Ways to Improve Your Food Literacy
There are different types of literacy. Basic literacy can be described as the ability to read and write. Other types of literacy are more complex. In addition of the ability to read and write:
- Health literacy includes the ability to process and understand health information, and the actions you need to take for good health.
- Financial literacy includes the ability to understand and make informed choices about personal finances.
- Food literacy includes the skills and ability to prepare nutritious foods, ranging from reheating food to following recipes.
Public Health Ontario describes food literacy using a five level scale:
- At the fist level, you have very basic skills, such as the ability to re-heat prepared foods.
- At the second level, you can prepare food by adding water.
- At the third level, you are using a mix to which you add other ingredients.
- At the fourth level, you have the skills to prepare basic foods without a recipe.
- At the fifth level, you have the skills to make meals from scratch using a recipe.
Your level of food literacy can have a great impact on your health and your financial well-being. Typically, food in its most basic unprepared form is usually the least expensive and typically the most nutritious. For example, prepared flavored oatmeal packets for breakfast will be more expensive per serving that plain oatmeal to which you add sugar and milk. You can control the amount of sugar and salt in foods you prepare yourself. You are more aware of what is in the food you eat if you prepare it yourself, which is important if you have allergies or food sensitivities.
Eating out will be more expensive than home prepared food. For example, if you spend an average of $7 per day for lunches on workdays for either takeout or salad kits, you will spend over $1,700 per year on lunches. You may decide to buy higher quality or more expensive food that you prepare yourself, while eating out less often. Alternatively, you may decide to eat out less often but have higher quality food.
To improve you food literacy skills, you can find tons of resources at the library and online. I came across “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” written by Canadian Leanne Brown. Leanne wrote this cookbook as part of her work with low income New Yorkers during her master’s degree in Food Studies at NYU. She wanted to compile a cookbook suitable for people on food stamps. In her book, food literacy is the key to great food, rather than a generous food budget. We have all heard about bruschetta. Well, Leanne has several suggestions for “things on toast”. She further suggests eating seasonally, using basic kitchen equipment, and provides shopping and food preparation tips in her book. “Good and Cheap” is available for free download or in print.
Food literacy can be an opportunity to eat healthier and get the most of your food budget. Start by small steps. Buy frozen pizza rather than getting takeout. Move on from reheating frozen pizza to buying a pizza shell to which you add your own toppings. The next time get a pizza mix to make the dough.
Many of us learned to cook by helping our parents. If you are learning how to cook, involve your children. Children are not only more likely to eat the food they help prepare but they will gain a valuable life skill.
Anita Jean is the Manager of Health and Social Programs at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
Feel Better, Live Longer, Be Happier