By Andy Ross

Killeen Daily Herald

When it comes to budgeting for food expenses, Sylvia Valdez says her 27-year-old son sometimes calls her old-fashioned.

Almost devout in avoiding eating out, the disabled mother and grandmother often makes a single shopping trip each month, then plans out extended menu lists.

Along with writing some of those menus to include simple dishes of potatoes, rice and beans, Valdez also works hard to instill a broader sense of frugality in her 7-year-old grandson, Elijua.

"I try to show him it's a luxury to eat out all the time," Valdez said. "If you want to do that, you have to earn it."

Old-fashioned or not, Valdez said her planning doesn't always work out so smoothly. Two years ago, her son and grandson moved in after their house in Houston burned to the ground. Now there are four seats at the dinner table including Valdez's roommate, and making it through the month often means creative measures.

Sometimes it also means reaching out for help from the Killeen Food Care Center. Regardless of how tight things are, however, Valdez says life with her family under one roof is a blessing.

"Every day I wake up and thank God for planting all of our feet on the ground," she said.

Such a positive spirit seemed to be on display on Wednesday as Valdez joined a small group of others who recently signed up for a workshop at the Killeen Food Care Center entitled "Stretching Your Food Dollars."

The workshop, taking place in three separate classes over a month, is being put on by the Students in Free Enterprise team at Central Texas College.

Chastity Clemons is director of Students in Free Enterprise and led the workshop this week.

A few of the tips she highlighted for limited food budgets included purchasing nonperishable staple items like flour and rice in bulk. She warned the class about impulse buys when shopping hungry, and the temptations in ready-to-eat meals. Some of the more detail-oriented advice included avoiding coupons for brand name items and reading labels closely enough to understand serving sizes and sodium intake.

Avoiding junk food

Another participant in the workshop was Patricia Saulsberry, who recently moved to Killeen from Mississippi with her two children. The 39-year-old mother says one of her biggest problems with food budgeting has been spending too much on junk foods, an issue she feels the workshop's advice on weekly menu planning can help.

"I'm working hard on staying away from junk foods and menu planning for my family and I think this is really helping," she said.

As Saulsberry's concerns reveal, there is another side to food planning that is sometimes forgotten by Americans scrambling for every dollar in the current economy. Keeping eating habits healthy while also saving money, is for some, the biggest challenge.

Jessi Cano is a registered dietician for the Bell County Health District and says education on healthy eating deserves close attention in any discussion of food budgeting. Cano said one of the main problems she encounters are people tempted by cheap fast food. The dietician said she is currently working on a project to communicate that the savings on fast food do not pay off in the long run - especially if medical problems arise or are compounded.

"Fat content is much, much higher in fast food than home-cooked meals and the sodium is off the charts," Cano said. "Many people assume eating out is better when they see the cheaper dollar menus but they are unaware of the amount of money they are spending. They think they are doing their budget a favor but really they are causing more harm than good in more ways than one."

If you go

The Central Texas College Students In Free Enterprise team will conclude its three-part food budgeting seminar Nov. 17. The final "Stretching Your Food Dollars" installment will feature samples of easy-to-make and cost-efficient food dishes as well as one-on-one assistance on how to create a food budget, menu and shopping list. The workshop will be at the Killeen Food Care Center at the intersection of Maxwell Road and 10th Street in downtown Killeen, from 1 to 2 p.m.

Attendees will receive a cookbook created by SIFE members containing recipes of cost-efficient meals. Those who have also attended the previous two workshops will receive free tickets for a chance to win a complete Thanksgiving dinner basket.

To register or for more information, call (254) 526-1788.

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