Bush: Stretch those food dollars

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Get the most for your food budget! There are many ways to save money on the foods that you eat. The three main steps are planning before you shop, purchasing the items at the best price and preparing meals that stretch your food dollars.

"It's amazing how much you can save on your monthly food bill with a little preparation and planning," says University of Tennessee Extension agent Carla Bush.

"One of the most important steps for eating healthy on a budget is to get rid of junk foods, ones that provide calories and little or no nutritional value such as candy, soft drinks, chips, cookies, and most desserts," says Betty Greer, UT Family and Consumer Sciences professor and nutrition specialist.

Bush and Greer have these tips for stretching your food dollars:

1. Making healthy family meals can be a challenge, but it can be done. Consider the three "Ps" in pulling it all together planning, purchasing, and preparation.

2. Plan, plan, plan! Before you head to the grocery store, plan your meals for the week. Include meals like stews, casseroles, or stir-fries, which "stretch" expensive items into more portions. Check to see what foods you already have and make a list for what you need to buy.

3.      Purchasing: Get the most nutrition for your money. Check the local newspaper, online, and at the store for sales and coupons. Loyalty card often offer extra savings. Compare products using the nutrition information on the food label.

4. Compare and contrast. Locate the "unit price" on the shelf directly below the product. Use it to compare different brands and different sizes of the same brand to determine which is more economical.

5. Buy in bulk when you can safely store and use the food without waste. You do not save money if you have to throw food away. If you can use everything, it is almost always cheaper to buy foods in bulk, but check unit pricing to be sure.

6. Buy in season. Buying fruits and vegetables in season can lower the cost and add to the freshness! If you are not going to use them all right away, buy some that still need time to ripen.

7.  Convenience costs .... Convenience foods like frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables and instant rice, oatmeal, or grits will cost you more than if you were to make them from scratch. Take the time to prepare your own - and save!

8.      Easy on your wallet. Certain foods are typically low-cost options all year round. Try beans for a less expensive protein food. For vegetables, buy carrots, greens or potatoes. As for fruits, apples and bananas are good choices.

9.      Cook once ... eat all week! Prepare a large batch of favorite recipes on your day off (double or triple the recipe). Freeze in individual containers. Use them throughout the week and you won't have to spend money on take-out meals.

10. Get your creative juices flowing. Spice up your leftovers - use them in new ways. For example, try leftover chicken in a stir-fry or over a garden salad, or to make chicken chili. Remember, throwing away food is throwing away your money!

11. Eating out. Restaurants can be expensive. Save money by getting the early bird special, going out for lunch instead of dinner, or looking for "2 for 1" deals. Stick to water instead of ordering other beverages, which add to the bill.

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Carla Bush
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