Stretching your food dollar – Part 2

Healthy foods on a smart shopping budget.

The majority of people do not plan what they are having for dinner until 20 minutes before they leave work. Trying to eat healthy and stay within a budget can be very challenging. Making a shopping list and planning meals ahead of time can help to organize your trips to the grocery stores. Consider what you like to cook and what your family enjoys eating to help plan your menus. Time can be a challenge for preparing meals at home, so consider cooking ahead when time permits and freezing meals. Cooking a larger quantity of meats that can be frozen and used in later recipes will save a lot of preparation time.

Michigan State University Extension offers some strategies to help you keep within your food budget at the grocery store.

  • Buy generic, versus brand name
  • Check the unit price
  • Watch for “hidden persuaders”
  • Read the labels
  • Check the list of ingredients

In many instances the only difference in buying name brand products instead of generic is the price. Even when using coupons to buy name brands, the generic may still cost less. The unit price is the price per pound or per ounce. The tag on the shelf should tell you the total price and the unit price. Usually, the larger container is cheaper, but consider storage space, shelf life and cost.

“Hidden persuaders” are items we spend our money on, but did not plan to buy. This can easily happen when grocery stores tempt shoppers with samples of fun, expensive, convenient food. The more time we spend shopping, the more we will buy. “Convenience” or “ready to eat” foods can be quick and easy, but usually the cost is much more than if you made it yourself. One of the best ways to choose nutritious foods is by reading the “Nutrition Facts Label.” The nutrition facts label can tell you the amount of fat, sugar, sodium as well as the nutrient amounts like fiber, iron and calcium.

Other helpful tips are to shop alone if possible and not when you are hungry. Be flexible when shopping; take advantage of unadvertised sales and change your plan if there are marked down items for quick sales. Be careful if buying perishable items that you use them quickly.

MSU Extension offers a series of classes adapted from Oregon State University Extension about eating healthy on a budget for people who are on food assistance. Participants learn strategies and tips that can help them to choose healthy food and stay within a budget.

For more about shopping on a budget read part one of this two-part series.

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