How many times did your parents tell you to clear your plate? How often did you hear that the starving children in the world would love to have the Brussels sprouts you’ve been pushing around with your fork for an hour?
It’s funny how, once you become a parent paying a triple-digit grocery bill, you begin to understand where they were coming from.
Americans throw out enough food each year to make you weep. At the same time that we’re wasting literally tons of food – basically throwing our money straight into the garbage with spoiled or otherwise uneaten meals – the cost of food keeps increasing. The price of food went up 2.6 percent last year and is projected to rise by another 3.5 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
So what can we do?
For starters, here are 15 strategies that can help you seriously stretch your food dollar.
1. Beans really are the magical fruit. A half-cup of cooked beans has up to 30 percent of your daily recommended fiber, more protein than an ounce of beef and is a perfect source of “good” carbs – the kind that don’t make you fat. They’re also dirt cheap.
2. Make your own baby food. Believe it or not, babies ate long before the invention of jarred food. Would you rather pay $1.29 or more for 6 ounces of organic carrot baby food, or the same price for a pound of the same?
Lots of cooked fruits and veggies can be mashed up easily with a fork. You can take whatever the rest of the family is eating for dinner – pasta, soup, bologna sandwiches – and torque them in the food processor. Or you can cook and mash ahead, then freeze individual baby-sized portions in ice cube trays.
3. See how long you can go without shopping. Use a recipe generator such as Supercook.com to find ways to cook with what you already have. You’ll be surprised how many possibilities await in your pantry, and how much money you can save by stretching out your shopping trips.
4. Buy pre-bagged produce instead of bagging loose items yourself. You can save up to 15 percent per pound by buying apples, carrots and onions by the bag, and more than 50 percent by buying your potatoes by the bag, according to Steve and Annette Economides, authors of “Cut your Grocery Bill in Half.”
5. But don’t stop there – take the bags to the scale and choose which one weighs the most. Bags are priced by the unit instead of the pound, and since they must contain at least the advertised weight by law, manufacturers will err on the side of filling the bags with more produce than the required minimum.
6. Just as important as planning out your meals for the coming week is taking inventory of what you have already eaten. Pay attention to how much your family eats and what kinds of foods they eat the most of. Chances are, they’re consuming less than you think – which means you’re buying more than is necessary.
7. Go meatless one or more days per week. Meat can be expensive and can spoil if you’re not paying close enough attention. I don’t know about you, but I’m always either forgetting to take meat out of the freezer early enough to defrost it before dinner, or taking it out so early I end up forgetting about it until it goes bad in the fridge.
You can make pasta and salad a million delicious ways and substitute for meat with less expensive, non-meat proteins, such as eggs, cottage cheese, peas, peanut butter and brown rice.
8. Grow your own, but only if you enjoy it. Otherwise, your time won’t be worth the money you’re saving. You can eat all summer long on a single packet of seeds. Many seed varieties are already on clearance for $1 or less.
9. Hit the farmers’ market regularly and consider joining a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA membership is like a subscription that delivers in-season, local produce through the harvesting months. Visit www.growwny.org/csa for a directory of farms, or call 852-2857 .
10. It’s true: You will buy more if you shop hungry. Eat before you hit the store.
11. You may have the best intentions buying all those fresh fruits and veggies, but if you won’t realistically eat them before they go bad, opt for frozen instead of fresh.
12. Make a list and stick to it. I know that’s tired advice, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to keep your grocery budget on track. Many stores even have an app that will store your list for you and guide you to it with a map of the store.
When shopping in a warehouse club, be sure to stick to your list. Impulse purchases can add up quickly when buying in such large quantities.
13. Sure, ground beef with a leaner fat content is more expensive than the fattier variety, but if you don’t plan on using the grease that melts away, paying more for the leaner mix may be a better value.
14. Cook ahead and freeze. People buy takeout and packaged, processed foods because they’re convenient. They’re also more expensive. You can create your own convenience foods by cooking a big batch of something on the weekend, portioning some out in smaller containers, and freezing the rest. You’ll save money and eat much more healthfully. Your wallet and your body will thank you.
15. Stock up during sales. If you have the freezer and storage space, and can match a good coupon with a good sale for a great price, stock up. Only do this with items you use regularly and that you know you can finish before the expiration date.