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How Caregivers and Older Adults Can Manage Rising Food Costs

By Julie Hayes and Tiffany Taylor | 04/13/2023

An older adult filling a family member's plate with a healthy salad

As anyone who has gone grocery shopping over the past few months can tell you, inflation is hitting food prices hard in 2023. As of February 2023, eggs are around $4.21 a dozen, a 110 percent increase from 2022, while foods like pasta, flour, potatoes and sugar have all seen increases in the 20-30 percent range.

But one thing that hasn’t changed?: the barriers which exist to prevent us from making the most of our money and accessing quality, nutritional food. Here are just a few of the challenges which face everyday Americans:

  • Location and transportation: Where you live largely determines what kind of foods you have access to and at which price levels foods will be set. Some people, especially in more rural areas, may even live in a “food desert,” or an area with limited access to affordable, nutritious food within walking or reasonable driving distance. Lack of transportation further limits available options, a common problem faced by older adults who don’t drive or have mobility issues.
  • Affordability of different kinds of food: In general, less healthy foods tend to be more affordable than nutritious foods. When money is tight, many people tend to turn to junk foods they can buy at lower prices at higher quantities.
  • Waste and spoiling: According to Fortune, Americans throw out about one-third of the food they purchase. 23 percent of this waste comes from buying unneeded food in bulk. Even when not bought in bulk, many foods spoil quickly—especially healthy foods like vegetables, fruit and cooked grains—if not used within the first few weeks of purchase.
  • Lack of time: Many people lack the time to meal plan, carefully browse grocery stores for the lowest price and clip coupons, leading to missed savings opportunities.

Many older adults live on a limited income, so inflation can hit them particularly hard. Budget often takes priority, making them turn first to lower cost foods regardless of nutritional value. However, older adults have lower calorie needs than other adults, but increased nutritional needs, which means calorie-rich/nutrient-poor junk food can be even more harmful to them than younger adults. Additionally, older adults may have chronic conditions that may require them to avoid certain foods, especially the kinds of high-fat foods that tend to be lower in price during times of inflation.

Strategies to save money on food

One of the most effective strategies to save money on food is to stop wasting food. As stated earlier, this can be a challenge due to lack of time, as it requires meal planning and budgeting. However, keep in mind that if you reuse favorite and familiar recipes, many steps of this process only have to be done once, and many of these tips are also habit forming and can become a natural part of your shopping routine:

  • Choosing recipes and ingredients
    • Use simple recipes that don’t require ingredients you don’t foresee using in other recipes. If homemade sauces, dressings and seasonings are involved, consider the price difference between making it yourself or buying it premade—making it yourself is often cheaper, but can be time consuming, so a good balance between money and time is important to consider. For older adults, it’s also important to keep skills and capabilities in mind if they are taking the lead on cooking. Don’t choose recipes that are out of their scope.
    • Avoid recipes that call for large amounts of ingredients that are currently high in price.
    • Halve the recipe if you’re running out of freezer space for leftovers, or are running low on ingredients. If your older loved one has trouble making these calculations on their own, you can write it into the recipe for future reference.
    • If you or your loved one do have plenty of freezer space, look into “stretch meals,” meals that can be made in big quantities that store well in the fridge or freezer.
  • Meal planning
    • Plan out every meal you and your loved one will eat for the week, taking into account leftovers and occasions where you will eat at restaurants. Start by choosing meals that use ingredients you already have, especially those that may be wasted if you don’t use them soon.
    • If you’re not you’re not sure a certain meal is in your budget, look into prices ahead of time and adjust as needed.
    • Looking into local sales can help you determine other meals to consider.
  • At the grocery
    • Stick to your list as much as possible.
    • Buying in bulk is fine when the food is healthy, keeps well and will be used often. However, avoid buying in bulk if you’re not confident all the food will be used. The savings may not actually be savings depending on how much food you wind up throwing out.
    • Pay attention to weekly discounts and specials.
    • Try not to shop when you or your loved one are hungry or pressed for time.
  • Cooking
    • Repurpose food “scraps.” For example, bread ends can be used for stuffing, and vegetable trimmings and chicken bones can be reused for stock. If you research a little, you’ll also find that many unexpected parts of vegetables are actually edible!
    • Be cautious when cooking to avoid mistakes like overcooking and burning, which can lead to waste.
  • Storing leftovers
    • Remember that leftover meat, vegetables and fruit can often be frozen and used later. This can cut down on spoiling and wilting.
    • Label leftover containers with the date the meal was made/purchased and the expiration date. Many recipes include how long meals will keep in the fridge or freezer, and if not, this information can typically be found online.
    • Make sure to keep both the fridge and freezer organized so food is not getting lost.
    • If there are leftovers and storing the meal is an issue, reach out to family, friends and neighbors to see if they’d be interested in sharing the meal. They may even return the favor!

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