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Tips to trim food costs

December 16, 2008|By LYNN F. LITTLE

Shoppers who note rising prices at the grocery store are not alone. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over the last two years food prices have risen faster than at any time since 1990. In 2007, prices for all food purchased in the United States increased 4 percent, up from a 2.4 percent increase in 2006.

With food such an integral part of upcoming holiday celebrations, stretching food dollars can be a challenge, so here are some tips to help trim food costs:

o Food prepared at home is typically less expensive than similar foods prepared in a restaurant. To save, eat more meals at home.

o If you are short on preparation time, buy prepared foods at your grocery store. These foods are generally more expensive than food prepared at home, but less expensive than a similar meal eaten at a restaurant.

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o If you are planning a holiday gathering, consider a less expensive meal such as a brunch, a sandwich night or soup supper to trim costs. You could also plan a potluck so everyone shares the expense of feeding a crowd.

o Eliminate holiday-themed, single-use paper items and disposable eating utensils.

o Do it yourself. Buying a prepared fruit basket or vegetable tray will usually be more expensive than buying fruits and vegetables and preparing and arranging them yourself.

o Plan meals in advance to take advantage of advertised specials. Supermarket fliers (in the newspaper and on display stands near shopping carts) highlight bargains of the week.

o Keep a running grocery list, and take it shopping with you.

o While shopping, look at cost-per-unit signs posted on the front of the store shelf near the product to determine the least expensive brand and least expensive package size before buying.

o Skip specials at the end of the aisles. Such specials can be perceived as sale items, but aren't always at sale prices.

o Plan to shop once a week. Additional trips to the store take time and add to fuel costs, and rarely do shoppers pick up just one or two items.

o Buy less expensive, seasonal, local, fresh fruits and vegetables. Use perishable produce first, and then canned, dried or frozen fruits and vegetables to complete meals.

o Plan meals so you have "planned-overs." Cook once, eat twice. For example: Plan to use leftover turkey from Christmas dinner in sandwiches, wraps or pita pockets, or in a casserole, pasta sauce or soup. Also, use leftover broth and vegetables. Visit http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/ciqf.htm for more ideas.

o Store leftovers promptly to preserve food quality, and use leftovers within two or three days or wrap and freeze for future meals to further trim food costs.

For recipes that include price-per-serving, go to http://recipefinder.nal.usda.gov.

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

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