Putting a price on healthRick Hogan, produce department supervisor at Hugo’s Family Marketplace, wanted to know if it really costs more to eat healthier, so he compared apples with apples.
By: Joseph Boushee, Grand Forks Herald
Is a box of crackers really cheaper than a pound of grapes?
Rick Hogan, produce department supervisor at Hugo’s Family Marketplace, wanted to know if it really costs more to eat healthier, so he compared apples with apples.
Actually, he compared strawberries with cheese puffs. And what he found was that fruits and vegetables sometimes have a lower per-ounce price than generally less-nutritious snack foods such as chips, crackers and cookies.
“It isn’t more expensive to eat healthy,” says Hogan, who has spent 39 years with Hugo’s and manages the 32nd Ave. store in Grand Forks, as well as overseeing its produce.
He adds that eating healthy and balancing costs is about knowing how to make the right choices.
“We’re not invincible, but we need to do the best we can to eat as healthy as possible,” Hogan says.
He has spent about 30 years educating the public about making smart food choices. He regularly speaks with children, students, senior citizens and local service clubs to educate them about selecting the highest-quality fruits and vegetables at the store, proper handling and food storage techniques and facts about the food’s origin.
“We try to be as knowledgeable as we can with the products that we sell,” he says.
Crunching the numbers
A worksheet Hogan developed comparing per-ounce prices of fruits and vegetables with chips, crackers and cookies shows a lower per-ounce price for several fruits and vegetables. He used a recent average price on each item to make the comparisons.
Hogan stresses that he isn’t a dietician or healthy food expert, but, as produce manager, he knows about prices and quality. He isn’t against junk food, either. He just wants people to know it can be easy — and it isn’t always more expensive — to find the healthier option.
According to the sheet, strawberries, assuming a price of $3.98 per pound, cost about 25 cents an ounce. Green grapes, assuming a price of $2.98 per pound, cost 19 cents an ounce. Black grapes, at $2.68 per pound, cost about 17 cents an ounce. A 5-pound whole pineapple at $3.48 costs 4 cents an ounce.
If a shopper pays $2.68 for 1.5 pounds of broccoli, the cost per ounce is 11 cents. Assuming a price of $5.48 for a pound of asparagus, the cost is 34 cents an ounce. If the price is $1.98 for 1.5 pounds of romaine lettuce, the per-ounce cost is 8 cents. Paying $3.18 for 2.5 pounds of cauliflower means a per-ounce cost of 8 cents.
On the snack side, at $2.99 for a 9-ounce package of cheese puffs, it costs 33 cents an ounce. A 12-ounce bag of cheese popcorn at $4.99 comes to 42 cents an ounce. A 10-ounce box of cookies at $3.59 means one is paying 36 cents an ounce. Assuming a 9-ounce box of crackers costs $3.59, it comes out to 40 cents an ounce.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture study released in 2012 backs up Hogan’s numbers. Cost depends on how the price is measured. The USDA study found that when prices are compared per calorie, the less-costly choices often are foods higher in fat, calories, salt and sugar, but comparing costs by weight or portion size shows that fruits and vegetables often are less expensive than the more sugary, higher fat foods.
Not only can prices be advantageous to fruit and vegetable choices, but the long-term health benefits pay off, too. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can prevent conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
As it gets easier and less costly to choose healthy foods, Hogan says he sees healthy choices becoming more routine for customers.
“Every year, I see an increase of people who stay the course,” he says.
Hogan says consumers don’t have to sacrifice convenience by making the healthier choice, either. A wider selection of fruits and vegetables is now common at supermarkets, and, though they are sometimes more expensive than in whole form, there now is a broader offering of packaged, pre-sliced fruits and vegetables. Consumers can even find Brussels sprouts in microwavable packages, Hogan says.
USDA offers many healthy eating resources at www.ChooseMyPlate.
gov. Here are some smart shopping tips from MyPlate:
•Use fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season. They are easy to get, have more flavor and usually are less expensive.
•Check the newspaper, online and at the store for sales, coupons and specials that will cut food costs.
•Plan out meals ahead of time and make a grocery list. Save money by buying needed items only. Don’t shop while hungry. Shopping after eating makes it easier to pass the tempting snack foods, meaning more of your food budget can be spent on fruits and vegetables.
•Try canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Compare the number of servings from fresh, canned and frozen forms of the same fruit or veggie. Canned and frozen items may be less expensive than fresh. For canned items, choose fruit canned in 100 percent fruit juice and vegetables with “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label.
•Buy small amounts frequently. Some fruits and vegetables don’t last long. Buy small amounts more often to reduce the chance food will be thrown away.
•For regularly used fruits and vegetables, a large bag is a better buy. Canned or frozen fruits or vegetables can be bought in large quantities when they are on sale, since they last longer.
•Opt for store brands when possible. Shoppers can find the same product for a cheaper price. If a store offers a membership card, sign up for additional savings.
•Buy fruits and vegetables in their simplest form. Precut, prewashed and processed foods are convenient, but can cost more than in their basic forms.
•Start a garden — in the yard or in a pot on the deck — for fresh, inexpensive fruits and vegetables. Herbs, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are good options for beginners.
n Plan and cook wisely. Prepare and freeze vegetable soups, stews or other dishes in advance. That saves time and money. Add leftover vegetables to casseroles or blend them to make soup. Overripe fruit is good for smoothies or baking.