Farmer and rancher members of the Utah Farm Bureau reached out to Utahns' families during Food Check-Out Week, which ran through Feb. 23. Farmers talked about how to cut costs while putting nutritious meals on the table.

Over the past few years, rising energy costs for processing, packaging and transportation have been the driving forces behind modest increases in retail food prices.

Fortunately, plenty of options are available so that consumers do not have to turn to less-nutritious foods that lack essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients to make ends meet.

Tips for better nutrition on a stretched budget, making sense of food labels and understanding the United States Department of Agriculture's MyPlate guidelines were among the topics Farm Bureau members talked about with consumers, at farmers' markets, supermarket demonstration stations and other venues during Food Check-Out Week.

Today, more than ever before, farmers and ranchers are committed to talking with consumers, to answering their questions about food and sharing with them how they are committed to continuous improvement when it comes to growing food. This is true during special observances such as Food Check-Out Week, as well as when farmers go about their day-to-day routines and engage in social media.

"Stretching Your Grocery Dollar With Healthy, Nutritious Food," the official theme of this year's Food Check-Out Week, reflects the fact that many Americans continue to look for ways to deal with an economic squeeze. Shopping for food to prepare more meals at home and dining out less frequently are two strategies people are using to cope with the situation.

Many of our farmers and ranchers have found that consumers like being able to talk in person with people who grow food.

At Food Check-Out Week events throughout Utah, farmers and ranchers have talked with customers at grocery stores, on radio call-in shows and at Salt Lake City's Ronald McDonald House. They have been able to share a little bit about what we do on our farms and ranches and how this food gets to your table.

The Food Check-Out Week connection between Farm Bureau and Ronald McDonald House Charities was forged more than a decade ago. Ronald McDonald Houses around the nation provide a home away from home for the families of seriously ill children receiving medical treatment at area hospitals.

Since the program was initiated in the mid-1990s, Farm Bureau members across the nation have donated more than $3 million in food and monetary contributions to Ronald McDonald Houses and other charities during Food Check-Out Week. This year, our state Women's Committee made a donation of $600 worth of food to the Salt Lake City house.

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The third week of February was selected for Food Check-Out Week as a way to celebrate American food and as a bridge to National Nutrition Month in March. It also corresponds with a time of year that most Americans have earned enough disposable income to pay for a year's supply of food.

While I am mindful of those suffering from a lack of food, I hope we can remember what a blessed country we live in to have such abundant resources. Farmers and ranchers in Utah and America are the key to this abundance and also play a critical role in our country's food security. As we celebrate this abundance, perhaps we can also look for ways to give to those less fortunate.

Leland Hogan is a hay farmer and cattle rancher from Tooele County, and president of the Utah Farm Bureau.