Slim down a big grocery budget

As teen diets grow, careful planning can stretch food dollars

As teen diets grow, careful planning can stretch food dollars

November 19, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Are hungry teenagers making your family's food bills bulge?

Smart meal and snack planning and shopping can help families stick to reasonable grocery budgets, experts said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's four-prong food budget plan - which includes thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal weekly and monthly food budgets - breaks the average cost of meals and snacks purchased at stores and prepared at home into age and gender groups. Monthly food budget costs include:

· $125.40 for the thrifty plan to $253.60 for the liberal plan for males ages 12 to 14

· $129.10 for the thrifty plan to $260.10 for the liberal plan for males ages 15 to 19

· $125.40 for the thrifty plan to $220.30 for the liberal plan for females ages 12 to 19

The amount of food teens need to fuel their bodies depends upon such factors as age, gender and activity level, said Lynn F. Little, family and consumer sciences educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.


"They're growing," she said. "As active as they are, they certainly do require more calories based on what they're expending."

When it comes to calories, however, it's all about quality, said Tammy Thornton, nutritionist at Washington County Health Department. She said many of today's teens are getting plenty of calories - but not enough nutritional calories.

"They're not getting a nutritionally dense diet," Thornton said. "They're getting enough calories, but it's mainly empty calories."

Many teenage diets are saturated with fats and sugar instead of the nutrients and fiber found in such plant-based foods as fruits and vegetables, she said. And an unhealthy diet - fast food, sodas, sugary snacks - often costs more to maintain than a healthful diet.

An entire bag of potatoes costs about as much as a large bag of potato chips, Thornton said.

Little suggested that families first develop a master list of foods and recipes that they enjoy. Get input from all family members, she said. Inventory the pantry, and take note of which favorite foods and ingredients need to be restocked. Little also recommended keeping a grocery list on the refrigerator so family members can easily update the list when they use the last of a refrigerated food item. Knowing what foods you have on hand will make it easier to plan meals for the week.

And it's OK to put a "keep off" sign on foods destined for family meals, she said. It might save the cook a surprise when she reaches in the cupboard for the peanut butter, only to find a near-empty jar. Communicate clearly to teens which foods are available for snacking, Little said.

"You've got to look at what you've got available and communicate to them that these are what they have to eat," she said.

Don't disregard the money-saving potential of leftovers, Little said. The meaty remnants of a turkey roasted for dinner on Sunday can fill sandwiches for lunches during the following week, and provide the soup base for another nutritious meal. Making meatless meals - such as dishes prepared with dried beans, peas or eggs - also can stretch the budget, Little said.

Individuals who have the time and skill to make such meals from scratch, instead of buying convenience foods, will save money, she said.

Scour newspaper ads and store flyers for specials before shopping for needed food items. Make a grocery list - and stick to it, Little said.

"You don't buy things that aren't on the list," she said. And while kids might help at the grocery store, Little said, they also might encourage adult shoppers to buy extra food items.

Compare the unit prices of the same food items at different grocery stores, if possible, Little said. And remember that bigger isn't always better - especially if storage space is limited, she said.

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