Save on Supper Without Skimping
By Beth Bence Reinke, MS, RD
Sticker shock at the grocery checkout is commonplace these days. As the cashier drags your items across the scanner - blip, blip, blip – do you feel your heart rate rising as you wait for the total?
Unfortunately, food is one of those things you can't cut out of your budget. We all have to eat! As food prices continue to rise, how can you prepare healthy meals without spending a fortune? Try these thrifty strategies for eating well without breaking your budget:
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN:
This is the single most important strategy. Even if you don't consider yourself an organized person, you can do it. Put a pocket folder in a kitchen drawer or cupboard that contains all of your planning stuff: coupons, supermarket circulars, and recipes you want to try.
1. Write a menu. It is well worth taking 20 minutes each week to plan your meals. Simply write down what you're going to have for supper each night. Then make a list of breakfast and lunch foods to keep on hand. Next, stand at your kitchen counter with a piece of paper and make a grocery list, checking the fridge and cupboards as you jot down items.
2. Read the ads. Scrutinize store circulars that come in the mail or newspaper. Plan your menu around what's on sale, especially if there are buy-one-get-one-free items.
3. Shop with your list. When your list is finished, stick it in your purse or wallet so it can't be forgotten. Buy only what is on the list.
4. Double up. To save time, cook two batches of entrees (like lasagna, stews and soups) and freeze the second one. It's nice to have something to pull out of the freezer and pop into the oven or heat on the stove.
MODIFY YOUR MENU:
Ouch! This might be a toughie. But if you're serious about saving money, you will probably need to make changes in the foods you buy and the way you cook.
1. Cook from scratch. Skip convenience foods, which are more expensive and often contain loads of salt, sugar, fat, and preservatives. Buy single ingredients like meats, produce, pasta, and whole grain rice. Avoid the deli counter full of overpriced salads and nitrite-laden meats. For sandwich meat, buy a turkey breast, then roast and slice it yourself.
2. Use less meat. Go vegetarian for a couple of meals a week. Try eggs or beans as your protein source. Eggs contain the best quality protein around. Beans, high in soluble fiber and nutrients, can be substituted for meat in many casserole, stew, or soup recipes. When you do buy meat, look for grass-fed beef or free-range poultry.
3. Drink cheaper beverages. Instead of soda or other high-priced sugary drinks, buy tea bags and brew homemade iced or hot tea, which is full of health-promoting antioxidants. Drink water! It's cheaper in the long run to install a reverse osmosis filter at your kitchen sink and skip the bottled kind.
4. Avoid junk food. Foods like chips, candy, and donuts are a nutritional zero. It's best to spend money wisely on nutrient-dense foods and save these for an occasional treat. (A terrific splurge choice is dark chocolate, which is chock full of antioxidants.)
1. Use coupons. The Sunday newspaper usually has several flyers full of coupons. Or check Web sites like www.couponmom.com where you can choose and print your own coupons for things you normally buy.
2. Buy store brands. Generic products are often just as good as more expensive name brands.
3. Check prices. Watch the scanner readout at the checkout to make sure prices are scanning correctly. Errors do happen, and it's better to catch them at the checkout than after you're back home.
4. Watch portion sizes. Eating smaller amounts of food costs less. Keep normal portion sizes in mind. For example, one serving of meat is the size of a deck of playing cards. In recipes, cut back on added fats like butter or cheese – doing this saves money and makes the recipe more healthful.
1. Make your own. Invest in a bread machine and make whole grain bread. Brew your own coffee in the morning instead of stopping at a high-priced coffee shop on the way to work. Skip individually packaged snack foods. Instead, buy large bags of pretzels, unsweetened cereal, dried fruits, and nuts and make your own healthy snack mix in small, zippered plastic bags.
2. Cut your own. Avoid precut veggies and bagged salads. Not only do they cost more, but they lose nutrients because cut areas are exposed to air. Buy whole fruits and vegetables and cut just before use.
3. Can or freeze. Buy fruits and vegetables when they're in season, when prices are lowest. Can or freeze some for the rest of the year.
4. Grow your own. For the freshest produce around, cultivate a vegetable garden in the summer or a few rows of spinach in the fall. No space? Try growing tomatoes or peppers in large pots on your deck or balcony. At the very least, create an herb garden in pots on your windowsill.
Food prices aren't going back down anytime soon. To save money and eat healthfully over the long haul, we must change our food habits – the way we plan, shop, cook, and eat. Start small, with one or two changes, and then add a few more. Before you know it, instead of suffering from sticker shock, you'll be pleasantly surprised by your savings.
Beth Bence Reinke is a registered dietitian who writes about food, nutrition, and health topics. She is a mom of two sons and the author of numerous magazine articles for adults and children. Beth and her husband have been CBN partners since 1998. Visit her at www.bethbencereinke.com .
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