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Prairie Fare: Tame Your Grocery Bill

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Nutrition Specialist
The increase in grocery prices has prompted consumers to seek out inexpensive recipes.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I may have looked like a cartoon character the other day. You’ve probably seen the characters: Their eyes pop out of the sockets when they see something really surprising. Usually beads of sweat fly off their foreheads or steam shoots out of their ears.

I was looking at my credit card bill.

I tried a little experiment the last few months. I put all of my food purchases for our family of five, except for school lunches, of course, on my credit card.

I wanted to see how much we were spending on food. Just like others, I’ve noted the reports about rising food prices on TV, newspapers and magazines.

I was a bit surprised when the evidence was in my hands.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, overall food prices increased 4 percent between 2006 and 2007, with another 3 percent or 4 percent increase expected in the coming year. Prices of some items, such as milk and eggs, increased 20 percent to 40 percent, depending on where you live.

Many factors are involved in increasing food prices, including higher commodity prices and increasing fuel prices. After all, most of our food travels many miles from the point of production to the grocery store.

The increase in grocery prices has prompted consumers to seek out inexpensive recipes. According to the results of a recent analysis of Web-based searches on, consumers are looking for recipes featuring ground beef, pasta and rice.

Consumers are searching Web sites for home versions of popular restaurant menu items, too.

Here’s a grocery list full of savings tips. Consider trying the ones that apply to you.

  • Avoid using a credit card for food purchases unless you intend to pay off the balance each month. Think about adding credit card interest rates onto the food cost.
  • Spend about 30 minutes planning your weekly menus. Use the sale ads and write a shopping list. Keep the list on your refrigerator and grab it as you head off to the store.
  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Everything looks tasty when you’re hungry.
  • Consider shopping without children. While kids can learn many valuable lessons about food during a shopping trip, they also may prompt purchases you didn’t intend. Marketers call this “pester power.”
  • Shop in one or two stores instead of driving to several stores for special deals. Consider your gas, too.
  • Be familiar with the store layout to save time. Go down the aisles that include items on your list.
  • For quick shopping trips, shop the perimeter of the store where staples, such as milk, fresh produce and bread are located.
  • Check store brands. Most are similar in quality to name brands.
  • Clip coupons, but only for the things you need. Some stores double the value of coupons to a certain point. You can clip up to 30 percent from your grocery bill if you use coupons wisely. Using coupons just because you clipped them, however, may result in items in your cupboard you may not use.
  • Compare prices. Bring a calculator or refer to "unit pricing" (cost per ounce). The unit pricing on the front edge of the shelving helps you know quickly whether the regular-priced super-sized package is a better deal than the sale-priced regular-sized package.

Here’s a recipe featuring some cost-effective staples found in most homes. It’s easy to make, too. Visit the NDSU Extension Service “FoodWi$e” Web site at for more information about reducing your food costs.

Enchilada Rice and Beef

1 pound lean ground beef

1/2 c. chopped onions (or 1 Tbsp. onion powder)

14-ounce can whole-kernel corn

4 Tbsp. dry taco seasoning mix

2/3 c. dry rice, cooked according to package directions

1/2 c. grated cheese (such as cheddar)

1/2 c. sliced mushrooms, olives or any favorite vegetable (optional)

Cook rice according to package directions. Brown the beef with chopped onions. Drain juice and fat from cooked meat and onions. Add corn (undrained), taco seasoning, rice and vegetables to meat. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add grated cheese to top; cover and allow to stand for five minutes.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 240 calories, 4.5 grams (g) of fat, 30 g of carbohydrate and 2 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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