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Grocery Shopping Fresh

Grocery Shopping Like a Pro

Even after you’ve gotten ready to head to the store, grocery shopping on a budget for healthy meals can be hard. But there are some things you can do to make it easier.

Stock Your Pantry

Keeping your kitchen stocked with certain key things can make cooking easy. This list has some items that are perfect for this. And this article has some healthy foods perfect for your pantry that only cost about $2.

Add one item that won’t go bad, like a spice, grain, beans, or frozen veggies to your cart each shopping trip to help you build your pantry without dropping a lot of money at once. (These are also good things to buy in bulk when they’re on sale if you have space to store them.)

Having this stocked pantry will help you throw together meals fast, help you save on packaged or premade meals you might’ve grabbed in a hurry, and make shopping easier.

Choosing Your Store

Choosing where you shop can also help you save. Besides the grocery store, some great places to find good deals are:

  • Ethnic markets
  • Dollar stores
  • Retail supercenters
  • Wholesale clubs
  • Farmers markets

At the Store

Once you’re at the store, you should try to shop the outer edge of it as much as possible. The outer edge usually has the fresh produce, like fruits and veggies, meat, dairy, bread, and frozen food. It’s typically the inner aisles that are full of boxed and processed foods.

Fruits & Veggies

It’s recommended that you eat 5 servings of veggies a day, so it’s important to really use that part of the store. With that in mind, fruits and veggies, fresh or frozen, should take up about a third of your cart on each shopping trip.

  • Shop in season 

At the farmers market, you have to buy what’s in season, but at the grocery store, there are lots of choices. But when you buy what’s in season, you can save a lot, and your food will be the tastiest and freshest it can be. This list can help you find what’s in season when.

  • Buy bags at the right time

With certain go-to things your family will always use, like apples, oranges, potatoes, and onions, buying them in the big bags when they’re in season can help you save even more.

  • Stock up on canned and frozen fruits and veggies

Canned and frozen fruits and veggies are picked while they’re in season and tasting best, and they’re good for you, too. So instead of buying fresh peas when they’re not in season, stock up on frozen ones to save and get the best flavor. Plus, they last much longer.

Look for frozen veggies without added sauces or butter. Choose canned fruit in 100% fruit juice and veggies with “low-sodium” or “no salt added.”

Canned veggies and broths are perfect for easy soups and stews, and canned fruit makes great fruit salad and snacks for the kids.

Packaged Goods

Avoid a lot of the packaged and processed foods in the center of the store. Cookies, candy, chips, crackers, and soda are all high in things you don’t want, like sugar, salt, and bad fats, and low in things like protein and nutrients. They’re also expensive.

  • Look for whole grains

Be careful you don’t get fooled by things that just call out wheat. Instead, look for whole grains and whole-grain breads.

  • Find high-protein foods besides meat

Yogurt and cheeses are great sources of protein, as are beans and other legumes, which you can find dried or canned.

  • Be smart about cereal

Cereals are one of the top foods for hidden sugar. Look for ones with little or no sugar. You can always add honey to flavor it in the bowl. Also look for cereals high in fiber to start your day right.

  • Try new things in the bulk aisle

If you want to try a new grain, nut, or dried fruit, the bulk aisle with bins is a great way to taste test. Scoop out a small bag for your family to taste before buying bigger servings.

Shopping Tips

Make the most of your trip by paying attention to how your store organizes things, their price tags, and food labels.

  • Don’t shop at eye level

Stores oftentimes stock the most expensive things right where they’ll catch your eye. Looking at the upper and lower shelves can help you find the best deal.

  • Grab from the back

Stores also stock from the back, putting newer things behind the older ones. Grabbing from the back gets you fresher food with better expiration dates, so your food will be good for longer.

  • Look for store brands

Many stores have their own brands of items, and in most cases, you’ll get the exact same or very similar thing at a much better price.

  • Read the label

Reading the nutrition label can tell you a lot about what’s in a food, if it’s good for you, and help you choose between brands.

  • Pay attention to serving sizes

Some things might seem good for you until you check the serving size. Sometimes the serving size is much smaller than what you’d actually eat in a sitting, which makes the numbers on the label look better.

  • Learn how to read unit price on the price tag

Unit price tells you how much something costs per pound, ounce, quart, or other unit of measure. It can tell you which brands are the most affordable. This guide can help you read or calculate unit price.

  • Have a calculator handy

Whether it’s on your phone or you bring a small calculator along to the store, having one on hand can make it easy to compare labels and costs.

Up Next:

Learn how to read and make sense of nutrition labels to get the most out of your food.

Planning for a Happy Retirement

Long View: How Much Money Do You Need for Retirement?

Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned,” is still true today, especially when thinking about retirement. I think about the possibilities once in a while, but it seems too far in the future to worry about it right now.

I know in my grandparents’ day, retirement didn’t require much planning. Most folks didn’t live long enough for it to be a problem. These days with modern medicine, longevity is a much more attainable goal. It’s the actions we take to prepare for it that have the most impact on our quality of life.

