reduce-food-costsIt’s easy to cut your food costs, eat nutritious, tasty meals, follow your meal plan and stay within your food budget IF you teach yourself to be a smarter food shopper and preparer.

Few people experience the luxury of having unlimited income to spend on anything and everything and perhaps your income has not kept pace with inflation, or your income has dropped since you retired. Whatever your reason for wanting to control or lower food costs, you can do it (in part) by learning a few food shopping tips and putting them into practice. You can also do it without decreasing the variety, healthiness or tastiness of the dishes on your menu.

Here are some tips on how to become a smarter food consumer.

1 One of the easiest ways to cut food costs is to eat a vegetarian meal three or four times a week. Meats are among the most expensive grocery items, and leaving meat out of your meal plan three or four times a week can significantly reduce your food costs.

Another advantage of eating meatless meals is that they can help you limit the amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol you consume–which can improve the health of your cardiovascular system.

There are many tasty, nutritious, economical vegetarian dishes that can be part of your meal plan.

2 When you do buy meat, choose less expensive cuts.

Although the less costly cuts of meat are usually a bit tougher than the expensive cuts, you can use marinades and cooking techniques to tenderize the less expensive cuts.

Since cheaper meats also tend to be lower in fat than expensive cuts, using the cheaper cuts can also help you reduce saturated fat and cholesterol consumption.

You might also want to purchase and use ground beef mixed with textured soybeans. This blend is usually cheaper than whole beef and tastes almost the same (especially in meatloaf and similar dishes).

3 Buy fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season. Many kinds of produce can be frozen, so you can buy in quantity and freeze them for use when they are not in season.

4 Buy generic and store-brand foods. These are usually cheaper than national brands, and are of good quality.

5 Use unit pricing to determine the costs of foods. You can unit price by dividing the cost of an item by the number of ounces it contains.

For example, if a 16-ounce bag of beans is 48], its unit price is 3] per ounce. The same brand of beans in a 32-ounce bag might cost 80], so its unit price would be 2 1/2] per ounce. Buying the bigger bag would cost you 16] less than buying two of the smaller bags.

Compare the unit prices of several brands and sizes to find the best values. If you take a pocket calculator to the store with you, or load up the calculator app on your smartphone, you can do this quite rapidly and save yourself several dollars on each week’s grocery bill.

6 Avoid buying foods on impulse. One of the best ways to do this is by making a list of exactly what you are going to buy, and then sticking to the list. Use your meal plan to guide you in making the list. Also, avoid shopping for food when you are hungry. Everything looks good if your stomach is growling, so shop after a meal.

7 Watch your local newspaper for coupons and sales. Most newspapers have a special food section one day a week that will tell you what items are on special at certain stores. Buy extra quantities of foods that are on sale and store them for later use.

There are two kinds of coupons you can clip from newspapers and magazines: store coupons and manufacturers’ coupons.

Store coupons are good only at the store which issues them.

Manufacturers’ coupons can be used at any store for the item named in the coupon.

Clip coupons for those items you use and arrange them by product (dairy, canned goods, frozen foods, etc.) in a coupon notebook or set of envelopes. When you are making up your grocery list, check your coupons and take the ones you can use with you.

8 Do not buy convenience foods such as frozen entrees, TV dinners and ready-made pizzas. You can make your own convenience foods by cooking extra portions of your favorite dishes and freezing the extras for future meals.

9 Use leftovers as soon as possible, before they have spoiled. Have the rest of last night’s casserole for today’s lunch and fill out your meal with whatever is necessary to meet your meal plan.

10 Stretch your milk dollar by using nonfat dry milk. You can get used to the taste by making a 50-50 blend of your regular milk and the dry milk.

You can also use the dry milk in recipes which require milk–you probably won’t be able to taste the difference.

Got any other tips? Share them in the comments below!