Your food budget

Your Food Budget What methods can we use to stretch our food budget? As with all cost containment areas the key is planning. While making a shopping list is important more is required to maximize your food budget. One good idea is to match what you need for the fridge and pantry weekly with items that are on “special”. Another is to stock up on items that you use every week when they are at reduced prices (it’s like investing). If there are outlet stores in your town they can be a great source for everyday items at substantial savings. The key with these stores is to buy several of the high use items when available as they probably will not be in stock the next time you visit. Finally, meal planning can avoid wasted product. Prepare what can be assumed at the meal or prepare a double portion and refrigerate or freeze the balance for a future meal. Accurate planning will avoid waste and save $$. One final tip is to partner with a friend on certain items. Often large packs are offered at substantial discount but you may not have the freezer space to store the pack (extra beyond the initial meal). An example of this is the Boston Pork Roast Twin pack that sometimes is on sale for around a dollar a pound. The entire pack may weigh around 12 pounds, but if you and a friend split the purchase it provides each of you with a more manageable size.

         What we eat matters; everything we ingest is a drug. That may sound a bit strange, but it is a fact that everything you ingest has an impact on health. Excessive consumption of carbohydrates is like a drug that creates body fat & has long term negative consequences. One myth concerns fat. Your body needs a limited amount of fat & consumption of fat does not create fat.  While protein creates muscle (but only with exercise) over consumption will create health issues. The key is to consume, in balance, the amount of calories needed to maintain good health. Over consumption will result in weight gain & most likely involve primarily carbohydrates which creates fat.  Typically we only need 2,300 calories a day to maintain good health, especially with a good balance of Carbs, Protein & Fat. Unfortunately most Americans consume over 3,000 calories daily & most of the over consumption is in Carbs. Almost 35% of our population is obese & that trend has continued upward for the past 20 years or more. Fancy diets are not necessary or effective, reduced consumption is the key.

         Healthy alternatives without the high cost: We have been bombarded with advertising & public information imploring us to eat healthy. I really think that most of us understand what we should do, then why don’t we? One factor is the high cost of fresh & healthy alternatives. While these ingredients are usually less expensive than eating out, the prices do put off most of us with moderate incomes. There are several, what I call, secondary “health food” items, that help stretch the food budget. While the purist may disagree there are items that are better both in terms of health benefit & cost. Among these are dried beans (all varieties), brown rice, fresh potatoes, canned or frozen green beans, canned or frozen spinach, other canned or frozen greens, tomatoes (canned or fresh), etc. I encourage fresh over canned or frozen when the market and price permits. When it comes to protein in today’s market chicken & pork are great values.  Locally 10 lb. bags chicken of leg/thighs have been “on special” at $.39 a lb & certain cuts of pork have been on “special” at $.79 a lb.

         Are there less expensive alternatives to “fast food” when time is at a premium? Absolutely, but here again planning is the key. One great time saver is a crock pot. Low end pots work just fine and a decent one can be acquired for less than $20. You simply throw in meat & several vegetables in the pot in the morning on the low setting and dinner will be ready when you return in the afternoon.  I often make enough for two meals and then refrigerate half of the pot for another dinner later in the week. By varying the assortment of meat, vegetables and spices you can easily come up with a half dozen combinations that will provide a variety of taste sensations. Using this method 2 or 3 times a week will be a real time & money saver as well as help you avoid the unhealthy fast food habit.

         How much of your budget allows for eating out? Eating out can be fun, but also expensive & often dangerous to your health. If your income permits, I would encourage you to establish a monthly budget specifically for that purpose & stick to it. Eating out will cost a minimum of 3 times & as much 6 times the amount compared to eating at home. For most of us eating out should be considered a luxury. For health reasons you are encouraged to avoid fast food establishments unless you intend to eat salad. Many fast food meals contain in excess of 1,000 calories without adding a desert. If you must have a ¼ lb burger & fries it can be prepared at home for less than $1.50 a serving.