I pretty much buy the same items week after week during my almost daily trips to the grocery store.
A quick review of my Quicken program revealed that my food expenditures have risen about 30 percent since last winter.
Hey, no fair guys! Taxes are going up, medical insurance is through the roof and now we’re getting gouged at the supermarket.
So I’m doing the Dave Ramsey system this month. I’m giving myself a
grocery allowance and cashing a check in the amount I’m allowed to spend on food. When it’s gone I guess I’ll drink that dreadful Slimfast that’s been hanging around in my fridge since the summer of ‘94.
Food is a big part of any household budget, and fixing healthy dishes that taste good is a challenge. But with good nutrition as your first priority, you can put a little planning and bargain hunting to work and end up with some meals on the cheap that have rich taste.
Start by making a plan and sticking to it. You can save money by buying discount food, buying in bulk, and eliminating what you really don’t need or eat.
"A great example of a healthy budget food is beans," says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, dietitian and nutrition professor at Boston University. "Beans are a great source of protein and fiber. You can add canned beans to a salad or pasta and you have a cheap recipe that is healthy and filling."
Try these other tips when shopping:
- Eliminate junk food. Soda, processed food, desserts, and prepackaged meals tend to be more expensive and less healthy. Cross them off your list.
- Buy in bulk. Dried beans, grains, and canned goods are cheaper in bulk. You can also buy perishable foods like meat, dairy, and bread in bulk and freeze them. Bread from the freezer defrosts quickly and doesn’t get moldy.
- Buy frozen produce. "Frozen fruits and vegetables retain their nutrients better than those that linger in your refrigerator bins, which can be graveyards for produce. They are less expensive and there is much less waste. Think about all the parts of fresh fruits and vegetables that you cut off before eating," says Blake.
- Think about alternate sources of protein. Protein is an important part of many healthy recipes, but meat is often your most expensive grocery item. Alternate sources of less expensive proteins include canned fish and chicken, beans, eggs, and lentils.
- Take advantage of discounts. Low-budget does not mean poor quality. Clip coupons, shop for discount food at club stores like Costco or Sam’s, and use generic store brands if they are cheaper. Farmers markets and ethnic markets are also worth exploring for discount foods.
3 Musts for Cooking on a Budget
In the same way that buying large is less expensive, so is cooking large. You can save money by using some imagination for leftovers and desserts:
- Cook less and get more meals. One-pot dishes like soups, casseroles, and stews can be made in advance and used for more than one meal. Buy the ingredients in bulk and double the recipe if necessary.
- Turn leftovers into new meals. Adding a new ingredient like beans, meat, grain, or cheese to a leftover can give it new life. You can also freeze leftovers and enjoy your meal again next week.
- Make your own desserts. Baking your own cake is much cheaper than store-bought desserts — and you can control the ingredients. You can make healthy recipe desserts by using 100 percent fruit juice to make popsicles, freezing fruit, creating parfaits with yogurt, or mixing up a fruit smoothie.
Keep in mind that there are some foods worth spending extra money on. "There are times when going for quality over quantity makes sense," says Blake. "When buying meat, you are better off with leaner cuts. These may be more expensive, but eliminating saturated fat is worth it. Get a smaller cut and eat more vegetables. Fish is another example. Fish is expensive, but the nutritional value of some fresh fish in your diet is worth the price."