Tag Archives: food!

The perils of dynamic pricing

I’ve been doing a lot of running around lately, and I have a tendency when out and about to look around at the prices for the things we buy a lot.  Like food.  Although I can barely remember to pick up dog food before we run out, or to make my kid’s dental appointment, I have a decent memory for prices because I’m genetically engineered to avoid being ripped off.

Today I made my monthly (bi-monthly?) trip to Ralph’s (Kroger).  Let me first say that Ralph’s, you have a LOT of nerve saying you have low prices.  Most of the foods in the store were not just priced a little higher, but a LOT higher.  We’re talking a buck or more in some cases.

Of course, I’m not talking about the foods I was there to buy: Pad Thai noodles, sliced water chestnuts, and ginger (which, at the same price as Trader Joe’s, is refrigerated and of much higher quality/freshness).  In fairness, on my way out I spotted organic chard for the same price as at Whole Foods ($1.99 a bunch) and organic carrots for $.79 a pound and made off with both on impulse (whoo, I really like to live big, don’t I?).

Clearly Ralph’s does all right on some items (grapes, for example, were competitively priced on sale, as were apples), and makes up a lot of ground on others (you can get spanked buying detergent there, and the pasta was at least $.20 more per bag).  Beans in bulk at Whole Foods cost less per pound than conventionally grown dry beans at Ralph’s.  That’s how dynamic pricing works:  They grab you for the sale, and grab you somewhere down south for the rest.

I was particularly peeved by the price of Fage yogurt.

Mmmm. How much are you willing to pay to get your yogurt fix?

Like many of my students, I really like Fage, but probably unlike my students I know what Fage costs nearly everywhere a person can buy it.  Fage has really, really dynamic pricing (pricing that changes with inventory, season, or the whims of some evil genius).  Here is a cost breakdown of normally priced Fage in my ‘hood, per 5.3 oz container as of yesterday, 10/17/12:

  • Ralphs:             $1.69
  • Trader Joe’s:   $1.49
  • Target:              $1.42
  • Costco:              $1.09 – but you have to buy a box of 12 in flavors                  chosen for you

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Pyramid Tracker

When it comes to keeping track of what we eat, most of us look around like a cat with a canary stuffed in our gob (though for most of us it’s 3 scoops of Double Rainbow stuffed into a giant waffle cone — after all, it’s hot out there!). But if you’re looking to improve your diet, you need to have a peek (with no one else looking, even!) at what you’re doing day by day. (Please note: if you click on any of these pictures they will enlarge so you can see what’s what!)

I like the Pyramid Tracker (www.mypyramid.gov, then click Pyramid Tracker) for this task because it’s relatively simple, you can record your dietary analysis for up to a year, and it will analyze your diet in several ways, and because it can all be done rather quickly. My students infinitely prefer the Pyramid Tracker to analyzing their diet by hand using food labels and other sources. It’s more accurate by hand, but you’re much less likely to actually do it.


Once you’ve entered your bio information on the front, hit the button that says Save Today’s Changes and go to the Physical Activity section. Choose the condensed version and enter any physical activities in which you’ve engaged because this will affect how much food you require. Then enter the type and duration of activity, and you can save and analyze whether or not you’re getting enough activity.


Then on the top menu go to Update Profile and hit the Save Today’s Changes button. Then on to your diet. Choose the foods from the search engine by entering keywords, then select the serving size if you know it, and how many servings you had. Then hit Save and Analyze and you can choose any or all of the anlayses to see how you did. (To look up a previous day’s analysis later all you have to do is enter the original date.)

tracker3.jpgCan’t find that Starbucks Frappuccino? I know. You can safely place that under Discretionary Calories (430 for the vanilla blended!), but you’ll have to look it up. Here’s a link for Starbucks coffee drink and food nutrition information. And to be fair, how about one for Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf?

You’ll also need to be aware that foods like cream cheese, count as discretionary calories, and that will not show up in the analysis. Nor will it tell you that part of 2% milk, due to its fat content, counts as discretionary calories. So before you get all excited and pop a King Size Hershey bar in your mouth, check out what counts, or use the Menu Planner feature, which has the advantage of telling you what “counts.” If you’re not that interested in nitpicking every last thing, have a look at the nutrient analysis to make sure you aren’t consuming too many calories. Then you can decide how much room you have for “treats.”

The analysis compares your diet to MyPyramid, which will indicate the level of balance in your diet, by showing a nutrient analysis (which is an estimate because you’re using a database, but still, it’s a good estimate), or by showing how you meet the Dietary Guidelines. I’d suggest having a look at all of them. The nutrient analysis will alert you to your caloric, fat, sodium, vitamin and mineral intakes.

MyPyramid.gov: A mini-series

If your diet needs tweaking or you need to lose weight, you might want to try MyPyramid.gov, an updated version of the Food Guide Pyramid accessible via the Internet. Though the new pyramid graphic is entirely useless (it takes full page to explain the meaning of each color and symbol in the text from which I teach), the new, customized approach makes it a very useful tool to assess, track and improve your diet.

