The following tips will help people make smart choices while grocery shopping for family meals:
1. Plan meals — it’s healthier. You can make sure enough foods from each food group are on hand. Build the main entrée around whole grains or legumes, with smaller amounts of lean meats, poultry, fish or eggs. Plan on using leftovers in your menu.
2. Make a grocery list — then stick to it! You will save money, time and effort and will save gas with fewer trips to the store. Plus, you are less likely to make impulse purchases.
3. Buy on sale and in bulk. Check for sales on shelf-stable items or products you use regularly. Buy family size packages of meat or poultry; divide them up and freeze meal-size portions. Use coupons for items that are on your list. You can even download coupons to your smart phone. Also, read nutrition labels. Just because it is on sale does not mean that it is a healthy choice.
4. Cook in large quantities and freeze for later. Compare convenience foods to making it from scratch.
5. Do a garbage check. Money is tossed when food is tossed. Reduce, reuse or recycle foods. Lettuce, cabbage, onions & carrots usually cost less in the produce section of the store. But if only a small amount is needed, buying at the salad bar can save money if it reduces waste.
6. Brown bag it one or more days a week. It can be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich, raw veggies and a piece of whole fruit, or leftovers from last night. A typical fast-food meal or cafeteria meal can cost $5. Brown-bagging can provide healthier food and cut your lunch costs by half!
7. Don’t shop hungry. The will is weakest when temptation and hunger are combined.
8. Select produce in season. Fresh produce often costs less when it’s in season and has less distance to travel. Visit a local farmers’ market to take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables or grow your own.
9. Compare unit prices. Use the “unit price” (price per pound, ounce, or pint) to compare national brands with store and generic brands or to compare bulk and economy-sizes with single-serve or regular-size packages.
10. Check expiration dates. Use dating information (“sell by” and “best used by”) to help select the freshest foods at the store. Once you’re home, store foods so that the oldest will be used first.
11. Think before you drink. Buy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Limit soft drinks and fancy coffee.
12. Pay attention at the checkout. Make sure prices ring up as advertised or as indicated on the shelf label, especially for sale items. Avoid checkout temptation.
Best buys for cost and nutrition
Breads and grains: Look for bargains on day-old bread and other bakery products, buy regular rice, oatmeal, etc. instead of instant or flavored types.
Vegetables and fruit: Look for large bags of frozen vegetables, and make your own salads rather than buying the pre-packaged varieties. Canned or frozen fruit are good alternatives to fresh. Believe it or not, a bag of potatoes is cheaper than a bag of potato chips!
Dairy: Use powdered reconstituted milk for cooking, buy fresh milk in large containers (buy on sale and freeze). Buy yogurt in bulk and add your own fruit.
Protein: Look for specials on meat. Buy whole chickens, skin them and cut into serving pieces yourself. Eggs, chicken, turkey and cooked dried beans/peas are usually the most economical choices for protein.
Want healthy recipes? Try these sites:
• Cooking Light: www.cookinglight.com.
• Eating Well: www.eatingwell.com.
• Small Step: www.smallstep.gov. (Click “Eat Better” to get to recipes.)
• Food and Health: http://foodandhealth.com.
• Meals Matter: www.mealsmatter.org.
Sandi Morris is a clinical nutrition manager for IU Health Goshen Hospital.