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Shopping Matters

On the second day of Cooking Matters Bloggers Boot Camp in Dallas, we braved the frigid north winds and drove to a nearby Walmart for a quick lesson in how to grocery shop.

Shopping Matters is a stand-alone, two-hour class that takes students aisle-by-aisle,  to point out the best buys and show how to stretch a dollar to get the biggest nutritional bang for the buck.

Mary Ellen Damashino is the chef/instructor at with Cooking Matters at the Oregon Food Bank, and she flew in to show us how to better read labels, what to look for, and what to avoid.

When it comes to price, whether you’re looking at bananas or cans of tuna, look for the unit price — the small number at the bottom of the item’s label on the shelf — and compare by ounce. Whole chickens are going to be less expensive than parts, a bag of apples will cost less than buying them individually, and — surprisingly — shredded cheese is often cheaper than the block.

So it pays to pay attention.

And to know a few tips, too. Canned tomatoes, she said, are often loaded with salt, but with a quick rinse, the sodium can be reduced by as much as 40%. How to know which grapefruit is most ripe? Put one in each hand and use your hands as “scales” – the juicier, riper one will be heavier.

DaMaschino breezes by the end caps filled with sugary unmentionables, instead highlights ingredients that are nutritionally sound money-savers. Whole grains, including oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa. Eggs. Fruits and vegetables, especially in season, when they’re abundant and priced to sell quickly. Milk, cheese and plain yogurt. Chicken and meat, used as part of a healthy meal rather than the star of the plate. Breads. And beans, to add to soups, salads, and pastas.

For some of us, this is obvious. For the low-income families that are taking this course, many of whom are on food stamps or other federally-subsidized programs, it’s a first step to feeding their families in a better way.

But, then what? What can you make with a shopping basket of inexpensive, healthy basics?

We soon find out.

(to be continued)

Next: We return to the North Texas Food Bank’s kitchens, and cook our own healthy, low-cost lunch.

What you can do: Shopping Matters always needs tour facilitators and a support team of volunteers, too, to keep the program running on track. Find out more by clicking here.