Healthy Low-Cost Eating and Shopping, Part 2 of 2

University of Nevada, Reno
Southern Area Cooperative Extension
Seniors CAN

Lesson Plan

Lesson: Healthy Low-Cost Eating and Shopping, Part 2 of 2

Lesson Number: N-5


The “Healthy Low-Cost Eating and Shopping” lesson is designed to teach Learners to adjust eating and shopping habits in a low-cost manner, incorporating information previously presented in the Food Choices for Healthy Aging and the Food as Preventative Medicine lesson plans.

In Part 1, the Learner received information on ways to create healthy, low-cost meals and snacks and was introduced to information about reading food labels.

In Part 2, the Learner will participate in a grocery store tour to learn more about making healthy, low-cost food selections and to practice reading food labels.

Learning Overview: The Learner will participate in a lesson designed to teach him/her how to incorporate healthy eating into his/her shopping and food preparation habits and ways to cut costs.

Lesson Objectives:

  1. During the lesson, the Learner will be exposed in the context of a grocery store tour to ideas to make grocery-shopping choices healthier and lower-cost. Modeling and guided practice in reading food labels will be provided in structured exercises throughout the tour.
  2. During the lesson, the Learner will engage in group discussion regarding healthy lowcost eating and shopping, describing with clarity at least one example from his/her life experience.
  3. During group discussion, either spontaneously or in response to Facilitator request, the Learner will state with clarity that s/he has selected at least one idea presented during the lesson, what that idea is, and that s/he will try this idea during the following week to see if it works for him/her. Alternatively, the Learner will state with clarity that s/he does not want to try out any of the ideas presented, and the reason for the decision.


Set up at previous meeting:

Next week, we will be touring a grocery store together. We will talk about how to save money at the store and we will also practice reading food labels. It is suggested you make a grocery store “interest list” so that we can be sure to look at special food products that you are interested in.

We will be meeting at (name of) grocery store at our regular meeting time. Each of you will be responsible for your own transportation to the grocery store and home. Let’s discuss transportation now so that we can problem-solve anything that might come up as a barrier to anyone’s getting there. Facilitator recommends carpooling.


Set up prior to this meeting:

Facilitator should become familiar with the layout of the particular grocery store being toured.

The order of the grocery departments visited works out best under time constraints (and sometimes with the stamina of Learners) according to the most efficient path from one side of the store to the other. The arrangement of the lesson plan assumes that the tour will start at produce. The Facilitator then guides Learners to aisle and store perimeter food displays according to which display is closest to the one just previously visited. Order of presentation of lesson plan material should be adjusted to the layout of the store.

Facilitator should consider contacting manager of grocery store so that the teaching session does not come as a surprise to store personnel.



Provided by Facilitator:

One of the following for each Learner:

Provided by other Learners:


Note: Facilitator should review lesson plan for this week, last week and next week because information provided at the beginning of each lesson plan is needed for smooth transition between lessons.





United States Department of Agriculture, & United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). Finding a Way to a Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. USDA Publication number: Home and Garden Bulletin No. 232-CP. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Department of Agriculture (2011). MyPlate. Retrieved June 7, 2011 from

Duyff, R. L. (2006). The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food & Nutrition Guide, Revised and Updated. Minneapolis: Chronimed Publishing, 3rd edition.

Russell, R. M., Rasmussen, H., & Lichtenstein, A. H. (2008). Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults. Journal of Nutrition, 138: 78-82

How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. [Accessed 12/11/06].

Money-Saving Grocery Tips. MSN Lifestyle-Food & Entertaining-Article. [Accessed 9/28/05].


Begin Lesson:

Transition from last week

Last week we talked about (ways to create healthy, low-cost meals and snacks and how to read food labels.) Each of us selected one idea to try out. Let’s talk about how those worked (or didn’t work) for us, and also what we learned from last week’s meeting.

Anticipatory Set:

Today we will explore ways to grocery shop for healthier, low-cost food choices, building on the knowledge you have gained in the past few meetings.

Share the Objective:

  1. During this tour, we will talk about ways to make groceryshopping choices healthier and lower-cost. We will be practicing reading food labels as we go through the store, and we will learn how doing this helps us to make better choices when we shop.
  2. During this lesson, I will be providing information, but it is also important that we share information and ask questions in group discussion. I would appreciate it if each of you could bring up at least one example from your life experience.
  3. Also during the session today, Im going to ask each of you to select one idea from the lesson to try out on your own over the next week. I’ll pick one, too. Then each of us can share with the group next week how it worked out.

Input, Modeling and Guided Practice:

(Avoid labeling any food “good” or “bad.” Also, include the less expensive store brands in the nutrient comparisons whenever possible.)

