August 28, 2008

Planning Meals Can Cut Your Grocery Bill

By Jane Glenn Haas

Here's something to chew on: It's easier for older people to save substantially on their grocery bills if they switch from boxed or prepared foods to cooking from scratch.

Janet Little, a nutritionist for the California chain Henry's Farmers Mar-ket, says families of four can eat on $75 a week and older folks on about half that if the cooks do a little planning ahead.

With the Food Marketing Institute estimating families spend a minimum of $115 a week on groceries, shaving $40 a week from the bill saves about $2,000 a year, she says.

Even better: By purchasing raw ingredients to prepare meals at home, consumers can better ensure that they are getting their recommended daily allowance of nutrients, instead of going by the harder to determine dietary contents of pre-packaged and processed foods.

Ms. Little provides more advice:

Q: You say the secret is planning ahead?

A: Planning ahead is going to save you money. When we don't have a plan, we spend more money at the grocery and we buy things we might not use and so the food rots. When you plan a meal, you can stretch the food for three days.

Q: How do you do that?

A: Buy a whole chicken - or two - depending on the size of the family. Roast the chicken and serve it with broccoli and brown rice. The next day, make chicken enchiladas or a casserole. Then there's soup and salad. One item stretched into three different meals.

Q: Got recipes?

A: Of course. Go to www.henrys for lots of recipes.

Q: You also tout other what we would call "old fashioned" solutions.

A: Yes, like oats. They help lower cholesterol, and one pound will probably last you a whole week.

Q: Other suggestions?

A: It's crazy to buy the 100-calorie snack packs. Buy something similar in bulk and it's a fraction of the cost, or save money by going meatless once in a while. One of the biggest food expenses is meat.

Q: But we need protein.

A: Rely on eggs. They are a great source of protein. I always have a dozen at my house. Hard-boiled eggs are great snack items. There is some cholesterol but also the yolk contains lecithin and lutene, so it's kind of a wash.

Q: I don't have the time to cook every day.

A: Then make a dish and freeze half of it. Eat the frozen half a couple of weeks later and it won't make you think of leftovers.

Q: We have gotten ourselves hooked on convenience foods, haven't we?

A: Here are some tips for trimming the fat from your grocery spending.

* Plan out meals. Only buy the ingredients for meals in your weekly plan.

* Pay attention. Stock up on staples when they go on sale.

* Reduce driving. Don't go to multiple stores to save a few dollars.

* Buy from bulk bins. Buy just what you need.

* Minimize prepared and processed foods and avoid waste. Eat perishables first.

* Freeze your meals in portion sizes.

* Look for budget-conscious recipes.

* Consider meatless meals.

* Choose local and in-season foods which are typically priced lower.

Q: Some things you can't save on, however.

A: Right. You might as well buy milk by the gallon. It's cheaper.

Q: Are there tricks to keeping produce fresh?

A: Here's one. Most fruits release ethylene gas, and most vegetables receive the gas. So store them separately in the refrigerator. That trick right there will save you from having so much rotten fruit.

Originally published by Jane Glenn Haas The Orange County Register.

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