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Choosing meals that are economic and healthy

August 18, 2004|By LYNN F. LITTLE

Many people are concerned about the economy and want to get the most value for every dollar spent. Food is one item that we buy frequently. Although each item does not cost much, it adds up to a lot of money. Most people are concerned about how much money they spend on food and worried about getting healthy, nutritious food that is easy and quick to prepare.

Some people have the mistaken idea that the more money they spend, the healthier the food will be. This is not necessarily so. Many healthy foods are good bargains.

The Food Guide Pyramid recommends getting several servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables each day. These foods are usually some of the least expensive foods. Even in the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, nuts and eggs groups, some of the least expensive foods are good choices from a health standpoint. For example, dry beans are a very good source of protein, low in fat and low cost.


Here are some tips to get you started on saving money at the grocery store:

  • Watch for store newspaper ads and coupons. Take advantage of coupons and sale items, but be sure your family will use a "bargain."

  • Plan ahead for the main foods you will cook for the next several days. Are there items on sale this week that you can use? Check how much storage space you have for groceries.

  • Do most of your shopping only once a week. You will save time and not spend as much money on "extras" you see as you shop.

  • Stick to your list. Don't be tempted to buy extra things.

  • Shop by yourself. Try not to shop with children who will nag you for toys and junk food.

  • Go when you aren't hungry. Shop on a full stomach or else everything will look inviting, and you will be tempted to buy more than you need.

  • Compare brands. Look at the cost and the quantity. Usually the store's own brand is cheaper, but not always.

  • Compare different stores. Look at prices in several stores if you have a choice. If you find one store is generally less expensive, stick with it.

  • Compare forms of food. Buy a lower-cost form of the product if it will do as well. For instance, use canned tomato pieces rather than whole tomatoes.

  • Buy fruits and vegetables during their peak seasons.

  • Buy meats uncut when possible and do the cutting at home (for example, whole chicken or whole chuck steak).

  • Buy "day-old bread," if it is to be used soon.

  • Buy unsweetened dry cereals ? do not buy individual-portioned cereals. Buy regular cooking hot cereals; avoid convenient quick-cooking cereals or ones in individual serving packets.

  • Take time to compare prices of frozen, fresh and canned products. Use unit pricing for comparison.

  • If a store runs out of a sale item, ask for a rain check.

  • Double-check prices as the cashier rings up your order.

  • Relax. Take time to compare prices, read nutrition labels and ingredient lists, and check freshness. You can cut food costs without cutting out the foods you enjoy and that you need for good nutrition. It takes time and effort. By trying some of these tips every time you shop for groceries, you can save money.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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