Don't let the downturn in the economy keep you from eating healthy meals. With a few smart shopping strategies, you can dine like a queen without spending like one. We set ourselves a $15 limit per recipe and came up with four dinners that incorporate premium ingredients like organic yogurt, fresh herbs, and free-range chicken. Eating on a budget never tasted so good.
The key to eating well in the face of rising food costs? Smart shopping. These six essential strategies will keep your checkbook in balance. Also, be sure to read our top 10 food bargains.
1. Check the Sales
Don't leave the house without first taking a few minutes to scan store flyers (if you don't have a paper version, check online); try to plan three or four meals around what's on sale.
2. Make a List
Sounds like a no-brainer, but about half of us don't write down what we need before we hit the aisles. Not doing so can lead to an armload of shopping bags and nothing for dinner.
3. Compare Prices
Be sure to check the unit pricing, as bigger isn't always better-and that goes for packaged food as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Pre-bagged lemons or peppers, for example, may wind up actually costing you more than individual ones.
4. Eat Seasonally
The price of produce can vary depending on whether it was trucked from across the state or flown in from across the globe. Plan your meals according to what's in season locally.
5. Go Generic
Most major supermarket chains have introduced organic house brands, such as Safeway's O Organics, Publix's GreenWise Market, Stop & Shop's Nature's Promise, and Whole Foods' 365 Organic Everyday Value. The price difference can prove considerable, particularly for dairy products.
6. Use Coupons
No, not the ones for processed snacks and frozen dinners. Many organic and natural-food manufacturers now offer their own coupons, even for dairy products and produce. Look online; companies like Horizon Organic offer printable coupons. You'll also find coupon booklets like Mambo Sprouts online, or at the customer-service desk of many markets.
We used unit pricing -- the price of a product in terms of a standard unit of measure (i.e., a teaspoon, an ounce) -- to calculate the cost of the ingredients.
- Chicken Breasts with Fennel, Carrots, and Couscous; total cost: $13.02
- Fish Tacos with Cabbage, Jicama, and Black Beans; total cost: $14.54
- Lentil and Sweet-Potato Stew; total cost: $7.80
- Whole-Wheat Penne with Sausage, Chard, and Artichoke Hearts; total cost: $13.47