Dining On A Social Security Budget
Eating more fruits and vegetables can help you stay healthier longer, reducing the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. But good quality produce can be difficult to afford, especially for people who depend on Social Security for most of their income. How can you get more fresh fruits and vegetables living on a Social Security budget? Here are some tips to get you started:
- Compare the least expensive way to buy. — No matter how you buy it, fresh, frozen, or canned, most fruits and vegetables tend to be sold by the pound (except for fresh corn on the cob and melons.) A more accurate price for comparison is the cost per serving. For example, part of the weight of canned goods is packing liquid and as a result most have fewer servings per pound than fresh or frozen counterparts.
- Fresh is not always more healthful than frozen. From the moment fruits and vegetables are harvested, they begin to lose nutrients. Fruits and vegetables grown in North America may spend up to 5 days in transit before arriving at a distribution center, and another 1-3 days on display prior to purchase. Consumers may keep their produce for up to 7 days prior to consumption. Consequently, fresh produce can lose a considerable amount of nutrients before consumption. A University of California study found, for example, that vitamin C losses in vegetables stored 7 days range from 15% for green peas, to 77% for green beans. Unless you are harvesting and consuming your own home grown fruits and vegetables within a few hours of picking, frozen choices may be just as high in nutrients.
- Learn how to identify “fresh”. Never let anyone try to convince you that limp or wilted greens and vegetables can be rejuvenated. When moisture loss and wilting occur after harvest, nutrients go with it in the process. Shop around for your produce and look for green markets that not only have reasonable prices, but high turn - over and produce from local growers ensuring that you get fresher choices.
- Shop your local farmers’ markets, and growers. Until you’ve sampled just - picked local fruits and vegetables, you really haven’t tasted produce at its peak. Not only will you find better quality and better tasting produce, often grown organically, you’ll find better prices too, especially when there’s a glut and the grower has limited storage space. August, for example, is your best time to stock up on tomatoes, beans, corn, squash, cucumbers, peppers, melons and eggplant.
- Apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.) If you have trouble affording food, consider applying for benefits through SNAP. Approximately 3 out of every 5 older Americans who qualify are missing out on benefits because they don’t apply. The average benefit is $122 a month, but people age 60 and over may qualify for higher SNAP benefits if they have medical expenses beyond $35 as long as the expenses are not covered by insurance or someone else. To qualify, you must have limited resources and low income. Homes are not included as a “countable resource” to qualify. To apply, check your local Area Agency On Aging, senior services department, or get screened and find contacts online at www.BenefitsCheckup.org.