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The Recession and Your Diet: Some Good News

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  September 19, 2011 06:41 PM

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Not surprisingly, the latest news from the USDA is that Americans’ have been economizing on their food purchases during this recession. According to the USDA, American households tightened their money belts mostly by cutting back on making reservations for dinner. Sales at full-service restaurants during this time have dropped by 4.5%. Even the fast food drive-thru and office vending machine purchases took a hit as many more Americans avoided these venues and more often chose to use their kitchen to obtain their meals and snacks.

More interestingly, according to the USDA, we also spent less money at the grocery store. You are probably scratching your head on this one as it seems odd that we are currently stocking our kitchens with more food to offset our previous dining out routines, yet the research suggests that we are spending less at the store. What gives?

According to the researchers, while coupons and sales helped, we also decided to ratchet down our taste for designer name brand foods, and rather, fill our cart with the less expensive store-brand knock-offs. In 2009, seven times as many, or over 800 new private label food products (your local supermarket’s own brand of food), appeared on the store shelves compared to those available in pre-recession 2001. It appears that when it comes to raisin bran, the shopper on-a-budget decided that, well, raisin bran is raisin bran, no matter what the box looks like.

Now, here is the good news: The researchers at the USDA found that many consumers who were looking to stretch their food budget decided that they weren’t necessarily going to give up healthy foods (thank goodness) and switch to less expensive junk food, but rather, they are no longer going to pay for convenience. Rather than paying triple the price for pre-washed bagged leafy greens, which someone else has conveniently sorted, washed, and dried for them, the consumer decided that it was time to hunt for the colander in the kitchen and wash and dry their greens the old fashion way.

In fact, the researchers uncovered that changes in disposable household income had an immediate impact on the type of leafy greens purchased. For example, if the shopper’s personal income increased by one percent, there was an almost identical percentage increase in the purchase of convenient bagged leafy greens. In contrast, when the household income decreased by one percent, there was a similar decrease in the purchase of bagged greens.

Why is this news good? Because it doesn’t appear, at least in this USDA analysis, that some consumers don’t necessarily leave all their good nutrition knowledge in the supermarket parking lot when times are tight. Rather, they will try to maneuver their purchases so that they can eat healthy in a less than a healthy economic environment.

Have you personally forgone convenience for good health? Did you forgo the baby carrots and buy unpeeled carrots to save money but not compromise your health? If so, please share your tips. The more we share, the healthier we all will be.

For more tips on Shopping Smart on a Budget, click here.

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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