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How to stretch your food budget

  • Story Highlights
  • Skip the meat and serve vegetarian meals a couple of times a week
  • Make weekly meal plans to decrease unnecessary spending and waste
  • For maximum savings, skip convenience products; instead, do it yourself
By Ann Taylor Pittman
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Cooking Light

While your food budget may have tightened , you need not sacrifice taste and freshness to save a few dollars. Aim for the best value in terms of quality, freshness, and good nutrition to feed your family healthful foods. We'll show you how.

Serve one or two vegetarian meals a week to cut costs, or use a small amount of meat to add flavor to a dish.

Serve one or two vegetarian meals a week to cut costs, or use a small amount of meat to add flavor to a dish.

Eat more meatless meals.

Meat accounts for the most expense at grocery store visits, so make one or two vegetarian dinners a week to cut costs. Dishes based on pantry staples such as rice, whole grains, beans, and legumes are protein-rich, filling, and inexpensive; add seasonal produce for crunch, freshness, and color. A bonus: Research shows eating more plant-based foods may lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. MyRecipes.com: Wheat berry salad with goat cheese

Make a meal plan.

This strategy may be the most challenging to consistently employ but can make the biggest dent in your budget. Sit down once a week and plan all the meals for that week, and then shop only for the items you need to prepare those meals. Allow for leftovers in your meal plan, and be realistic about how many nights you might eat out or be too busy to cook. Not only does this strategy cut down on the amount of food you buy at the grocery store, but it also decreases the amount of food you waste. Learn more about menu planning with Cooking Light's guide. MyRecipes: Grilled spice-rubbed whole chicken

Do it yourself.

For maximum savings, skip convenience products, as you pay a premium for the work that's done for you. For just a few extra minutes, you can save by chopping your own produce, for example. On the weekends when you have extra time, or some nights after putting the kids to bed, do a little work that puts you ahead for the next day, like making a pizza dough that sits in the fridge overnight. MyRecipes.com: Grilled pepper, onion, and sausage calzones

Learn to stretch meat, poultry, and fish.

Instead of making protein the center of the plate, use it sparingly for flavor and texture -- almost as if it's a condiment. Extend beef by tossing a conservative amount in a vegetable-rich stir-fry, for example, or combine a small quantity of shrimp with pasta. Pizzas, calzones, pasta bakes, and casseroles are easy dishes that use this strategy to great effect. Health.com: 10 easy ways to eat natural

Eat in season.

Out-of-season produce is costly and lacks flavor. Skip it; instead choose fruits and vegetables that are in season. When produce is at its peak, there's an abundance of it -- and you can find it for a bargain. In the summer, enjoy tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, bell peppers, and more. During fall and winter, look to winter squashes; dark, leafy greens; citrus; and sweet potatoes. And in spring, try berries, asparagus, artichokes, and fresh peas.

For more tips on making healthy taste great, try Cooking Light - CLICK HERE

Copyright 2009 Cooking Light magazine. All rights reserved.

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