I. Introduction

  1. Before we begin, let’s talk about the route we will take through the store. When you are actually shopping, it is better for food safety reasons to shop for milk, meat, poultry, fish and eggs last. Today, since we are not actually putting grocery items in a cart, we will go from one side of the store to the other one time, stopping along the way at the food displays we will study. We will be looking at meat and dairy displays somewhere in the middle of our tour, not at the end, as we would do if we were actually shopping. We are doing it this way today to conserve time.
  2. Also, as we are going through the store, notice the differences between food displayed around the perimeter of the store and food displayed on the aisles, especially the ends of the aisles that face the front and back store perimeters. Most fresh, unprocessed items are located around the store perimeter. The aisle displays tend to have more packaged and processed foods and these tend to be more expensive than unprocessed foods.
  3. When we look at the packaged foods, keep in mind that in some stores, more expensive brand name products are on the shelves at eye-level, while the better buys are on the bottom or top shelves. As we look at products, let’s see if that seems to be true in this store. [Incorporate this concept in studying the food displays throughout the tour.]
  4. Let’s also look at some of the items that are packaged in bulk. Usually, although not always, buying in bulk gives you a lower cost per serving. It can be economical to buy in bulk as long as you are sure you will use the entire package you buy—that it won’t spoil before you have used it all. One way to help with this is to buy in bulk with a friend. [Incorporate this concept also in studying the food displays throughout the tour.]

II. Produce.

[Do not stay too long here or you will run out of time later].

  1. The produce department actually is the best place to start your shopping trip. This way you are not tired and can take time to explore new items, choose the freshest produce and choose the best buys.
  2. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and should be at the top of your grocery list. Remember to choose a variety. In general, the darker the vegetable the higher the nutrient content.
  3. The most desirable produce shows no signs of being “manhandled” i.e. cuts, bruises or soft spots.
  4. Best buys are fruit and vegetables in season (law of supply and demand = lower cost).
  5. If you think produce is expensive, compare cost per serving of a banana or apple to a snack cake/cupcake or chips.
  6. Remember that fruit and vegetables are virtually fat-free with the exception of avocados, coconut and olives.
  7. “Organic” produce is more expensive and it may not be affordable for you. If you are concerned about pesticides, wash produce well with a fruit and vegetable scrub brush under running water. Any risk of pesticide exposure is minute compared with major risk of chronic disease from not eating fruits and vegetables.
  8. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season and freezing/canning them for later will save you money and allow you to eat the foods you like year round.

III. Dairy

  1. Let’s look at variations in protein, calcium and fat content of milk. Give each Learner a magnifying lens. Explain that these are to help read food labels and suggest they take this to the store with them regularly.
  2. Give one person a carton of whole milk, one a carton of reduced fat (2%), and another a carton of fat-free (formerly called skim or non-fat).
  3. Ask each Learner to read off fat and protein content of the carton of milk he/she is holding. No matter what kind of milk, the calcium and protein content are comparable.
  4. Now let’s look at the fat gram content of each carton. Have them find fat gram content on label (not % DV – too confusing) and compare. Total amount of fat per serving is the main concern.
  5. What size milk do you usually buy?
    • The bigger size you buy the less costly per serving. But does anyone ever have the problem of milk spoiling before they’ve finished the carton? What are some ways to get around that problem? (Answers: buy the smaller size, buy a larger size and split it with a neighbor, or use nonfat dry milk which has a shelf-life of approximately 6 months.)
    • If you ever have any milk leftover that is going to go to waste, try making a batch of instant pudding. Chances are you will consume it faster that way!
  6. Compare nutrients and pricing in low-fat and fat-free yogurt.
  7. Point out orange juice with calcium added or a soy based dairy substitute.

IV. Meats

  1. Facilitate Learners in comparing calories and fat from labels of prepared meats like ground beef (regular, and variations of fat percentages) and ground turkey.
  2. Regular ground beef is cheaper but yields much less in edible portion, and causes more work (draining and disposing of grease). Extra lean is more economical due to less waste.
  3. Labels are not found on traditional cuts of meat. You have to “eyeball” them for fat content. Look for marbling and fat on the outside.
  4. Tender cuts are more expensive and have more fat. Be aware that some fat on these expensive cuts is not visible, but it is there—that’s what makes these cuts of meat so tender.
  5. Tougher, less expensive cuts of meat are easier on your pocketbook and as well as your health. Try slow cooking and marinating to tenderize less expensive cuts.
  6. Point out food safety instruction labels found on all meat packages.
  7. Point out plastic bags and paper towels near meat—use to protect hands and cover meat so that it does not come into contact with other foods in basket—for food safety reasons.
  8. Point out any food safety concerns in the meat areas like expiration dates, food stacked too high in the cooler, etc.
  9. Remember to also look for other protein sources like chicken, fish and ground turkey, along with eggs, nuts, tofu and beans.

