retired woman, for example, would qualify for $56.10 per week or $243.20 per month.
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A single male, age 51-70, would receive $60.50 per week, or $262.30 per month – which could be very difficult to live on.
Nutrient-dense and affordable foods like pork can fit well into the Thrifty Food Plan – as do most other animal proteins.
For consumer buy-in, Maniscalco explained that it’s important to meet consumers where they are.
“We do that by addressing their priorities and their challenges,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is help them understand how to build a healthy dietary pattern with the food that they love on a budget and within all the constraints they experience.”
The number one driver of food choice is taste, followed by cost, and health. Sneaking good nutrition into foods that taste great helps families and individuals.
“By figuring out what our audience is already eating and what they love eating, we can really build from there,” Maniscalco said.
Sandwiches, for instance, are the most common food-type consumed in the U.S.
Fruits and vegetables are very under-consumed. So if there are ways to take salads and sandwiches – top carrier foods for fruits and vegetables – and add protein, which is a way to add nutrition and satiety.
“We know that pork is a mainstay in traditional dishes, across many cultures, which is probably why it’s the most consumed meat worldwide,” she said.
“If they love pork, we can steer them toward the leaner cuts, the tenderloin, the chops.”
She encourages consumers to think about things they can add to their diet, rather than taking away things.
Adding spices and herbs is a great way to add dimension and excitement to food, while reducing the use of salt, she said.
By learning about lower cost items in the grocery story – like high quality ground pork – consumers may enjoy their recipes while reducing the cost.
Making food planning and cooking fun can make the eating experience more memorable – and it doesn’t have to be expensive foods to reach restaurant quality eating. It just takes a creative and good cook.
With that in mind, Maniscalco encourages consumers to reimagine cooking methods – for instance, how to use a roaster to create delicious pulled pork for sandwiches.
One of the places to find great recipes is pork.org. The site is filled with grilled pork recipes, using pork on a charcuterie board, or offering kid-friendly pork recipes.
When helping consumers make the most of the Thrifty Food Plan, Maniscalco emphasizes: 1) using foods that consumers love to eat; 2) making small changes that make foods more nutrient-dense; and 3) considering combination dishes and carrier foods as a way for people to get all the nutrients and food groups they need.
“The idea is to get a balance of all of that, and in doing so, help your consumer achieve the nutrients that they need and the food group recommendations,” Maniscalco concluded.