Most of us suffer from diets that lack balance — that is, we eat too many meat/beans, grains and sometimes milk but neglect fruit and/or vegetables. For those of you trying to lose weight, it usually means you are consuming foods containing more calories, fewer vitamins and minerals and more sodium.

Taking a peak at your dietary needs, and then assessing your dietary habits are the best places to begin to make changes that will improve your health (and encourage weight loss, if necessary).


On MyPyramid, that means you want to start with MyPyramid Plan (located on the bottom right of this picture, on the http://www.mypyramid.gov home web page. If you click that link and enter your age, gender, weight, height and level of activity from the pull down menu, the program will generate a pyramid showing your dietary requirements (see screen grab, and no, those are not my real stats). If your activity level is 30 minutes or below, repeat MyPyramid Plan pretending that you engage in activity on the next level so you can see something that might inspire you to get up off that thing you’re sitting on: activity lends an extra 200 calories or more per day to your menu.


If you are overweight, MyPyramid Plan will ask if you would like a plan that will lead to gradual weight loss (or you can choose not to do that).

On the pyramid diagram you will see a “Tips” section where you can find out more information about each food category. You can also use the tag on the left that says “Inside the Pyramid,” which will tell you what kinds of foods fall into each category and in what amounts. Please note (with disdain, I know) that foods like solid fats (butter), cream cheese, and jelly fall under “discretionary calories” and are considered extras. because they do not contribute much nutritionally.

The next step is to print a tracking form (there’s a pdf located on this screen that will print your results) OR you can just record what you eat for a day (but 3 days is best) and see how you measure up using MyPyramid Tracker. You can record up to a year’s worth of your meals, and the tracker provides a full analysis of the nutrient content, and balance of those meals for you. The only downside: you’re limited to their database. More on this next time.


Microbes: Nature’s party crashers

It’s getting hot out there – time to don that Kiss the Cook apron and throw a shrimp on the barbie.

I certainly don’t want to spoil the fun with school-marm rules for safe food handling, but nothing says “I care” quite like following a few easy rules that will keep you (and your guests) from some internal bacterial cha-cha. And you do care. I can feel it.
I’m guessing you’d prefer your guests remember you for your Godlike grilling skillssupergriller, to the rescue! and killer potato salad rather than doing the toilet huddle. So let’s get to it:

  • Before you get the party started, make sure that your refrigerator and freezer are in good working order. The heat of the day (as well as dawdling children who hang out in front of the open fridge) can cause temperature fluctuations, so keep a thermometer posted and make sure it stays at 40 degrees or below. The freezer temperature should be at 0 degrees. If you can’t maintain these temperatures, it might be time for a new refrigerator.
  • When you shop, be sure to check the expiration dates for the foods you purchase, and always wrap trays of meat in plastic bags to avoid leaks onto other foods you may be purchasing (or the grocery clerk’s counter).
  • Bring a cooler bag or ice chest filled with refreezable ice. If you bag your own groceries or request that the clerk put the items for the ice chest in one bag you can quickly pop them in and keep cold foods cold until you get home (this will also keep you from wanting to throttle the aforementioned dawdling children or the person in front of you waiting an eternity to turn left out of the parking lot).
  • According to FDA food safety guidelines, raw hamburger meat will only last 1-2 days in the fridge. After that it’s garbage. No, it really is garbage, there aren’t exceptions to this rule (smell and sight are not indicators of bacterial content), so plan ahead or freeze meat and then thaw it in the fridge, never on the counter, before grilling. Steak, and prepared items like egg salad, however, will last 3-5 days in the fridge, and an opened package of hot dogs will last up to 1 week. For more storage guidelines, check here. Continue reading

Salad days

Left to my own devices, I could eat carbohydrates with bouts of protein consumption and nothing else. Usually by dinnertime my interest in going face down into a bowl of food at the end of the day when I’mYum! make-upless in my “tired pants” (nicknamed by the child for the proclamation about my mental state that usually accompanies their donning) is keen.

Turns out this is also how the vast majority of my students fill the bill when they’re left to their own devices. They work a lot, can’t afford a lot, and thus they eat breakfast and generally return home looking for food with raptor-like hunger. Many of us can finally relax at dinnertime (or lunchtime if we work the night shift, hopefully). They don’t have enough time to shop, don’t have enough time to eat, and as a result they don’t meet up with vegetables very often unless they’re in a wrapper squeezed between a piece of meat and a bun.

So how about a salad?

When you’re really hungry, this sort of thing tastes really, really good. The prep also lends itself to the popping of ingredients into one’s hungry mouth without a trace of guilt. And if one is a serious cheater like me, this can all be done rather quickly (and somewhat cheaply, but let’s not kid ourselves, produce can be expensive — but you’re worth it!! Excuse me while I put down my pom-poms). Here’s how — any or all of these: Continue reading