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Healthful, Inexpensive Meals at Home a Reality

Checking grocery store ads, planning menus, making a grocery list and using coupons are ways to serve nutritious, inexpensive meals.

The average American eats out four to five times a week, and the U.S. has five fast-food restaurants for every supermarket.

“However, the cost and time savings of eating out is a misconception,” says Megan Ness, coordinator of the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education and Family Nutrition programs. “One trip to the grocery store could provide meals for a week or more, whereas the money and time spent on one trip to a fast-food restaurant, including gas and time spent waiting for your order, is only good for one meal.”

In addition, many Americans are overfed but undernourished.

“We eat an excess of empty calories but lack real nutrition to keep us healthy,” Ness says.

Plus, the rising cost of food can put a strain on families’ budgets, according to Debra Pankow, NDSU Extension family economics specialist. While energy prices in the Midwest dropped .7 percent in August, food prices went up .8 percent. In comparison, food prices nationally went up .5 percent.

But that doesn’t mean eating nutritious food necessarily is more expensive.

“Tried and true food shopping techniques such as using coupons, planning meals and shopping with a list are more important than ever for those wishing to stretch their food dollar,” Pankow says.

Here are some tips from the NDSU Extension Service on making quick, healthful meals without breaking the budget:

  • Check the weekly grocery store ads and plan menus around what’s on sale.
  • Make a grocery list to cut down on your trips to the store. That can save time and money, and help you avoid impulse buying. Remember to check what you already have at home.
  • Limit your shopping to one or two stores. Driving to several stores for special deals can waste time and gas.
  • Use coupons only to purchase foods you were planning to buy anyway.
  • Compare store and national brands. Most store brands are similar in quality to name brands but cost less.
  • Compare prices using “unit prices.” The unit pricing on the front edge of the shelf shows you whether the regular-priced super-sized package is a better deal than the sale-priced regular-sized package. Be sure to look up and down the grocery shelves. Sometimes the higher-priced items are at eye level.
  • Aim for serving a variety of foods from all of the food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein foods.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. If buying canned produce, choose fruits without added sugar or syrup and vegetables without added salt, butter or cream sauces.
  • Turn leftovers into “planned-overs.” For example, if you had whole roasted chicken last night, shred what’s left, add mayonnaise and chopped celery and use it for sandwiches. Or use leftover spaghetti sauce to make lasagna or homemade pizza, or freeze it for a quick dinner later.
  • Find a block of time when you can make a few recipes at once and then freeze them to use later.
  • Create healthful snacks at home.
  • Don’t use a credit card to pay for groceries unless you plan to pay off your bill each month. Otherwise, you may be adding interest charges to the cost of the food.

For more information on making nutritious meals and stretching your food dollar, visit http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/eatsmart and http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/foodwise.

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Oct. 5, 2011

Source:Megan Ness, (701) 231-6515, megan.l.ness@ndsu.edu
Source:Debra Pankow, (701) 231-8593, debra.pankow@ndsu.edu
Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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