V. Cheeses

  1. Do label comparison as above. Good examples are regular cheddar, 2% reduced fat, and fat free grated varieties, or slices. Also compare nutrients, particularly calcium and protein in processed vs. natural cheeses.
  2. Use regular “sharp” cheese in small amounts to give flavor in cooking.
  3. You may wish to experiment with low-fat varieties of cheeses for eating. Flavor is widely variable by brand, with fat-free being least palatable to some people.

VI. Bread

  1. Bread is not a high fat food, except for specialty breads like garlic bread, biscuits and coffee cake.
  2. The nutrient to look for is fiber – the more the better.
  3. Compare “wheat” and “white”. Typically note the difference in fiber due to fact that whole wheat or other whole grain flour is not first ingredient.
  4. Whole grain bread that has “whole” wheat or other whole grain flour as first ingredient will have the most whole grain in it. Whole grains are an important source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  5. Also, look for breads with calcium-fortified flour.
  6. Point out that tortillas are available in both corn and whole wheat for added nutrients.

VII. Cereals

  1. They can be most expensive per pound of any grocery item, including meat.
  2. Least processed = least cost, best nutrition (use oatmeal as example).
  3. Look for fiber (recommendation is 20 to 35 grams per day).
  4. Also look for cereals that are “calcium fortified.”
  5. Try for less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. High sugar cereals are the most expensive.
  6. Check serving sizes to see if they're comparable.
  7. Avoid granolas unless low fat. [Good place to compare labels for fat.]
  8. Try using the store brand cereals without fancy packaging.

VIII. Crackers—do comparisons as above.

IX. Canned goods – fruits and vegetables

  1. Nutrition comparable to fresh or frozen, but the sodium can be very high (look at labels).
  2. The recommended limit on sodium is 2,400 milligrams per day, which is equivalent of a little more than 1 teaspoon of salt.
    1. Remember that 2400 mg. includes sodium (or salt) from all sources—added, as in canned or homemade soups, or naturally occurring, as in milk, fruit, vegetable. This means you are not within recommended limits if you sprinkle a teaspoon of salt on your food over the course of a day, because they haven’t counted the sodium in their other foods.
    2. In general, milk, cheese, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables aren’t nearly as high in sodium as are canned/packaged/prepared foods.
  3. Small cans may be more expensive per serving but could be better buy due to less waste. On the other hand, you can take leftover canned vegetables and add them to soup, a stew, an omelet, etc.
  4. Keep some canned goods on hand for days you don’t feel like shopping.
  5. Juice is not as nutritious as fruit, and it adds lots of calories for the nutrition you get. (If it’s a calcium-enriched juice, though, at least you’ll get to boost your calcium intake – those are usually in the frozen juice and chilled carton juice sections of the store, not the canned goods section.)
    1. When buying juices, look for “100 % juice” – anything other than that will offer added calories from sugars and other sweeteners. Avoid products in which high fructose corn syrup is a main ingredient. Frozen juice is a better buy.

X. Frozen Foods

  1. Novelty ice creams/ frozen desserts are very high cost per serving.
  2. Frozen vegetables are a very good choice for cost and nutrition. They are low in sodium. There’s really no waste if you buy in a larger size with better unit pricing. You store them in the freezer, and just take what you need from the bag when you are cooking, leaving the rest in the freezer. You can close the bag with a twist tie, a rubber band, a paper clip or a clothespin.
  3. Frozen dinners may be poor choices for cost and are often very high in sodium. If you choose a frozen dinner look for one that includes mainly vegetables, is between 300-400 calories and low in fat and sodium. As we discussed in our previous meeting, cooking in larger quantities and making your own “TV dinners” to freeze are a better deal both in terms of cost and nutrition.

XI. You are better off avoiding sugary drinks and snacks. They often have little nutritional value and are high in calories due to added sugar. What are healthier drinks and snacks?

XII. You have probably noticed throughout this tour that I have included store-brands in our food comparisons. In general, they are comparable in nutrition and quality, but cost less. If you don’t use store brands now, why not give them a chance?

  1. If you prefer a brand name, look for coupons to save you money. Also, remember to shop the sale ads and join the store’s “rewards” program to save money.

Monitoring / Discussion:

Q: Were you surprised by anything you read on the food labels?

Q: Is there anything you might do differently now in your grocery shopping?

Independent Practice:

This can be done at any time during the lesson. It seems to work better when it is not done in the rush at the end of a meeting. "I’d like for each of us to select at least one idea, from what we're learning, to try out this week. Let’s choose something easy to experiment with. Next week we can all compare our experiences and see what worked and what didn't."


Look at next week’s lesson plan for: “Set up at previous meeting.”

It begins: “Next week, we will be exploring . . ..”