BALTIMORE — Store tours designed to help low-income families access better dietary quality were scheduled to take place at all 45 Wal-Mart  locations in Maryland Saturday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The tours were led by Wal-Mart associates who taught participants how to compare unit prices, purchase fruits and vegetables on a budget, read food labels and pick out whole grains.
After the tour, shoppers applied the skills learned to buy ingredients to make a healthy meal for four, for under $10. Each store donated a $10 gift card to the first 25 people who signed up for the event at www.strength.org/shoppingmattersday .
The Shopping Matters tours are an initiative of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters. They are supported by the Walmart Foundation and the ConAgra Foods Foundation.
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A recent Share Our Strength survey found that 85% of low-income families want to make healthy meals, but only about half are able to do so on a regular basis. Families cited the cost of healthy groceries as their primary obstacle.
Shopping Matters students are taught to stretch their public assistance benefits and/or food dollars.
“Everything we teach on our shopping tours is based around a SNAP or food stamp budget,” explained Greg Silverman, senior manager of educational outreach for Shopping Matters. “We’re looking to teach people how to maximize the benefits they have and if they’re not on [public assistance], how to save money.”
The Wal-Mart tours are unique to the program given their scale and the involvement of store employees, noted Silverman.
“This is a first-ever for Shopping Matters; we’re trying out a different angle and engaging an entire group of stores across the state,” he said.
The healthy tours are usually initiated by individuals from WIC agencies and groups associated with food banks, who take its lessons to local food stores.
Wal-Mart associates who volunteered to teach the tours, viewed a training webinar and underwent two hours of in-store education in preparation for the event.
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Silverman is hopeful that the retailer’s vast workforce will have a big impact moving forward, with facilitators applying lessons to their own lives and sharing tips with shoppers on an ongoing basis.
“If someone has become a trained facilitator we’re happy that they’re going to make changes in their life with their own family, friends and community,” he said.
Though Wal-Mart is a chief sponsor of Shopping Matters, the program is not Wal-Mart-centric. In fact, Silverman hopes to expand the tours to more grocery stores, bodegas, farmers’ markets and other food outlets.
“We promote choice and meeting people where they are,” he said.
Indeed, Shopping Matters makes free training materials available to those interested in launching the program locally. A training webinar and facilitator toolkit are available on the Shopping Matters website.
“Grocery tours are an amazing experiential learning activity so we made a standalone tool that anyone can access,” Silverman said.
The program may soon expand to Wal-Mart stores in other states. This week Silverman will promote Shopping Matters by conducting a tour at a Wal-Mart in Arkansas with First Lady Ginger Beebe.
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Shopping Matters students are taught to:
• Compare the costs of fresh, frozen and canned produce
• Choose frozen fruits and vegetables with no salt or sugar added
• Select canned fruit in light syrup or its own juices
• Rinse canned vegetables to reduce salt
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