When A Personalized Pizza Hut Pan Goes from $5.50 to $7 (a 27.5% Increase in Cost) at Target, What Are You Supposed to Do About Feeding Your Kids?

Three cities employ different approaches to fight food insecurity for people hard hit by inflation and cuts to SNAP benefits.

Three cities employ different approaches to fight food insecurity for people hard hit by inflation and cuts to SNAP benefits.

Not too long ago, a friend told me that they went to Target and bought a pan pizza from Pizza Hut. The pepperoni pizza had cost them $7 as opposed to $5.50 just one year ago. That increase in cost just made me wonder… How are people able to continue feeding their families?

It isn’t just Pizza Hut that has raised their costs. KFC has as well, where an 8-piece meal now costs $30. The grocery stores in major metropolitan cities have increased prices across the board too, whereas a loaf of French bread that once cost $1.50 is now being sold for $2.50.

The struggle that Americans are facing when it comes to putting food on the table for their families is absolutely beyond what it has been in the past decade, and the major causes to this change are due to inflation and a less than optimal job market, where employees are even being laid off from large tech companies.

“The economic landscape for the everyday household has changed significantly since 2020, and a lot of families are struggling to make ends meet, especially when it comes to the rising cost of food,” says Leonard Kim of AdvisorCheck. “Families and people who are doing well financially should really be exploring ways to build up liquid assets in case any unfortunate circumstances occur in their lives. One of the best ways to do that is to work with a financial advisor,” Leonard continued.

Although dining on fast food or junk food is often more affordable and convenient in the short term, especially for residents of food deserts were fresh, nutritious foods are not always readily available, the long-term health effects can cost people dearly. Whatever you safe in time and money, “poor health costs a lot,” too, says Chip Carter, the producer and host of a national TV show “Where the Food Comes From,” expressed to U.S. News & World Report.

The dangers or subsisting on these foods is that they may provide stomach-filling meals of empty calories are significant: overeating, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease to name a few. Junk foods such as potato chips, pretzels, soft drinks and candy bars provide no nutrients and usually excessive amounts of sugar or salt.

In 2000, Coca Cola cost 25 cents for a 12 ounce can, then increased to 75 cents by 2020.
A 16 ounce can cost 99 cents in 2020, and now costs $2.25 in Los Angeles. Following a steady inflation chart, in 2030, that same 16 oz. will cost $3 in 2030, $4 in 2040 and $5.50 in 2050.
If this is what soda will end up costing, you can just imagine how much everything else will cost when you retire.
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“Empty calories are basically calories that don’t have any added nutritional value, like the vitamins and minerals that we need for our body to function and grow,” says Amber Bonsall, a Mayo Clinic dietitian.

The Mayo Clinic’s staff offers several tips for people who can afford to purchase healthier foods on a regular basis but may still occasionally desire fast foods. These recommendations can help diners make wiser choices when the urge for fast food strikes.

However, Lisa Zullig, RDN, director of nutrition services for God’s Love We Deliver medically tailored food delivery service in New York, explains that such eating choices can put people already struggling with food insecurity at risk for malnutrition: “Malnutrition is a mismatch between the nutrients or food eaten and what is needed by the body and has a negative impact on overall health. Access to nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins that they body requires is vital in preventing malnutrition in people who are food insecure.”

But what should people be doing about eating properly? Should they bite the bullet and sacrifice other essentials in life to continue to pay these outrageous food prices? Should they start diving into the dumpster? Or are there better, healthier options out there?

As a child in Cleveland, Five Sankofa started dumpster diving before it became a common practice for low-income families to fight food insecurity. Later, she found she could fill an entire refrigerator with food she pulled from a grocery store dumpster.

“I know that every single grocery store throws away copious amounts of food,” says Sankofa, today a traditional indigenous midwife and urban farmer in her hometown. “I tell people, if you are in a food crisis, dumpster diving lets you have meals for a month for your family.”

With inflation-driven food prices at record highs and recent government cuts in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp program because the pandemic has leveled off, low-income families throughout the United States are struggling through a double whammy of food affordability. According to the USDA, more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the U.S. are food insecure. The USDA defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.”

