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Eating Healthy While Cutting Your Food Budget

April 2008

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

With the exception of your mortgage and car payment, grocery bills are probably one of your largest household expenses. Unlike a mortgage and other payments that are set each month, food costs are variable and you control them. Below are 10 tips to keep grocery costs affordable while eating healthy:

  • Be a Smart Shopper- If your grocery store has a sale on chicken, for example, and it’s a big package, buy it and re-package it in freezer bags or cook all the chicken and then divide it up and freeze portions that you will eat later.
  • Bigger Is Not Always Better- Don’t automatically assume that big boxes of food, like cereal, are always cheaper than small boxes. Compare box sizes and the cost per ounce to choose the best buy.
  • Check Weekly Ads from the Grocery Store- Check advertised specials in local newspapers and online for the best buys. Avoid “managers specials” when they include dented cans or damaged food products that could be a food safety hazard.
  • Watch for “Loss Leaders”- All grocery stores sell some products very inexpensively to attract consumers to their store. They make up for the loss on these items with profits on others. Get to know food prices and, when products are on sale, buy ahead if you have the storage space.
  • Using a Shopping List Saves Time and Money- Plan ahead for meals you will prepare next week. Check recipes ahead of time, along with your refrigerator and cabinets, to see if your have all the ingredients. If not, add those foods to your weekly grocery list.
  • Shop with a Full Stomach- When food shopping, make sure you have eaten a meal before going to the supermarket. Also, make sure you have a shopping list so you buy what you need, NOT what catches your eye. Using a list saves both time and money.
  • Spice Up Your Meals- Flavor foods with herbs and spices, not with fats and oils or salt. Choose recipes that use very little salt, sugar, or fat for flavoring. Instead, try cooking with a variety of herbs like basil, oregano, marjoram, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and curry. Tasty foods make you feel satisfied and help you to enjoy a meal.
  • How Much Stock Is In Your Pantry? - Buying too much food can result in items being thrown out because of expired dates, bugs, or other reasons. Use what you buy and don’t overstock those shelves. Too much of any food gets boring. Variety in food intake keeps us healthier.
  • Your Freezer Is Your Best Friend- Serve meals that provide your family with healthy foods in a short amount of time and that are easy to prepare. Use your freezer to store meal items cooked in advance, as well newly purchased frozen foods. The more preparation you do, the less the cost and the more control you have over the calories, fat, salt, and sugar levels of foods.
  • Menus: Do You Plan Ahead for Meals at Home? - Menus are not just for restaurants. Menus set up a plan for eating the following week and determine what’s on your shopping list. Menus keep meals organized and help fit purchases into your food budget. You will save money and avoid last minute quick food purchases like pizza or burgers because you “don’t have time to cook tonight.”