By Rebecca Seratt
A very common goal that a lot of people set this time of year is to save more money in the coming months. One area you may be able to reduce spending is on your food budget. A food budget includes all groceries you purchase within a set period of time (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) and the money you spend on dining out, morning coffee, vending machine snacks, and similar items. If you are unsure of what your exact food budget is, take time to examine how much food you buy and how often you and your family dine out. After you have a good estimate of how much you spend on food, look at where you can reduce costs.
It is no surprise that some of the costlier food items we purchase come from the meat department at the supermarket. While lean cuts of meat can be great sources of protein and other nutrients, they can also be expensive. Here are some food alternatives from former UT Nutritionist, Dr. Betty Greer, on how you can keep protein in your diet without spending a small fortune on meat products.
Dried and canned beans and legumes of all types.Lentils are especially healthy and cook quickly. All dried beans, legumes and peas are easy to cook. Greer suggests rinsing the beans and then cooking them overnight in a slow cooker. In the morning, portion them out to suit your needs and to freeze for later meals. For seasoning ideas, search the Internet for “healthy recipes” and your bean of choice. Choose recipes that you have ingredients for or that your family will like. Canned beans, Greer adds, are good to stock in the pantry to have on hand for quick meals and for food during power failures.
Eggs and low-fat milk. Eggs are nutritious, but limit your intake if you’re on a low cholesterol diet. A single egg has about seven grams of protein. If you are milk intolerant, try soymilk and other forms of non-dairy milk. Just be sure to check the label for calcium content and vitamin D.
High-protein sandwich breads. Find them by comparing labels.
Cheese. Cheese is a good source of protein when used in moderation, for example melted on toast for breakfast. Greer says protein during breakfast is important for a feeling of fullness that will sustain you to lunch.
Canned salmon, tuna and chicken. These are convenient and low in cost. Salmon, in particular, adds healthy fats to your diet. You can extend these meats by adding ingredients to make patties, salads, pasta dishes and more.
Nuts and nut butters. They’re high in fat, so dietary recommendations suggest limiting them to three to four ounces a week, but nuts are good for protein and healthy fats, along with minerals that our bodies need. Of the nut butters, peanut butter is an economical choice. Other nut butters include almond and cashew.
Greek yogurt. This dense yogurt can provide 15 or more grams of protein in a single serving. If you don’t like it plain, Greer suggests you chop and add your own fruit.
A few other ways you can cut back on your food bill are:
Make a shopping list and stick to it. Make a list that fits your needs and budget. If kids and other family members often distract you from sticking to your pre-planned list, then try to schedule a time when you can grocery shop alone.
Do not spend one dime more than you need to. If you are likely to overspend at the supermarket by picking up impulse items then leave the debit or credit card at home and only take enough cash to cover exactly what is on your list and nothing more.
If you dine out or hit the drive through on a regular basis, try cutting back by at least one meal a week. Instead, prepare a meal at home or take your lunch to work. The saved dollars will add up quickly.
If you are a coffee shop connoisseur, try making your own coffee at home. If this does not sound as appealing as visiting your favorite coffee spot each morning, try adding your own flavored creamers or purchasing a few of your own to-go coffee cups. When it comes to the food and beverages we like, some things are purely psychological and “comforting”, but not very budget friendly.
For more information on how you can save money on your food bill, call your local Extension office at 989-2103.