People seem to have the misconception that cutting back on food expenses means giving up healthy foods. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be more expensive to eat healthier! All you need to do is learn a few tricks and hints regarding your meal planning habits. Here are some guidelines:

Learn the Food Pyramid Concepts

Many people plan their meals around meat, and leave grains, vegetables, and fruit for side dishes. The majority of your dietary intake should come from whole grain foods (whole wheat breads and pasta and brown rice), and the addition of lots of vegetables and fruit. These foods are at the base of the Pyramid. You should treat meat and dairy products as side dishes and eat these foods less often. With the prices of meat these days, this is more economical AND better for your health.

Meals that can be made with common, inexpensive foods:

  • Chili: Beans, vegetables, meat, salad
  • Stir-fry: Vegetables with a small amount of meat served over rice or pasta and a salad
  • Stews or soup: Beans, vegetables, pasta, rice, meat or chicken, served with salad
  • Taco: Beans or meat with lots of lettuce, tomato, onions, and a corn tortilla

Get Cooking!

Prepackaged, boxed, canned, and frozen foods you buy from the store often contain much fat, calories, sodium, sugar and can be expensive compared to preparing your own meals from scratch. In addition, they can be lacking in important vitamins and minerals.

Did you know that you can make more bags of popcorn from a bag of unpopped corn compared to buying a bag of already popped popcorn?

Pre-made popcorn costs quite a bit more — in cost in dollars, fat and sodium. The extra time you may have to spend to prepare foods at home will pay off tenfold in cost and health benefits!

Popcorn Snacking is the BEST snack! It’s inexpensive and good for you as a whole grain snack. Plus, a little package of kernels goes a LONG way!

Savvy Grocery Shopping

Make food choices that provide you with the most nutrition for your dollar. A wise plan will help you avoid impulse shopping and less nutritious choices, both of which can lead to extra costs.

Health Food Stores

Not all items sold at health food stores are healthier? Foods available in supermarkets are just as healthy as those sold in health food stores. It just depends on the food choices. One major difference is cost and variety. Health food stores often have less variety and this can lead to higher prices.

Tips for your next shopping plan: 

  • Plan both meals and snacks days in advance.
  • Make you your shopping list and decide to stick to it!
  • Do some price comparisons among grocery stores. Often you can do this right online; you needn’t drive around to all the different stores!
  • If you don’t already, try national chains and discount food outlets. Avoid convenience stores whenever possible.
  • Consider trying stores that sell generic foods, store brand foods (most large national chains include these), and foods sold in bulk quantites.
  • Coupons: Proceed with caution! Be sure you use coupons only for products you would normally buy anyway — and watch for sales on those items in addition to your coupons. Coupons can be a catch 22 as oftentimes they are for foods that are more expensive in the first place. Used wisely, however, coupons can also be a great cost-saver.
  • The old, but tried and true tip: Never shop on an empty stomach!
  • Always check for sales of the items on your grocery list.
  • Check expiration dates, especially on sales. Sometimes food soon to expire is placed on sale. If you know you’ll use the food by the expiration date, great! Go for it! But if you’re not sure, you could wind up wasting that food, which wastes your funds. If you find a good deal on a soon-to-expire product, it’s worthwhile to purchase it if it’s a food that can be frozen, as this will keep it fresh for some time.
  • Don’t be fooled by unit sizes! Oftentimes larger sizes will cost less, but if you don’t use it all because it’s too much for you, it’s wasteful. This applies to all products.

Read Food Labels

Knowing how to read the nutrition labels can help you make the most nutritious choices for you and your family. Use the nutrition facts label to focus on the facts that are most important to you such as the fat, sugar, or sodium content. Nutritional labels make it easier for you to compare similar products.

Proper storage times for different foods – in reliable food storage containers.

  • Ground meats: 3 to 4 months in the freezer
  • Hot dogs: 1 to 2 months in the freezer
  • Eggs: 3 to 5 weeks in the refrigerator
  • Dry onions: 2 months in the refrigerator
  • Opened lunch meats: 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator
  • Flour: lasts longest in the freezer
  • Dried peas and beans: up to 1 year

Cost-Saving Leftovers

Make a big pot of soup or lasagna. Leftovers can be separated into small proportions that are dated and frozen. Don’t freeze and then thaw a large portion of food (more than you’ll eat in a serving) because you’ll end up wasting most of it.

Eat at Home

Eating out can be expensive and the food is often high in fat, salt, and sugar. A spaghetti dinner at a restaurant could cost 10-dollars or more, but only a few dollars if you prepared it at home.

Be Prepared

If you’re going to be out running errands or shopping with your family, bring some healthy snacks and drinks with you. That way, if hunger hits, you won’t be tempted to stop at a fast food restaurant or buy snacks from a vending machine — something that can hurt your wallet and your waistline. Whether you make snacks at home or buy them from the grocery store, it’s less expensive than buying them in the mall.