Healthy eats on the cheap

Think your food budget has gotten out of hand? Yes, I did too. With 3 hungry kids to feed, my weekly outlay for eats for a family of 5 was less than the Thrifty Budget of the USDA’s Food Plans. How’d I do it? One local store had a quarterly sale on a 10-pound bag of chicken leg quarters that I’d portion out in meal-sized freezer bags. Rice and flour (25 lbs each) from the co-op just around the corner stored bug-free in the freezer, along with giant boxes of cold cereal bought on sale. One year, whole turkeys weren’t just Thanksgiving fare but a monthly source of soup and pasta sauces. Here are a few more ways I utilized that Mary Ostyn, mom of 10, employs as well:

  1. Cook from scratch. Yes, instead of pre-packaged frozen chicken strips or fish-sticks, jarred spaghetti sauce, or boxed pasta dishes, start with the whole food product. It’ll be healthier, taste fresher, and cost less. Baked instead of fried, fresh tomatoes with no sugar added, and pasta tossed with pesto or capers and tomatoes will go much further. Plus, you’ll still have ingredients on hand to make it a second, third and fourth time.
  2. Generic rules! When I found out that generic or store brand foods are packaged in the same facilities as the big name brands, I made the switch. The cost difference makes it worthwhile. No flavor challenges here.
  3. Fresh, canned or frozen? Fresh produce, unless in season, is costly, so stick to in-season only. Frozen veggies and fruits are harvested at the height of ripeness then flash frozen, ensuring more nutrition per bite than fresh (especially if imported a long distance). Canned? Not a problem, either. Just rinse to remove salt or added sugars.
  4. Shop less. The more often you cross the threshold of your store, the more you spend (watch out for those end-caps, baby, designed to turn your head). Shop once or twice a month for big ticket items and only with a list and a full belly. Local stores often have weekly sales on fresh food items so make a beeline for those then exit quickly!
  5. Let go of store attachment. While Whole Foods has cornered the market for health food, you can save big bucks on same items at co-ops, smaller branded stores, and even local markets. Down the street, you can buy wild salmon for $7.99/lb because the owner buys it fresh daily from the seaport district (compared to $18.99 – $20.99 at Whole Foods). Market Basket sells high quality canned beans at one-third the price of other store brands. A local ethnic store sells roasted almonds for a fraction of the cost at high-end stores and another makes homemade Greek yogurt at half the price of big name brands (tastes better, too). Russo’s, to name a neighborhood favorite, has the cheapest produce, local tofu, and homemade pasta. Save your love of high-priced luxury markets for special occasions and grace the others more frequently. Not saying you have to go to all of these every time you shop, but if you’re near one, pop in.
  6. Unit price throw-down. Big box stores boast cheaper prices but as a savvy shopper, you know to look at the unit price – it will tell you the cost per ounce so it’s easier to comparison shop. You’ll find that bad-boy number on the shelving unit.
  7. Spend money to save money? No way. Coupons can save you lots but if you’re buying a product just because you have a coupon, consider it’s worth. Maybe you’re better off not snipping them out of the flyer in the first place.

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