HONOLULU (KHON2) — Inflation has been making prices for necessities rise, but wages have been stagnating for several years.

According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics and California’s Legislative Analytics Office, inflation has risen 3.7% since 2022 while prices have risen 19%.

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As a way of looking at how wage stagnation is impacting consumers, KHON2.com took a look at the Economic Policy Institute‘s data on wages since 1948.

According to the EPI, workers’ wages between 1948 and 1973 rose 91.3% as worker productivity increased by 96.7% through those years. However, since 1974, workers’ wages only increased 108.9% while worker productivity has increased by 243.1%.

The data shows that those who are employed are working significantly more than they are being compensated for.

Since this is the case, KHON2.com decided to find out how families can eat healthy on budgets that do not reflect wages keeping pace with expenses. For this, we go to registered dietitian nutritionist Vanessa King, a Spokesperson for the Hawaiʻi chapter of Academy of Nutrition and Diabetes.

“Nutritious food does not have to be expensive. You can spend less and enjoy more with a little preparation,” said King. “Make a shopping list before you go to the grocery store and review the menu to know what your meal will cost before selecting a restaurant.”

AND reported that food prices have increased by 70% between 1997 and 2022; meanwhile, the Economic Research Service has reported that grocery prices have increased 5% in 2023 with the cost of dining out being predicted to increase 7%.

The worst news of this is that food prices are not expected to decline in 2024, according to AND.

So, what does King say we can do about lack of options due to economic constraints?

Plan Ahead

When we go shopping for food, we are going to need to create a strategy.

“Create a weekly menu by purchasing what’s on sale that week,” explained King. “Choose your most expensive item first, typically your meat or entree, and match with complementary sides from different food groups.”

Choosing those protein options before collecting ingredients for the accompanying foods will allow you to envision the meal preparation and the meal itself much more clearly. This can cut down on unnecessary purchases and can help mitigate impulse purchasing.

Stretch foods

There are foods that make your protein seem like it is more abundant. Using these types of ingredients can fill out the meal while also enhancing the flavor and texture.

“Add volume by adding mushrooms or beans to your meat dishes or vegetables to your eggs,” advised King. “Choose fruit and vegetable combinations that mix higher and lower-priced items.” 

Mushrooms, beans and many vegetables absorb the flavors with which they are cooked allowing you to savor all the best flavors.

Stock staples

Maintaining a supply of staple foods in your cupboard can help with strategizing your grocery store visits.

“Look for sales and stock up on your family’s favorite food items,” said King. “Shop for shelf-stable items such as rice, pasta, sauces and marinades as well as dry fruits and dried herbs. Purchase frozen and canned fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood for future use.”

Many of these staple items often go on sale allowing you to stock up and keep those basics that will allow you to have a good variety of foods to prepare.

Avoid wasting food

Honestly, the whole point of meal preparation, and even eating out, is the leftovers. They quite simply are the best part of the initial meal. So, use this and become creative.

“Place foods with an earlier ‘Use By’ date in the front of your refrigerator to be eaten first,” recommended King. “Repurpose your leftovers into new dishes or freeze your leftovers to eat later to avoid wasting food.”

Utilizing leftovers can help spark that creative streak in you and will help you envision other meals that can be created.

Eat local

Supporting local businesses and farmers are major way of life here in Hawaiʻi. Sure, we love to indulge in some of the national chains that have made their way out here; but nothing beats a meal prepared with locally sourced ingredients.

“Purchase fruits and vegetables in-season from a local farmer,” urged King. “These items are usually less expensive due to abundance and less transportation expense.”

There are many farmers’ markets throughout the islands. GoHawaii has a list of farmers’ markets for Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi.

Advice on “eating out”

Some of the expenses that are factored into the price of foods prepared by businesses are labor and overhead. Hence dining out is usually more expensive than preparing food at home.

However, with workers taking on more and more responsibilities at work and with food deserts popping up throughout the United States, there are many options that simply are no longer available to the average person.

Here’s what King advises when embarking on a meal outside the home.

Simple meals

Extravagant meals are becoming less and less available to the average worker. So, keep your choices simple and sharable.

“Check out your local sandwich shop, diner or grocery store’s deli for family-friendly meals that won’t break the bank,” directed King. “Consider ordering healthful side dishes, such as salads, fruits and vegetables, that can be shared.”

Healthful eating options

Keeping things healthy even when we cannot afford the marketed healthy options can be easy as changing the choices you make on the basics.

“Select vinegar and oil-based dressings for salads,” said King. “Choose menu items that are baked, grilled or broiled instead of fried. Consider sharing your entree. Check the menu for sodium levels, saturated fat content, added sugars and more. Order water as your drink.”

Vegetarian meals

Often times, vegetarian and vegan options are much less expensive. This is a good way to expand your flavor palate and try some foods that maybe you’ve never had the chance to taste before.

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Well, that is the long and the short of it. Eating healthy does not have to be something only the wealthy can access. Take the time to plan and try some things you haven’t tried before. In no time, you’ll have navigating increased food prices with lower wages in no time.