Program empowers shoppers to save, eat healthier

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – While everyone wants to get the best value per dollar for food, for many in Mississippi stretching those dollars can make the difference between having to go to bed hungry and having enough food for a family. Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Jackson is taking advantage of a program put together by Share our Strength to teach families not only how to get more food for every dollar, but how to eat healthier on a budget.
      Share our Strength’s Cooking Matters No Kid Hungry program has developed an educational store tour to help families. The program hopes to tackle the dual challenge of rising obesity and cuts in food assistance such as SNAP benefits. In the store tours, trained instructors show shoppers how to write a meal plan, budget for food and get better, healthier deals on groceries.
“The tour teaches four skills, unit pricing, how to add more whole grain to your diet, how to read nutrition labels and how to add more produce,” said Monique Davis, program director for Catholic Charities. At the end of the tour each participant gets a $10 gift card and a challenge to use it to purchase supplies for one healthy meal, which they get to keep.
Catholic Charities has gotten a grant to start training tour guides and recruiting families for tours.  Walmart on Highway 18, Greenway Road in Jackson, has agreed to host a tour in early June and three members of the Catholic Charities staff are trained. Davis said this is just the start. She is offering training to all her program directors throughout the state and to anyone who wants to become a tour guide. Her staff hopes to impact 100 families in the diocese by September.
“I want people to be able to make better decisions when they are in the grocery store. I want them to know this is psychological warfare!” Davis joked. She said learning to look past bright signs and name brand displays set up at eye-level can have a huge impact on a grocery bill. Learning how to use generic products and look on lower and higher shelves can result in more quality food for a family.
Share our Strength research shows that families who plan their meals in advance make healthy meals more often than those who don’t – up to five times per week. Many times families using supplemental assistance turn to cheap processed foods high in fat and calories in an attempt to stretch their money. They may not have learned how to prepare a balanced meal and may think they can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables. Education is the key to helping them make better decisions for their families and their communities.
“This program is attractive for two reasons. First, it teaches people how to do something, it empowers them and secondly because it uses volunteers,” said Davis. She said the trainers can continue offering tours after the grant runs out.
Anyone who wants to be a guide, host an information session about how to become a tour guide or anyone who wants to take part in a tour can contact Davis at Catholic Charities, 601-355-8634,