An Initiative Led by a Unique Woman that is Changing the Way Food is Being Treated

An Initiative Led by a Unique Woman that is Changing the Way Food is Being Treated

In response, cities throughout the country are rolling out new programs and initiatives to help low-income individuals and families purchase fresh, nutritious foods to increase their health and reduce their need for healthcare.

This May, Sankofa will complete the Nourishing Power Fellowship program through the Swetland Center for Environmental Health at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Her focus has been on identifying and acquiring land not far from the inner city.

“I want a sizable parcel of land so that people can see what it looks like to grow crops on a larger scale, and you can also homeschool your children, and even give birth on a farm,” she says. “I want to teach sustainability so that people don’t have to rely on the grocery store to nourish their families.”

Though she’s finding the process of working through the USDA to find that parcel frustrating and mired in bureaucracy, she’s learned a great deal through the fellowship about the process as well as how to network with her fellowship cohort who work in a variety of food-related fields and apply for loans and sources to obtain capital.

Sankofa continues to grow a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, collard greens, sunflowers and herbs on vacant lots around her house that she purchased. She also has chickens, and her neighbors can trade kitchen scraps that she uses for compost if they want eggs. She also invites them to “get their hands dirty” helping her farm, and they can take home free tomatoes in return.

Her nine cohort members are completing a range of food justice projects to transition their ideas into action that address increasing access to healthy food for children and families. The projects range from providing healthier foods for day care centers and schools to establishing beekeeping operations throughout the city and creating entrepreneurs in bee products to launching two vegan restaurant and catering businesses.

“The overarching theme for us and our work is really investing in people and the capacity of communities most affected by social determinants of health to develop their own solutions and strategies to address the food security issue,” explains Morgan Taggart, director, The Food Access Raises Everyone (FARE) Project that is partnered with CWRU on the fellowships.

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Food Insecurity Doesn’t Have to be a New Way to Life – There Are Better Things Out There in All Communities

Food Insecurity Doesn’t Have to be a New Way to Life – There Are Better Things Out There in All Communities

Another of the Nourishing Power fellows, Lacresha Johnson, works as a Community Outreach Dietitian at the Food for Life Market in University Hospitals Cleveland’s Otis Moss Health Center in a core city neighborhood. Her goal is to open a Cleveland Public Kitchen.

“I’ve long had this idea of what we can do solve social justice issues in a creative ways,” says Johnson, who earned her MS in nutrition and public health at CWRU. “I want to create a public kitchen where food-insecure people can come together and commune and eat and learn about the foods they are eating and how food can help better their health.”

Johnson knows she will probably have to start by renting or using existing food kitchen spaces while she identifies her own, but that the advantages of such facilities can provide multiple benefits for people struggling with food insecurity.  Some may need a public kitchen because they are living in housing that does not have a kitchen; some may need the encouragement of others in similar situations such as chronic illnesses or a diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes or they’ve had a stroke or a heart attack.

“We learn better when we’re with a group of people who are going through the same things,” she says. “It’s hard to learn how to prepare, cook and eat nutritiously when you are by yourself, so it can give them a little motivation from a fellow community member.”

FARE also piloted the Produce Perks program last year at Cleveland’s historic West Side Market. The program distributed about $36,000 in free produce coupons to about 260 families who received up to $240 they could redeem for fresh produce at that market near the city’s downtown. The program will be repeated this May and June. There is also a companion program where families receive a coupon booklet that they can use at roughly 20 farmer’s markets within Cuyahoga Country, where Cleveland is located.

To help families on the edge of the benefits bubble, Taggart says, another successful program FARE will repeat this year distributed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) coupons for those who earned too much money to get SNAP benefits. The state-allocated funds from the Produce Perks Midwest budget allow people to shop where they want to like everyone else for fresh or local produce in their neighborhoods and stretch their food dollars.

“We had a great turnout for that, too, and we did a survey at the end,” she informs. “Folks commented that, with food costs so high, the program enabled them to buy fresh produce and take a chance on new things to see if their kids liked them.”

Los Angeles Works to Ensure Those With the Greatest Challenges are Fed

Los Angeles Works to Ensure Those With the Greatest Challenges are Fed

Frank Tamborello has worked at Hunger Action Los Angeles since 2006, so he’s seen firsthand that some food access issues go beyond income. For example, during the COVID-19 lockdown, his organization began an emergency food delivery program for a contingent of blind people.

