The Iowa State Extension office in Muscatine houses several nutrition and wellness programs. One of the most popular is funded by the SNAP Ed grant from the state of Iowa. The program Spend Smart. Eat Smart is based on a plan with the USDA that creates food plans that are cost-effective and healthy.

The Muscatine County Iowa State Extension office Family Nutrition Program Assistant, Kari Paige, administers the program locally. “The program is for almost anyone who qualifies for SNAP benefits. What I do is go through an eight-week program that helps them learn how to shop and cook healthy meals for families.”

The program does not just focus on food; Paige takes families through wellness activities as well. “One thing we do is use exercise bands. We show them simple exercises they can do while they are cooking or sitting waiting for supper to be ready.” The program helps people understand food cost. Information is available at www.spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu.

One of the lessons illustrates the difference in identifying the best value in produce shopping with the different varieties of carrots. If you are buying products that have Nutrition Facts labels, you can use the label to help you make your choice. Another example is cereal, which often comes in different-sized boxes. How do you know which box is the better price? The Nutrition Facts Label will tell you how many servings are in each box. Then divide the price by the number of servings in each box to determine which has a lower cost per serving.

In one example, a box of cereal has ten ¾ cup servings for $2.29. Box two has 15 servings for $3.99. In box one the cost is $0.22 per serving, whereas box two is $0.26 per serving. It is these calculations that allow families to maximize their budget and buy foods at the lowest possible cost. “The food cost lesson is one that we teach,” said Paige. Paige also provides families with a calendar tool that allows them to plan their meals, which limits the need for an impulse-prepared food purchase that can be costly.

For more information on the program, readers can call the Muscatine County Iowa State Extension Office at 563-263-5701. To find recipes and food cost calculators, visit www.spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu.