Feeding your family without breaking the bank
Food prices continue to rise as energy and transportation costs increase. Here are some tips for feeding your family without breaking the bank:
Know your food budget. To determine your food budget, look at your current income and current expenses. Looking at your current food spending can be a challenge, but it is not impossible.
For one month, keep a detailed list of how much you spend on foods - list specifically what you buy and where (grocery store, eating out, vending machines, etc). Remember to also keep track of snacks and drinks purchased from vending machines, convenience stores or concession stands (where you may not get a receipt).
Once you have tracked your food purchases for a month, you can look at how much of your money is spent on foods eaten away from home and how much of your food bill is spent on junk foods like chips, soda and sweets.
If you are happy with the amount of money you are spending, then you can use this as your food budget. If you need to cut spending, then you may have to look at where you could trim your food budget (less eating out, buying less snacks, etc). Once your food budget is set, the next challenge is sticking to it.
Plan meals and snacks in advance and make a shopping list. Start by looking at what foods you already have and use this inventory list as a starting point for planning meals and snacks.
Look at weekly sales ads and try to plan meals using foods that are on sale. If you plan to make beef tacos, but you see that chicken is on sale, it might be more economical to make chicken tacos instead.
If you are trying to trim your food budget, think about going meatless at least once a week (since meat tends to use up most of our food budgets). Once meals are planned, you can prepare your shopping list, which should include staple foods that you are running out of plus the items needed to prepare your planned meals and snacks.
Check out other markets besides grocery stores. Dollar stores, farmers markets and wholesale clubs can also be good sources of economical food. But remember to always compare prices, check food labels and ingredient lists and check packages for expiration dates, tears or dents. If you have the space, growing a home garden is another way to save money (and increase your fruit and vegetable intake).
Reduce food waste. It has been estimated that as much as 25 percent of edible food is wasted in our country. Since throwing away food is just like throwing away money, choose foods carefully (especially produce) and make sure that all foods purchased can be eaten or frozen before they spoil or become unsafe.
Reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Cheap food is no bargain if it makes you or your family sick. If you buy foods that have been reduced for quick sale, use or freeze them immediately. Store food safely and properly to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. And when in doubt - throw the food out.
Brenda Anderson is a Victoria County extension assistant.