Program teaches participants to 'Shop Smart'

With just $10 to spend on food, a mother and her teenage daughter came away from a Durham Food Lion recently with quite a bit of food: two yogurts, bananas, lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers, salad dressing and bread. The two were among a group participating in Durham County Cooperative Extension’s “Shop Smart, Eat Smart and Move More” program.

The program, a partnership between N.C. Cooperative Extension and Food Lion grocery stores, teaches participants in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) how to buy the most nutritious food with limited food dollars.

The group had participated in six weeks of classes taught by Erin Roberts, EFNEP program associate, learning how to make healthy food choices and get the best value. The final class involved a trip to a local Food Lion store, where Roberts encouraged class members to put their new knowledge into practice.

At the end of class, all participants had $10 provided by Food Lion to buy food to create a nutritious family meal. Durham is one of seven urban counties – including Wake, Orange, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Union — participating in the program for the first time this year.

Lorelei Jones, state EFNEP coordinator based in the 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences Department at N.C. State University, said the program was Food Lion’s way of giving back.

“This was a way Food Lion could be a good community partner,” Jones said. “Allowing groups to do the store tours to hone their shopping skills helps families understand how to get the best value for their money.”

In addition to allowing groups to complete a shopping tour and experience at Food Lion, the grocery store chain provided materials and supplies for the series of classes, giving participants the opportunity to practice new skills during each session.

School-aged youth will also be served by the program, learning skills that can help them make healthy food and activity choices and reduce their risk for overweight and obesity. Several youth programs are scheduled to begin in September and October.

class member shops
A Shop Smart class member chooses green onions for a chicken dish

The youth component will teach young children about the importance of good nutrition and encourage them to try new foods and include a variety of foods for meals and snacks. It includes a Favorite Food Show, where youth select and prepare a healthy snack. This science-fair type of activity will allow the youth to share their knowledge of the nutrient content of their snack and to demonstrate how to select ingredients that are both affordable and nutritious.

Roberts’ first Shop Smart class started in late June, with eight mothers from Durham’s Braggtown area. Over the course of the program, class participants told Roberts of the healthy changes they were making: planning their meals and eating at regular meal times, drinking fewer soft drinks, reading food labels and cutting back on fast food. One participant had started shopping at a local farmers’ market.

In addition to nutrition lessons, Shop Smart helps participants get the best food value for their dollars. During the store tour at Food Lion, Roberts showed how to compare unit prices for food products and how to compare the cost of a more processed product with one that isn’t processed. Participants were given a simple calculator to help do the math.

In the store’s produce aisle, for example, Roberts showed how chopped cabbage processed for slaw was more expensive by weight than whole cabbage. And in the meat section, Roberts showed that a chicken cut up was more expensive than a whole chicken. Only one of the class members had experience cutting up a chicken, and she offered to teach the others.

“All families are probably going through some type of budget crunch with the economic down turn,” Jones said. “Families in need are feeling that crunch even more.  The opportunity to focus on skills to stretch their food dollar helps them place healthy meals on their dinner table.”

During the in-store shopping experience, a mother of four looked for onions and peppers that she could cook with chicken that she had at home, since her family likes chicken.

Another shopped for ground beef, noodles and a sauce she could use to create a pasta dish. She compared the whole wheat noodles to traditional pasta and decided to  make that change.

Checking out at the store
Erin Roberts, center, helps Shop Smart members check out with their food purchases.

Class members described some of the lessons from the class that they were putting into practice – how to look for food sales, read nutrition labels, be aware of what makes a serving size and to rinse canned vegetables to reduce the sodium content.

One woman said that her husband does most of the grocery shopping for the family, “so for me, this had truly been a learning experience.” Now, she reads food nutrition labels, especially checking for the first ingredient listed – it’s not always what the product name suggests.

Another woman said that reading labels had taught her how much fat and sodium are in some processed foods. “I never really looked before,” she said.

After the participants had their groceries rung up, Roberts gave each a certificate for completing the course and a booklet with EFNEP recipes. They proudly lined up for a group photo.

The Food Lion grant will run through May 2013. EFNEP is in the process of collecting feedback from the summer’s adult Shop Smart workshops. During the year, Jones said EFNEP hopes to serve 700 limited-resource families and 3,500 school-age youth through this project.

–N. Hampton

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.