Inflation is causing many alarms and many are already trying to adjust their shopping baskets. In this context of uncertainty, part of the debate has moved to the idea of fixed-price shopping baskets. These are made up of basic and essential products whose prices will remain stable for a certain period of time. Now, is it possible to make an affordable and nutritious basket?
Prices frozen until January.
The Carrefour supermarket chain was the first to create one of these baskets. The proposal of the second supermarket chain in Spain by market share has agreed to maintain the price of thirty of its private label products at least until January 8, 2023. These products can be purchased together or individually depending on the company announced.
The products in the basket.
The basket includes some essential products such as pasta, flour, oil (sunflower), bread (sandwich and hamburger), salt or vinegar; but also other not so basic ones such as cereals and cookies, jam, various preserves (tuna, corn, peppers, mushrooms and peas), chicken broth or juice.
This basket also includes products that would not be considered essential or basic, such as canned meatballs in sauce, tea and chocolate soft drink, perhaps to accommodate an occasional treat.
The basket also includes hygiene and cleaning products such as toothpaste, toilet paper, compresses, gel, dishwasher, detergent, bleach or window cleaner.
Criticism of nutritional value.
This promotion has been received with some suspicion by nutritionists, who see several problems with the basket. These can be summarized in that ultra-processed foods are left over and fresh foods are lacking.
The first point that must be taken into account when analyzing the basket is that it does not constitute a complete diet by itself. As the nutritionist Edgar Barrionuevo points out in statements to Business Insiderthe quality that we can grant to this basket depends on how it is combined: if we supply what is missing with fresh food, it can constitute part of a balanced diet, but if the gaps are filled with more of the same, the verdict would be negative.
But is it possible to build a basket that is more complete on its own?
What science says to improve the basket.
If we want to improve this basket to provide it with greater nutritional value, we can be guided by some keys given by nutritionists and experts. The ideal change would be to introduce more fresh products and remove ultra-processed products. Products such as hamburger or sandwich buns, canned meatballs, chocolate, juice or tea can be discarded.
Ultra-processed foods are not usually cheap, so eliminating them from our purchases is not at odds with saving. Something similar happens with products such as jam. The problem is therefore not what to remove, but what to introduce. The ideal would be to add a good amount of fresh fruit and vegetables, but this brings us precisely to the problem that this type of basket wants to solve: price volatility.
There are ways to deal with this volatility. The simplest is to resort to deep-frozen. Deep-frozen vegetables (and also fruits) preserve all their nutrients (sometimes even better than their “fresh” version). Canned fruits and vegetables can be an alternative, but salts or sugars are often added to these for preservation, which makes them lose some nutritional value. Deep-frozen foods are also cheaper options and generate less food waste.
A balanced diet requires carbohydrates, proteins and fats. There are some changes that we can introduce to optimize these consumptions. As for carbohydrates, the best option is to replace ultra-processed bread with loaf bread. Bread is still a processed food, but it serves us to replace less healthy options.
The protein content of this basket was also questioned by Barrionuevo. Canned tuna and peas are sources of protein, but can be supplemented with more protein, especially plant-based. Here the best option would be to introduce dried legumes: easy to store and cook, nutritious and cheap.
Although it is not a cheap option, a shopping basket without olive oil can be a better “indulgence” than chocolates, juices or soft drinks.
Other tips to eat better while saving.
Science gives us other tricks to save on our purchase. Everyone has heard that it is a bad idea to go to the supermarket on an empty stomach. The reason is that our hunger will lead us to temptation and we will turn to less nutritious and more expensive foods. It is easy to underestimate the weight of hunger in our decisions. Making a plan and sticking to the shopping list can also help us.
It can also help to spend time reading labels, both nutritional and price labels. The first one is the one that causes the most problems, and it does not seem that this is going to change. When looking at the price tag, the key is to find the price in relation to the amount of product that we are taking.
Making plans is not only important when we go to the supermarket. Work-life balance is also difficult in the field of nutrition, but spending time thinking in advance about what we are going to eat can free us from resorting to pre-cooked and ultra-processed products.
An alternative with a future?
The debate about these baskets is still open. For now, only one supermarket chain has announced this measure, although it is to be hoped that, given the expectation generated, other chains may respond with similar offers. If this circumstance occurs, it will be possible to compare offers, both in economic and nutritional terms.