Overcoming barriers to living in a food desert

Having a lack of local healthy food does not mean you have to live unhealthy.

Living in a food desert can be a barrier to eating healthy foods, for many people. Food deserts are areas in which people do not have access to fresh, healthy, affordable foods. For more information, read the article from Michigan State University Extension, What’s a Food Desert? To learn more about food access in your county, look at the Food Environment Atlas provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.

If you live in a food desert, do not give up on healthy eating! Follow some (or all) of the following tips to try and reduce any barriers that interfere with healthy living.

Overcoming transportation issues

  • Carpool with a friend, neighbor or coworker. You can take turns driving or if only one person has a vehicle, that person could drive and the other person could help with gas. It might be a good idea to determine an agreement ahead of time to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Check with your local grocery store to see if they offer any free public transportation options, like the shuttle service offered in Saginaw, Mich.
  • Only go to the grocery store once a week or less. The average shopper goes to the grocery 1.7 times a week. That’s about 88 trips a year to the grocery store. If you go once a week or less, you would be stopping at the grocery store 40 percent less. By planning your meals for the week, you will be able to make fewer trips to the grocery store which will save on fuel cost and your time.

Saving money

  • Plan your meals ahead of time for the week. You could even plan your meals with your carpooling buddy. This way you can purchase bulk items together and split the amount and the cost! Planning in advance will also allow you to plan multiple meals with the same ingredients. MSU Extension has two articles available for tips on meal planning; Meal planning creates smart shopping and Successful meal planning
  • When you are planning your meals, use grocery store sale ads to determine what meals you should cook for the week. If you don't receive the Sunday paper, look at your grocery store's website or mobile app to find the sale ads.
  • If buying fresh produce, try to use it during the first couple days because it can spoil faster than frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Store produce properly to make sure it lasts as long as possible.

Increasing access to healthy food

  • Shop at local farmer’s markets, which might be closer to you than a grocery store. Many markets participate in programs like Double Up Food Bucks, Project Fresh, Market Fresh and accept the EBT/SNAP benefits. The Michigan Farmer’s Market Associate has put together a list of all the farmer’s markets in Michigan, their locations, and what food assistance programs they participate in.
  • During the warmer half of the year, have a garden at home or start a community garden in your neighborhood. You can purchase seeds and/or vegetable plants with your EBT/SNAP benefits. Sometimes people can feel overwhelmed by the amount of food that they get out of the garden and don’t think they can eat all of it when it’s ready. You can actually preserve and save a lot of your produce to be able to eat it throughout the year! MSU Extension offers online and face-to-face food preservation classes where you can learn how to properly preserve food that you have grown or purchased.

Living far away from a grocery store or super market doesn’t mean that you have to live an unhealthy lifestyle. With small changes and some pre-planning, you and your family can enjoy nutritious meals that don’t break the bank. MSU Extension offers nutrition education classes for adults and youth that include information on food budgeting and healthy choices consumers can make. More information can be found at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/nutrition.

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