The United States Census Bureau says people age 90 and older make up 4.7 percent of the population 65 and older. That’s expected to be as high as 10 percent by 2050.

I used an online retirement calculator to find out how much I should have saved at this point in my career. The results indicated I was well under my goal. The predictions were based on a life expectancy of 92 years, a daunting prospect at this stage of the game.

I have been meaning to increase the amount I put aside for retirement, but it seems I just don’t get around to it. Benjamin would advise me to “never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” Having looked into the future, I will definitely take some action. Even a slight increase now will make a difference in the long run.

“Obviously the earlier you start to save for retirement the better,” says Bob Ballsrud, executive vice president of Busey Wealth Management. “Our younger clients often invest in more growth assets because they have the time to recover from any temporary downturn. More mature clients often are encouraged to lower their risk because they will need to access the funds sooner. Either way, it’s the consistency of action and the appropriate planning that help you meet your goals.”

I know there are a number of factors to consider before retirement. It seems advance planning is the best course, or as Ben tells us, “Employ thy time well if thou meanest to gain leisure.”

Plan Ahead with Health Insurance

Part of planning for your future is making sure you can cover medical and hospital costs when you need to. Learn more about Medicare, wellness, and health insurance in general at HealthAlliance.org.

Fresh Fiddlehead Ferns at Your Farmers Market

Making the Most of a Farmers Market

There are lots of reasons to get out to your local farmers market, but going to a farmers market for the first time is very different than going to the supermarket. We can help make sure it goes smoothly with these tips from a farmers market veteran:

1. Prepare.

  • Illinois has a Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that gives you a free booklet of checks that you can use at local markets. Check it out on the Illinois Department on Aging’s site for details and participating counties and markets .
  • Many vendors only take cash (and some take SNAP and WIC benefits). Some booths only take small bills, 20s and smaller.
  • Many vendors don’t offer bags, so it’s a good idea to bring a few cloth ones you can use.
  • Most markets don’t allow dogs, so leave them at home.
  • Have an idea of what is in stock at that time of year, so you know what to expect. Use this map to find out what’s in season where you live.

2. Check the info booth first. If your market has an info booth, check there before you start shopping. The people working can let you know if there are any special things going on that day, like cooking demos.

Certain markets, like the new Champaign Farmers’ Market downtown, have special deals for SNAP users, so it’s always good to check with the info booth. At their market, they will double up to $20 of benefits per person while funds last when you bring your Link card to the market booth!

3. Go early or go late. If you go early, you will have first pick of the freshest and largest selection. If you go late, some farmers will offer discounts to clear out their stock before heading home.

4. Take a lap. Unless you know your market really well, don’t just buy the first things you see. By walking a lap through the market first, you can get the lay of the land, compare prices and selection, and taste samples.

5. Talk to the farmers. The farmers can answer questions about how the food was grown and harvested, talk about why their produce is or is not organic, offer recipes, give info about something you’ve never tasted, or recommend their favorites.

6. Be mindful. It’s considered rude to squeeze stone fruits, like peaches, plums, or tomatoes, because it can bruise them. And it’s considered rude to open husks of corn before buying them, which can actually make them less sweet. Also, look for whole produce, meaning veggies like carrots and beets with their green tops still whole. These will stay fresh longer, and you can make things like pesto sauces with the greens.

7. Take a risk. Sometimes you find things that are new, different, or even strange at the farmer’s market. This is the perfect opportunity to try something new because the farmers can usually give you advice on how best to use it.

8. Bring a friend or the family. Grocery shopping, unlike the farmers market, can feel like a chore. Take people with you to talk and walk with outside, and the farmer’s market instantly becomes a more fun activity. And you can always save money and split certain produce.

9. Keep it simple. When you’re cooking your food at home, go for simple recipes. Because you bought such fresh produce, you should let it shine. Put fresh wild strawberries over a salad or in a breakfast parfait instead of baking them into a cake. If you’re worried you won’t be able to use all of something you bought you can always freeze it and use the rest later. Use this guide from the FDA to make sure you’re storing and washing produce correctly.

10. Find the right market. Many areas have more than one farmers market within driving distance. If you can, test them all. Large farmer’s markets have a lot of energy, selection, and sometimes even dining options, but smaller markets often have good deals. Find the one that works best for you.

Find farmer’s markets near you. Learn more about which ones take SNAP and WIC, or check out this list of all the farmer’s markets that take Illinois Link Benefits.

Up Next:

Do you really understand what you’re getting when you buy organic? We break it down in Organic 101.

And make sure you’re cleaning your fresh fruits and veggies the right way to keep your family safe.

Fresh Marionberries at Farmers Markets

Why You Should Be Shopping at Farmers Markets

You should try shopping at your local farmers markets for these 6 reasons:

1. It can save you money. At a farmers market, you can pick out exactly how much of something you need. Only need one carrot? No need to buy a bunch you won’t use, like you might have to do at the grocery store.

