We are all experiencing the budget crunch. Race entry fees are getting more expensive and food costs are soaring. Even though smart eating can seem difficult when you are counting your pennies, but it doesn’t have to be. With careful meal planning, shopping, and cooking you can trim both your waistline and your food budget. Frequent eating out can be disastrous to your pocketbook. (Spending $5 a day on a "value meal" for lunch adds up to more than $1,200 per year.) Even if you spend a little more on convenience items to make your lunches, you will probably save more in the long run. Here are some suggestions to help you get the most of your food budget.
Monthly Budgeting and Planning
• Plan meals and snacks for your family before you go shopping. Use the foods you have on hand first and use leftovers for meals during the week.
• Base your diet on the Food Guide Pyramid recommendations.
• Use coupons ONLY if they make items you usually buy cost even less. Always check newspaper ads or store flyers for weekly specials.
Shopping Strategies that Save Money
• Shop the perimeter of the store first where you’ll find the basics for a healthful diet (produce, meats and dairy) instead of stacking your cart with junk food fillers.
• Use the unit price to compare costs between brands and different sized packages. Divide the total price by the number of ounces to come up with the unit price per ounce. Choose the cheaper variety!
• Choose generic whenever possible. Check higher or lower shelves for cheaper items because more expensive items are kept at eye-level.
• Watch for mistakes at the checkout line and always double check your receipt and change.
• Buy apples, oranges, grapefruit, potatoes, onions, etc., by the bag, not by the piece—it’s cheaper and will fill more lunch bags and cover more meals.
• Always shop for produce that’s in season, for the best flavor and prices. Compare frozen and fresh produce; buy the cheaper variety; they are equally nutritious.
• When buying canned foods, choose those that are packed in juice and low sodium.
• Choose plain brown rice and whole wheat English muffins and tortillas.
• Check out the day old breads (a great value and still fresh).
• Buy cereals and other grains without fancy packaging (in bulk) to store in airtight containers. Oatmeal is nutritious, economical and can be dressed up with brown sugar, bananas, etc.
• Whole wheat pasta is healthier but more expensive than white, so use a little of each!
• Ready-to-cook meats are more expensive (e.g. marinated boneless, skinless chicken). Buy plain and skin/season yourself.
• Even though it is more expensive, use 93% lean ground beef. You get more edible yield than higher fat varieties.
• Use canned fish and chicken for sandwiches, enchiladas, casseroles, and salads.
• Extend your protein dollars by eating two or more meatless meals weekly.
• Soups, stews, chili, and spaghetti with sauce stretch your food dollars further and make filling meals (more veggies and potatoes or rice, less meat).
• Used dried milk powder for recipes, use fluid milk for drinking (choose skim or 1%).
• Buy block cheese and shred it yourself for recipes (versus pre-shredded).
• Use real foods instead of expensive supplements. Instead of gels, use hard candy, raisins, jelly beans or other sweet treats. Make your own energy bars rather than buying them. My friend Becca has a great recipe: http://selfconceptsrecipes.blogspot.com/2009/07/granola-bars.html
Instead of expensive protein shakes post workout, try real foods. You want to aim for a 4:1 ratio (carb to protein). Some great examples are chocolate milk, yogurt with low fat granola and fruit, string cheese and whole grain crackers, or cottage cheese and fruit.
• Buy gels and bars in bulk. Look for sales.
• Switch to generic vitamin/mineral supplements.