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% on your grocery bill.
Also consider joining your supermarket's shopper's club or app. 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
Many shoppers say they are economizing by buying store brand products (also known as private label). Private label brands can be anywhere from 15 to 20% 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 on the Nutrition Facts label. Five percent or less is low – try to aim low in saturated fat and sodium. Twenty percent or more is high – try to aim high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
7. Focus on Whole Foods
While processed foods such as whole-grain bread and pasta, canned fruit and tofu are affordable staples, steer clear of highly processed snack and convenience foods. Aim to fill your cart mostly with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein foods including beans and peanut butter.
8. Shop Seasonally
Fresh produce often costs less when it's in season. You also could visit a local farmers 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.
Give Your Kids a Head Start
Head Start is a program for preschoolers. Eligible 3 and 4-year old children attend Head Start to help get them ready for school. And, typically, kids can eat breakfast and lunch at this preschool program. In addition to giving your child two nutritious meals, it also helps stretch the family’s food budget.
Take Advantage of School Meals
Depending on your family's income level, your child may qualify for free or reduced cost meals at school. Overall, school meal programs may provide breakfast, lunch, snacks and even dinners. Specific offerings for school meals vary by district. School meals are healthier than ever — many districts now serve lean meat, low-fat dairy, whole grains and fruits and vegetables. For children with parents who work shifts during the evening meal, after-school meal programs provide many children with a nutritious dinner. And, when school isn’t in session, the Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to fill the void.
Check out the links below for additional information about these programs.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Feeding American (nationwide network of food banks)
National Farmers Market Directory
WIC: Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
National School Breakfast Program
National School Lunch Program
After School Meal Program
Summer Food Service Program
Even if you’re on a budget, there are ways to save money and still eat healthy! Nutritious foods can be affordable with just a few of these tips and tricks.
Amy Kimberlain, RDN, LDN, CDCES
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson
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