And the produce at a farmer’s market is only what’s fresh and in-season. It’s also local. At the grocery store, you’re paying for your fruit to be shipped across the country from where it is in-season. By buying your fruits and veggies locally based on what is fresh, you stop paying your food’s travel costs.

Illinois also has a Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that gives you a free booklet of checks that you can use at local markets. Find details and participating counties and markets on the Illinois Department on Aging’s site.

2. You can support your community. Because the people selling at farmer’s markets live in the area, your money goes back into the local economy.

3. Many accept SNAP and WIC benefits. Many farmers markets accept these to make sure families can afford buying healthy, fresh food. Learn more about which ones take SNAP and WIC, or check out this list of all the farmer’s markets that take Illinois Link Benefits.

Certain markets, like the new Champaign Farmers’ Market downtown, have special deals for SNAP users, so it’s always good to check with the info booth first. At their market, they will double up to $20 of benefits per person while funds last when you bring your Link card to the market booth!

4. It has lots of healthy foods. Fresh fruits and veggies are full of nutrients and antioxidants and are a big part of the MyPlate guidelines from the USDA that help you eat healthier.

5. The farmers often have suggestions. They can tell you what foods are the best right now, help you find new things to try, and tell you the best ways to cook what you buy.

6. It’s a good family activity. It’s a great way to get your kids involved and learning about healthy eating, and it’s so nice to shop outside on a beautiful day.

Find farmers markets near you.

Up Next:

Need tips on shopping at farmers markets? We can help you do it right!

Protecting Your Baby with Vaccines

The Importance of Vaccines: Myths vs. Facts

A little boy in Germany has died, the first death in the current measles outbreak. While people take sides about vaccines in the news and politics, the medical world’s feelings are clear.

Vaccines, or immunizations, are a time-tested and scientifically proven way to prevent certain diseases to protect your kids and our society.

What are vaccines?

Vaccines, immunizations, or shots are kinds of drugs you can take to help your immune system. Inside your body, they act like the diseases they’re supposed to prevent and trick your body into producing the kinds of cells it needs to fight a certain disease. By doing this, vaccines teach your body how to beat real infections when they happen.

When enough people are vaccinated, 90 to 95% of the population, it is enough to protect everyone, which helps get rid of diseases altogether.

Inoculation, an early form of vaccines, has been saving lives since the year 1000 in China. And waves of diseases and struggles to find treatments and cures across history have shown that sometimes, vaccines are our first and best form of protection.

Get more history on vaccines and the diseases they fight with this project from The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The History of Vaccines.  

How well do they work?

Some of the scariest and most painful diseases to ever exist have been nearly wiped out by vaccination. And smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases, has been completely wiped out around the world. By doing so, according to Unicef, we’ve saved approximately 5 million lives each year.

And other diseases, like polio, have been close to being wiped out, too.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a dozen of the most deadly sicknesses humans have ever seen have been nearly wiped out in the last 200 years since vaccines were made. This infographic from Leon Farrant, also shared in this ThinkProgress article on vaccines, shows their power:

ThinkProgress Vaccine Infographic

Still not convinced? The Wall Street Journal can visually show you the data piece by piece for some of the main diseases your doctor vaccinates you against.

If they work so well, why are we even talking about them?

Diseases that we hadn’t seen much in the last few years, like measles, are making a comeback.

Those diseases are coming back because parents aren’t vaccinating their kids as much as they used to. And once the population falls below that 90 to 95% vaccination rate, those diseases are able to come back. And even with modern medicine, you can still die from them.

So why are parents taking that risk? Because of an old medical study that has been discredited, says The New York Times.

In 1998, a doctor said that he had linked the measles, mumps, rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine and autism in children.

Dozens of scientists and studies proved his work wrong, saying his research was bad since he’d only studied 12 kids, which is a tiny sample when doing scientific research. The British medical authorities even took away his medical license.

This is the only time a link has ever been made between vaccines and autism, and scientists and the medical field proved it wasn’t true. As this Guardian article talks about, later research studies have even made a lot of data disproving a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Yet the story stuck.

People also worry that vaccines are just being produced by a big company to make money, not to protect patients. But as this New York Times article points out, many doctors lose money by giving you vaccines, and historically, many makers of them have made very little money off them.

As Newsweek points out, some statistics have also been skewed in a negative way. The CDC keeps a database of adverse effects from vaccines, which it’s required to do by law. Since 2004, 69 people have died after getting a measles vaccine. However, not necessarily because of the vaccine. In some cases, their death was completely unrelated, but the reporting system just gives the cold, hard numbers, not the cause-and-effect relationship between patients’ deaths and the vaccine. Numbers like these are sometimes used to convince people that vaccines are dangerous.

But the fact is that vaccines save many lives around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the measles vaccine alone has saved 15.6 million lives between 2000 and 2016.

The government, your insurance companies, doctors, and pharmacies make vaccines affordable and easy to get for one reason and one reason only: to save lives.

Don’t risk your family or your community. Health Alliance covers immunizations for our members, and we can help you stay up-to-date.

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