WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Farmer and rancher members of many local Farm Bureaus will reach out to consumers with practical information and tips on how to put nutritious meals on the table with fewer dollars during Food Check-Out Week, Feb. 15-21.

"Stretching Your Grocery Dollar With Healthy, Nutritious Food," the new official theme of Farm Bureau's Food Check-Out Week, reflects the fact that many Americans are feeling an economic squeeze and as a result, are eating out less and preparing more meals at home.

"Public health experts are concerned that today's tough economic times could lead consumers, many of whom are already overweight, to cut costs by buying less-nutritious foods that lack important vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients," said Terry Gilbert, a Kentucky farmer and chair of the AFB Women's Leadership Committee.

"During this week, we are pleased to offer consumers information on how to stretch their grocery dollars with healthy, nutritious food. Tips for better nutrition on a stretched budget, making sense of food labels, and understanding USDA's MyPyramid are among the topics Farm Bureau members will be talking about with consumers," said Gilbert.

Although the focus of Food Check-Out Week has evolved, the Farm Bureau-Ronald McDonald House Charities connection that began more than a decade ago remains strong.

"Through continued charitable donations during Food Check-Out Week to local Ronald McDonald Houses, as well as other charities, we're helping these worthy organizations provide the people they serve with healthy foods on a stretched budget," said Gilbert. "While America's farmers are committed to producing safe, healthy food, they share with consumers the same issues of putting nutritious meals on the table while sticking to a tight budget."

Commenting on the nearly universal need among consumers to stretch their food dollars in today's economy, Gilbert noted that a number of studies have shown that recent higher retail food prices were caused primarily by rising energy costs for processing, packaging and transportation.

On behalf of the American Farm Bureau, Gilbert and the committee will make monetary and food donations to Ronald McDonald Houses in Phoenix and Louisville. Ronald McDonald Houses provides a "home-away-from-home" for the families of seriously ill children receiving medical treatment at area hospitals. The donations will be used to help feed families staying at the houses.

During Food Check-Out Week, it is appropriate for all Americans to reflect on how they might help those in need in their communities, Gilbert said.

Participating county and state Farm Bureaus will hold events throughout Food Check-Out Week.

Since the program was initiated in the mid-1990s, Farm Bureau members have donated more than $2.6 million in food and monetary contributions to Ronald McDonald Houses and other worthwhile charities during Food Check-Out Week.

Starting this year, the timing of Farm Bureau's Food Check-Out Week is not related to the date Americans have earned enough money to pay for their food for a year, which is calculated on USDA data that is always a year behind. The third week of February was selected for Food Check-Out Week as a bridge to National Nutrition Month in March.