Eat Well to Be Well: Making cents at the supermarket

062814-eat-well-shopping_6Ouch! Have you been to the grocery store lately and felt the ‘pinch” of rising food prices? Up and down the grocery aisles, prices are soaring for basic staple foods such as meat, milk, fruits and vegetables. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, it is estimated that retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5 percent this year, the largest annual increase in three years. The driving force in this increase is mainly the dry weather conditions throughout the United States. The U.S. Drought Monitor estimates that 95 percent of California, the biggest U. S. producer of agricultural products, is in a drought. Water shortages are hindering various crop and livestock production. Lost grassland and higher feed costs in agricultural states like Kansas also affect what consumers will be paying at the cash register.

You want to feed your family healthy, nutritious meals, but with food costs soaring, how do you do this without breaking your budget? With some creativity and a well-thought out intent before you head to the grocery store, this goal is still possible to accomplish.

Plan ahead of time

Before you leave the house, make a plan. Each week, plan your meals for the next 7 days. Yes, actually sit down and decide what you’ll have for dinner each night. Doing so will:

  • simplify what you buy at the grocery store.
  • make you check to see what foods you already have on hand so you don’t overbuy.
  • help you make a list of what you need and stick to that list.
  • make it more likely you’ll check what the store has on sale helping reduce your cost.
  • make your life easier in that you already know what you’ll have for dinner each night, helping to decrease the likelihood of eating out, spending more money, and eating higher calorie foods.

To help you accomplish this goal, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov and view the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s 7-day menu that helps consumers plan a nutritious diet based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is budget friendly.

At the grocery store

  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season. They’ll be less costly and taste better too. Fresh produce is good, but frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also nutritious and often cost less. Keep in mind frozen and canned produce are picked and processed at their nutritional peak. Therefore they can retain more nutrients than fresh produce that is exposed to air and each day fresh produce is not eaten, they lose some nutritional value.

    062814-eat-well-Understandi

    Check the unit price tag to calculate possible savings of buying different brands or quantities.

  • Are you aware of the unit price displayed on the shelf below each food product? Make a habit of becoming more familiar with it. It can be a very useful tool in comparing different brands and sizes of the same brands to know which is the better buy.
  • If you have the freezer space and shelf space in your kitchen, buy in bulk. Purchasing large sizes of frozen vegetables, potatoes, and meat items can save you money.
  • Skip convenience foods. Keep walking on by anything that has already had some type of pre-cooking or preparation done – frozen dinners, instant oatmeal, instant rice, pre-cut vegetables are some examples. These items will always cost you more than what you can make from scratch.
  • Buy beans. Whether dried or canned, beans are one of the most economical sources of protein and fiber you can find. They also have no cholesterol and are low in calories.
  • You can save money on milk if you buy the largest size you can use within 4 to 5 days. Buying milk in smaller sizes such as quarts or pints will cost more than buying a gallon or half-gallon size. Another money saver is buying instant nonfat dry milk. You can extend the quantity of milk by mixing powdered milk half and half with fresh milk for drinking.
  • When buying breakfast cereal, put down the sugar-coated cereals and opt for whole-grains. Whole-grain cereals will give you more nutrition for your buck. Store brand cereals that are often identical to higher-priced name-brand cereals will also be cheaper.
  • Check the expiration dates on food. “Sell-by” is telling the store how long to display the product for sale; buy the food item before the date expires. “Best if used by” is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. “Use-by” is the date recommended for the use of the food item while at its best quality.

 At home

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Growing a family garden saves money at the grocery store.

  • On weekends or your days off from work, make large batches of food that can be frozen into smaller amounts to be used throughout the week. These can easily be thawed or defrosted in the microwave on busy days, preventing you from spending money on eating out. Add various side dishes such as fruits, vegetables or grains to round out the meal.
  • Use up any leftover food. Heat them up for lunch the following day or incorporate them into casseroles, soups or salads.
  • You’ve probably heard it before, but don’t go grocery shopping when hungry. If you do, you’ll most likely end up buying more, making impulse purchases of things you don’t really need.
  • If you have the time and space, plant a garden. Whatever food you can grow yourself will be far cheaper than what you will pay for it at the grocery store.
  • Make as much food as you can from scratch. Doing so costs less than the same item already made at the grocery store – and it usually tastes better too!

Remember, the best way to avoid the pain of higher food prices is to have a plan, be prepared and be proactive so you can have more money in your pocket to enjoy the other pleasures in life.

Sources: USDA Food Safety Information; ChooseMyPlate.gov; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; University of Minnesota Extension. Photos: Choosemyplate.gov.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].


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