Stretching family food dollars
by MARLENE FRITZ
WHEN GROCERY BUDGETS are tight, low-income families are wise to stretch their scarce dollars across foods that are dense in nutrition. Even before the current economic crisis, Idaho ranked 37th among states in food security, with an estimated 66,300 families worried that their incomes won’t cover their groceries.
UI Extension Family and Consumer Sciences educators Rhea Lanting, Laura Sant, and Marnie Spencer offer the following suggestions to help Idaho families stretch their food dollars.
Plan ahead. It’s the most important step in saving money on food. This means plan meals: make a menu, write a grocery list based on that menu, and stick to the list while shopping. Some people plan a weekly menu based on food on sale that week. Others plan a 2-week menu because they are paid every 2 weeks. Others make a 1-month or even 2-month menu.
Buy ingredients for one or two super quick meals for days when the original plan doesn’t work out (chili and a salad; soup to which you can add vegetables). A family can cook a quick meal and have it on the table in a shorter time than driving to a fast-food restaurant. That can be cheaper and more nutritious. Use these tips to minimize impulse buys.
Shop weekly ads for bargains. Stock up on foods you prefer as your budget allows. Basing menus around food on sale that week can save money. Or, if you have a standard menu that you cycle through, buy items for meals when they are on sale.
Use coupons/compare prices. Clip coupons for items you use regularly, especially family favorites. But know that a store brand item is sometimes less expensive than a name brand item with a coupon. Larger is not always less expensive per unit (ounce, cup, etc.) than a small or medium package. Write down prices of food items at various stores to determine if a “sale price” saves money.
Shop alone to decrease impulse purchases. If you shop with children, take one child at a time. Use the trip as a teaching opportunity. Giving young children a choice of two acceptable items can empower them. “Should we buy red grapes or green grapes today?”
Learn the store’s layout to find foods quickly. This helps avoid cruising store aisles and impulse buys.
Shop less often. Shop only once a week for food. More trips may mean more impulse purchases.
Avoid waste. The most expensive food you buy is what you throw away. Only buy quantities you will use before food spoils, or freeze leftovers for future meals.
Drink tap water. Bottled water, sodas, and sugar y drinks pinch your budget and add no nutritional value.
Eat healthier. Reduce portion sizes and cut down on foods that add calories but little nutritional value to save money and improve health.
Take your lunch. Use leftovers for meals at work, school, or wherever you go. Freezer packs keep food safe if you don’t have access to a refrigerator.
Commit to enjoy eating together. Cooking, eating, and talking can bring out the best in families. Use conversation starters such as: What foods would you like to help cook for dinner? What kinds of foods do you like to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? What are your favorite foods in the meals we make at home? What other foods or recipes would you like to tr y? Mealtimes are wonderful places to build strong relationships, a sense of pride and accomplishment, and memories for a lifetime.
Contact Rhea Lanting at email@example.com, Laura Sant at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Marnie Spencer at email@example.com