The food inflation rate in the United States currently stands at 7.5 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index, the highest it's been in decades. The situation is similar, or even worse, in many other countries, and food doesn't just cost more — in much of the world, the global food crisis that's being discussed on the news is in full swing.
There's no doubt that, for many, things are getting a little (or a lot) scary. That's not just true in countries that the World Health Organization has identified as "hunger hotspots" — such as Haiti and Yemen — but also in the US, UK, and numerous other developed nations that previously weren't known to have a problem with widespread food insecurity.
In this current economy, where stuff is more expensive every single time you go grocery shopping, almost everyone can feel the pain. That's to say, if your food budget remains unchanged, you'll now be able to get a lot less with the same amount of money. You may find yourself in a situation where you have to decide between paying a utility bill or buying food, or in which you choose to feed your kids while you go hungry.
In many cases, rising food prices mean that the staples you once relied on are no longer accessible to you, and that your diet automatically becomes less varied and less healthy. Not only does the stress this brings have a significant negative impact on your emotional wellbeing, but reduced diet quality can also have dire consequences for your physical health.
We come armed with some tips — and yes, we do fully admit to writing this because we ourselves need a checklist to work with. Maybe it'll help you, too.
1. Watching Your Macronutrients
Macronutrients are the most important nutrients — the things your body absolutely needs to be healthy, and that cannot be made within your own body in sufficient quantities, so you have to get them from the foods you eat. Most people who have been on a weight loss diet at any points within their lives will vaguely be familiar with the fact that carbs (carbohydrates), fats, and protein are important macronutrients. The USDA additionally qualifies fiber, energy, and even water as macronutrients.
While a varied and healthy diet is important to maintain good health, working on that can begin by doing everything you can to tick your macronutrients off — and calculating your macros begins by estimating your ideal daily calorie intake.
Your caloric needs depend on a wide variety of factors, but three basic elements to take into account include age, gender (or biological sex, which would be a more accurate descriptor), and activity levels. Look at the USDA's estimated calorie needs table to calculate the caloric needs you and other members of your household.
This chart won't work for you if you have weight loss goals or you are extremely physically active — which may mean that you are a pro bodybuilder, a firefighter, or a construction worker. Your average person can, however, gain useful insights from the USDA's recommended calories chart.
Armed with that info, you can get to calculating your macros. If you are on a tight budget, this will go a long way toward ensuring that you get all the most important stuff, as it helps you to meal plan. You can find plenty of handy macro calculators online that cater to your precise lifestyle, but most people should follow these recommendations:
- Protein is essential for your muscles and metabolism. If you're especially stretched right now, it's also good to keep in mind that protein is the macro that will help you feel full for the longest period of time. Protein should make up anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of your total daily calories.
- Fat needs to make up 20 to 35 percent of your daily caloric intake, with a focus on healthy fats.
- Carbs should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily diet.
- Fiber is essential, too, and you need to shoot for 25 to 30 grams a day.
2. Making Vegetables the Focus
Veggies offer vitamins, minerals, fiber, and plenty of carbs. Legumes such as beans and peas are an important source of protein, too. Survey your local grocery store to see which vegetables are cheapest, and once you exclude any that you really don't like (especially important for kids who are picky eaters), plan your meals around those vegetables that are in season or on special offer. If you have to choose between pasta with a processed sauce or a veg-rich stir-fry, the vegetables should win each time.
3. Choosing Cheap Sources of Protein
Protein is essential, and if you come from a carb-loving tradition, you may not be getting enough. The cheapest sources of protein include eggs, beans, peanut butter, canned tuna, plain Greek yogurt, lentils, and sardines. If you're in the US, rotisserie chicken is often another great option that can stretch very far.
Are you spending a lot on meat? Going vegetarian — not vegan, which can be more expensive, but vegetarian — for a while can help you save money.
4. Track Prices and Choose Foods Least Affected by Inflation
At the moment, in the United States, that's tomatoes, potatoes, ice cream (yes, really), cheese, and canned fish and seafood. You can do a lot with those!
5. Plan Your Meals
Inflation may be running amok, but that hasn't stopped grocery stores from employing psychological tricks to encourage impulse buying. Don't fall for it. Impulse buying increases your risk of food waste. Plan your meals, ideally around the staples that remain more affordable or those foods that are on special offer.
6. Grow Herbs in Your Kitchen
Variety may be the spice of life, but herbs can be expensive. If you have a garden, make use of it. If not, grow some in your kitchen. It's easier than you think, and the flavor will make your more modest meals sting a whole lot less.
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