“People don’t have patience with blind people at stores,” says Tamborello, now HALA’s Director. “Transportation service for blind, disabled and senior individuals is not reliable, either, and people have gotten abandoned at places when they should have been picked up to go home, so we would take them on monthly trips to farmers’ markets.”

When the lockdown hit they couldn’t do those trips anymore, so they pivoted the emergency food delivery services into the current program that delivers food weekly to about 130 households with blind or disabled residents. During the past two years, approximately 200 volunteers collect, pack, and distribute the food. The packages contain primarily produce and prepared meals.

HALA has partnered with four restaurants, Tamborello says, along with numerous farmers and many other donors of healthy fruits, vegetables and staple foods. They distribute the surplus produce and other foods that nonprofit agencies like Food Forward collect in an effort to combat hunger while preventing food waste by recovering fresh surplus produce and then ensuring that food gets to people experiencing food insecurity.

Fresh Food is Available to Those Who Know Where to Look (And Those Who You Share This Article with Who May Not Know Where to Start Looking For Programs Like These)

Fresh Food is Available to Those Who Know Where to Look (And Those Who You Share This Article with Who May Not Know Where to Start Looking For Programs Like These)

“Food Forward has grown enormously over the years in Los Angeles,” he says. “They started collecting food from people’s backyards, and now they are a multimillion-dollar operation, so we’re able to get half a pallet of food from them every Wednesday.”

HALA also collects produce and other grocery items from the Hollywood Food Coalition and Mutual Aid Action of Los Angeles. The Joy of Sharing Foundation in Norwalk provides vegetarian prepared meals every week, and Everytable supplies prepared meals at a discount rate.

“Even after COVID was less of a concern, we continued with those programs because people who are blind, people with disabilities, seniors, housebound people, low-income families are all still populations that have trouble with food access,” Tamborello says.

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However, as food insecurity remains prevalent and low-income families are now grappling with SNAP benefit reductions and steep grocery expenses, HALA must try to overcome the growing demand while their capacity to provide food has been reduced.

“Even the places where were are picking up food today, we got a pallet that was about three-quarters of what we usually get from one place, and from the other two, it was about half of what we usually pick up,” he said near the end of March. “So we’re going to have to stretch more further if we add people or figure out other way of divvying up the program.”

Programs Are Available that Can Even Lead to Getting Farmer’s Market Grade Food for Those in Need

Programs Are Available that Can Even Lead to Getting Farmer’s Market Grade Food for Those in Need

To address some of these additional challenges faced by food-insecure people, HALA works closely with Nourish California, which develops The Golden State’s programs and author’s and refines policies to connect people to “the food they need to thrive.” One of the most important, Tamborello says, is the California Fruit & Vegetable EBT Pilot Project that will enable people who use the CalFresh food program run by the state’s Department of Social services to supplement their benefits.

Currently, residents can use Market Match, California’s healthy food incentive program that matches a customer’s CalFresh nutrition assistance benefits at farmers’ markets. The pilot project intends to expand the program statewide not only for farmers’ markets, but for neighborhood stores and grocery stores, as well.

“In addition to our food delivery program becoming more sought after, programs like Market Match and the pilot project are going to be more in demand,” Tamborello says. “People will be able to double their benefits up to $60 per month, so it’s a way for people to access more food.”

HALA is also working with Nourishing California on SB 600 to raise the CalFresh minimum benefit from $23 to $50 that would provide some relief to people hit the hardest by the federal reduction in SNAP benefits. Currently, Californians are waiting for Gov. Gavin Newsome to announce his 2023 budget and how much funding will be available once the $20+ billion deficit-challenged state’s tax receipts are totaled.

One of the other populations in Los Angeles and California challenged by food insecurity is people who cannot qualify for CalFresh because they are undocumented. Nourishing California launched its Food4All campaign two legislative cycles ago, according to Jared Call, senior advocate, but they had laid the groundwork for the concept in 2018 with the formation of a work group of representatives from anti-hunger and immigrants-rights groups and other state agencies to focus on the issue.

