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Lunch prices up 7%, new ways to cut costs

Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 5:40 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2022 at 5:43 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - If you’re having sticker shock from rising food prices, a new study by the tech company Square found the price of lunch items are rising the fastest.

Square’s data reveals the price of wraps is up 18 percent and sandwiches are up 14 percent year over year. Tacos and salads will cost you at least a dollar more and soup, the unassuming lunch option, is up a whopping 28 percent.

While grocery prices aren’t much lower, experts say there’s still room there for consumers to save.

“I think it’s always going to be cost effective to prepare more of your meals at home,” explained UAB dietitian Caroline Cohen, Ph.D., RD. “I think with all of these food prices going up it’s going to be a perfect opportunity to focus on how you can cut down on food costs yourself by cooking at home, which has the added benefit of improving your health too.”

According to Cohen, the key is starting small. She suggests packing a lunch for work a few days a week. It can be as simple as leftovers or batch-prepping meals that don’t require cooking like salads or wraps in advance.

“Don’t try to do everything all at once,” she added. “If you can make one small change today, just build on that momentum over time.”

Another small step: eat a plant-based diet for one meal once a week or even for the day.

“If you’re skipping the meat, which is one of the items that is projected to increase most significantly this year, I think you’re saving on your food budget,” Cohen stated. “Obviously there are a lot of different health benefits to having a plant-based diet. It can help lower your cholesterol, your blood pressure, lowers your risk of cancer, diabetes.”

She says to substitute plant-based proteins like legumes and beans to keep the meal balanced.

For those who want to go all in, start by planning out meals for the week and stick to that grocery list. If you’re looking for a place to start, Riley Thornton, a registered dietitian nutritionist who heads up UAB’s employee wellness program, suggests the USDA’s MyPlate website and app where consumers can use food groups and prices to find recipes.

“We transitioned a couple years ago from the food pyramid to utilizing MyPlate to see what a healthy and balanced meal can look like with five different food groups,” Thornton replied.

Thornton says don’t underestimate the benefit of price shopping your grocery list.

“One tool that I encourage them to use is the unit pricing on the grocery shelves,” she explained. “So if you’re comparing different brands and you don’t know which Greek yogurt to choose, or if you’re choosing between individual packets or the larger bulk items, check the unit price-per-ounce to see where you’re getting the best bang for your buck.”

Both Thornton and Cohen encourage consumers to make their freezer their friend.

“Whether that’s buying some frozen vegetables or purchasing some additional protein options that are on sale and freezing for later use, utilize your freezer to take most advantage of some of those sales,” Thornton encouraged.

It’s an opportunity to double recipes and freeze the second portion for later use.

“If you can sit down and shop your own fridge and freezer before you start the week, that can be really useful for keeping food costs down,” Cohen said.

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