When money is tight and time is short, it may seem difficult to maintain a healthy diet. But mealtime doesn’t have to be costly, complicated, or unhealthy – eating right can be affordable, convenient and nutritious with a small amount of advanced planning. Simple concepts like portion control, choosing frozen or canned produce, and safely handling and storing leftovers can stretch any food budget. As food prices continue to rise, shoppers are challenged to find more economical ways to buy groceries and prepare healthy meals.
Here are 10 tips for stretching your food dollar.
Plan Menus and Make a List
A sure way to overspend is by wandering aimlessly through the aisles and tossing whatever looks good in your cart. Instead, plan a menu and write a shopping list that corresponds to the store aisles.
Use Coupons and Rewards Cards
Did you know the Sunday inserts in your local paper have anywhere from $50 to $75 worth of coupons in them? Clipping coupons or printing them from websites can save you 10-15% on your grocery bill. Also consider joining your supermarket’s shopper’s club. Not only will you enjoy price specials, but you may receive additional coupons for items you regularly purchase at check-out or by email.
Buy Store Brand
The Food Marketing Institute reports 60 percent of shoppers say they are economizing by buying store brand products. These private label brands are often 15 to 20 percent less expensive than their national brand counterparts.
Buy on Sale and In Bulk
Cruising the aisle for sales on products you use regularly is a great way to save money. However, buy larger quantities only if you have proper storage space and will use the food before it spoils.
Compare Unit Price
Use the “unit price” (price per pound, ounce or pint) to compare national brands with store brands, or bulk and economy-sizes with single-serve or regular-size packages. Many stores show the unit price on the shelf tag.
Read Food Labels
Compare nutrients using the % Daily Value in the Nutrition Facts panel. Five percent or less is low – try to aim low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Twenty percent or more is high – try to aim high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Shop the Perimeter
Fresh produce, meats, dairy and breads tend to be on the outer perimeter of supermarkets, so start there before hitting the inner aisles for other necessities.
Fresh produce often costs less when it’s in season. Visit a local farmer’s market or join a produce club to take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables. For produce not in season, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables with little or no added salt or sugar are a nutritious option.
Keep Foods Safe and Prevent Food Waste
Use dating information (“sell by” and “best used by”) to help select the freshest foods at the market. Put cold and frozen foods in your shopping cart last and store them right away in the refrigerator and freezer. Once you’re home, store foods so those with the oldest “sell by” dates will be used first.
Pay Attention at the Check-Out
Make sure prices ring up as advertised or as indicated on the shelf label, especially for sale items. Some stores will even give you the item free if they make a mistake on the price.