Wednesday, April 13, 2011

9 Ways to Save Money on Food

“I went back to work because someone had to pay for the groceries.”
-Bette Davis (actress)
Back in February I blogged about rising food prices. Nearly every day now I see stories on this topic. For example, a site named offers 9 Ways to Prepare for Food Inflation. Here's my comments on his suggestions.

1. Only shop every other week instead of weekly
Every visit to the grocery is a chance to be tempted into buying something you don't really need.

2. Buy in-season produce
Maybe. Everyone seems to think that produce from foreign countries will be more expensive than local produce. But shipping by sea or air freight is VERY cheap. I read of a company who flew their chickens to China to be hand cut and flown back - AND this was cheaper then cutting them in the US. For many items the production cost is far greater than the shipping cost.

So, take advantage of specials when produce is in season. But my advice is don't worry if the season is local or on the other side of the equator.

3. Eat Less
Our parent's lesson of eating everything on our plate is making us fat when plate size and portion size has grown tremendously. Pay attention to portion sizes on packages. Some of the frozen meals I bring to work serve 2. So I'm learning to cook it half-way, cut it in half, put half in Tupperware for the next day and continue cooking the remaining half. Note cooking time may be less when you do this since smaller portions cook faster.

4. Grow your own vegetables
My wife keeps trying but little luck so far.

5.  Compare unit costs and keep a price history
Don't be fooled by special deals that are not so special after all. The Frugal Dad writes, " I recently stocked up on a few items included in a 10/$10 sale and the next week the store returned the item to their normal price…$0.88."

6. Eat less meat and more eggs, beans, and vegetables
Omelettes are great for dinner. So is meatless chili. We find summer squash and mushrooms can substitute for meat in some dishes. But again keep an eye out for the unit price per pound. My wife has been buying chicken this past week at $0.49/lb while zucchini was selling for 10 times a much at $4 per pound. Shop the specials.

7. Avoid the Junk Food aisle
There's nothing there you really want to eat is there? Next time look at the cost per pound for your favorite junk food.

8. Eat leftovers
This was a no-brainer when I grew up but we have a friend whose husband refuses to eat leftovers. He insists that every night she prepare a fresh meal from scratch.
I love leftovers - these become future lunches for the office.

9. Freeze the extras
Freeze leftovers - they'll be more fun when you're forgotten the first time around. Take advantage of store specials and freeze what you can not use within a few days. Buy bulk, break it into smaller/family-sized packages and freeze those.

Bottom Line

You may have noticed that none of the items above address food inflation directly. It looks like Frugal Dad was using a hot topic headline to repost common-sense ideas. Let's re-examine the advice with inflation in mind:

Food prices naturally fluctuate over the course of a year. Just like the stock market you want to buy low so you can enjoy owning the goods when prices are high. "Buying in season" and shopping the specials and freezing the extras are all ways to take advantage of low price swings.

For true inflation you either need to stock up now or opt out.  Eating smaller portions, avoiding junk food, eating less meat, and growing your own are ways to opt out. You can also use the food you have more efficiently by using leftovers and freezing. My family is learning to use leftover bones. A ham bone gives great flavor when added to a pot of beans or rice. A chick carcass can make a stock for soup.  A famous chef said he kept vegetable scraps over many days then used them to make a vegetable broth stock.

When certain food items become too expensive, look for alternatives. In my lifetime I have observed the "good" fish (like salmon) become over harvested and expensive so grocers started selling "trash" fish that were never considered food fifty years ago. These include Talapia and Chilean Sea Bass. Personally I like these cheap white fish but think back on how the contents of the fish counter has changed over thirty years. Be open to discovering new foods.

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