March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
As U.S. 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.
1. Plan Menus and Make a List.
A sure way to overspend is by wandering aimlessly through the aisles and tossing whatever looks good into your cart. Instead, plan menus and write a shopping list that corresponds with the store aisles. Look for menu planning and recipe help on your supermarket's website. Many feature tools for planning and pricing meals.
2. 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 to 15 percent 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.
3. Buy Store Brands.
The Food Marketing Institute reports 60 percent of shoppers say they are economizing by buying store brand products (also known as private label). Private label brands are often 15 to 20 percent less expensive than their national brand counterparts while the quality of the food may match the national brand.
4. Buy On Sale and In Bulk.
Cruising the aisle for sales on shelf-stable items or 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.
5. Compare Unit Prices.
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 a shelf tag.
6. 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 fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Twenty percent or more is high – try to aim high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
7. 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.
8. Shop Seasonally.
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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
Food Group Economics 101
- Produce: Seasonal produce usually offers the best value for your money. However, for produce that isn't in season, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables may be more economical.
- Grains: Count on whole-grain breads, cereals, pastas and other grain products to add variety to your meals at a low cost. Buy in bulk when possible and cook them yourself rather than buying quick-cooking or pre-seasoned varieties.
- Dairy: Look for special sale promotions for milk, cheese and yogurt. but avoid purchasing more than you can use by the expiration date.
- Protein: Calculate cost per serving, not cost per pound, when buying meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Eggs, chicken and turkey are usually your most economical choices. Also consider vegetarian sources of protein like beans, peas, peanut butter and nuts.