“We’ve been exploring the problem of hunger and food insecurity among Californians who are undocumented for a while,” Call says. “The idea behind the Food4All program is to take the existing program that serves a narrow band of about 35,000 qualified immigrants and open it up to anyone who is eligible solely due to their immigration status, which is closer to 700,000 or 800,000 Californians with low income.”

They are working now to get a proposed delay until 2027 resolved and get legislation to support the campaign back on track for a 2024 rollout after the Governor’s next budget proposal in May. Regarding some of the existing programs to mitigate food insecurity, Call reminds that 2023 is a farm bill year, and the entire SNAP program will be reauthorized.

“We’ve already seen some negative rhetoric and proposals coming out of the [Republican] majority in the House of Representatives that will again end up cutting people’s benefits at a time when we need to be boosting benefits,” he says. “If people want to advocate for a strong SNAP program, this is the time to do it, so reach out to your representative or senator and see what they’re doing to help protect and strengthen the program.”

New York City Program Delivers Food to Seriously Ill Residents

New York City Program Delivers Food to Seriously Ill Residents

Born of the AIDS epidemic that ravaged New York in the 1980s, God’s Love We Deliver made a horrific situation better by delivering meals to homebound HIV/AIDS patients. In 2001, as the crisis abated, the charitable agency expanded to serve other serious illnesses like cancer, congestive heart failure, and renal failure.

Today, the organization delivers meals to people suffering from more than 200 diagnoses, and roughly 40% of their clients who are referred because of their medical diagnosis have three or more additional comorbidities or diseases. Approximately 90% of their clients are living at or below the poverty line. God’s Love We Deliver also provides enough food to serve the person’s children or dependents.

In 2021, the average family spent $5,259 a year on groceries. In 2030, that will end up being $7,067, $9,498 in 2040 and $12,765 in 2050.
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“Sometimes, it’s grandparents taking care of their grandchildren, and there are also caregivers,” informs Dorella Walters, senior director of business development & community partnerships, who started as an intake specialist 25 years ago. “We’re serving those caregivers because we discovered the caregiver is giving so much love and concern for their loved one with the serious illness that they’re not taking care of their own heart disease or other illnesses.”

The organization utilizes 28 refrigerated vans to deliver meals throughout New York’s five boroughs. Meals are selected from a diverse menu of thousands of choices to fit the person’s medical condition and their personal preferences; the menus are constantly refreshed and expanded. Fifty-nine of the nearly 160 staff members work in the 10,000-square-foot kitchen at the central location in the SoHo District or in the meal packaging and delivery departments.

“Our core competency is providing our clients medically tailored meals along with medical nutrition therapy provided by our registered dietitians,” Walters explains. “Then we partner with other agencies across the city to provide important support such as housing and legal services.”

God’s Love We Deliver expects to serve 11,000 clients by the end of its fiscal year in June, and the agency is on track to deliver more than 3.4 million meals by the end of the year.

Annette Nielsen, executive director, Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, believes that as the country continues to deal with significant food insecurity and improving access to quality, healthy good, we need to make information about food programs more readily available to people in need. The Center has been doing so for a while, most recently through its NYC Neighborhood Food Resource Guides. There are 59 guides, one for each community district in New York City.

“People can find them on our website, and that gives them a look at where people can go to sign up for SNAP, where they can find food pantries and other resources in their community,” says Nielsen. “Through our student interns and volunteers, those get updated every day, so that information is never stale.”

The Center operates a number of programs, from academic research studies into topics like nutritional quality of meals and food products distributed through NYC Emergency Food Providers during the pandemic to launching a Hyperlocal Health pilot. The Hyperlocal Health program partners with community organizations and uses neighborhood social media channels, communication networks and stakeholder engagement to connect food-insecure community members with existing local food resources, distributing flyers with more than 20 food-access-related subjects that are printed in English, Spanish and simplified Chinese.

Ultimately, Nielsen cites widespread poverty as the root cause of the problem.

“You could have a neighborhood where you have access to a lot of grocery stores that are selling wonderful food, but if people don’t have the money to buy it, it’s a moot point,” she concludes. “Nationally, we have to look at the issue of poverty more directly.”

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