With budgets continuing to be lean these days, people are looking for ways to stretch their food dollar. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your dollar while grocery shopping.

1. When it comes to prepared foods such as pasta, potato and rice dishes, you are paying more for the convenience and packaging (and preservatives cost money too). Many of these products also have added sodium, sugar, and fat. To save money, buy plain pasta, rice, and fresh, frozen or dried potatoes and make up your own seasoning or sauce blend. See recipes tab on this website for seasoning blend ideas.

2. The same goes for produce. When in season and on sale, buy fresh produce. Frozen and canned vegetables and fruits can also be a bargain along with containing comparable nutrition to fresh. They are also less likely to be subject to the exposure of air, temperature changes, light (which can reduce vitamin content), and human contamination.

3. Marinades, sauces, salad dressings and sauces are costly as well. It is likely that you have all the ingredients in your pantry to make your own and they are easy to prepare. In 5-10 minutes you can have a basic white sauce (See recipe below) that can be turned into a cheese or herb sauce which is fresh and not loaded with preservatives. Other ideas for toppings on foods include salsa, grated cheese, fresh or dried herbs, plain yogurt or sour cream, lemon or lime juice. A mixture of heart healthy olive or canola oil, vinegar or fruit juice, and some herbs make a great seasoning or marinade for meats and vegetables. Add a dash of hot sauce for excitement.

4. If you buy margarine and are watching your blood lipids, vegetable spreads with added plant sterols can substitute butter on bread, starches, vegetables. Plant sterols have been shown to help lower blood lipid levels.

5. Go vegetarian a few nights per week. Beans with rice, veggie tacos, lentil soup, pasta with marinara sauce, vegetable lasagna with tofu, omelettes, macaroni and cheese with added vegetables, tuna dishes, homemade pizza are a few examples.

6. When it comes to protein, eggs are still a bargain and loaded with nutrition. They are a complete protein and contain iron, B vitamins, and lutein, which is a powerful antioxidant. Canned beans are another economical and satisfying source of protein. They have heart healthy soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals, and the darker the bean, the higher the antioxidant content. Canned tuna or chicken is a convenient source of protein and can make for a quick meal. Buying beef, chicken and pork in bulk can also be more economical.

7. Freezing portions for future use will also end up saving a trip to the store and saving some time in meal preparation.

8. Nut butters make for a quick and easy snack or meal. Buy the natural, as the popular brands have added fat, and in some cases sugar.

9. Breads can be purchased in bulk and frozen for future use. Many cereals, nuts and the like are also available in bulk sizes. Not only is cereal great for breakfast, it makes a satisfying snack. Aim for the whole grain cereals and those with less than 10 grams of sugar.

10. Every added ingredient in a prepared product is going to add to the cost, and as previously stated, you may already have it at home. If you are a yogurt eater, buy the plain yogurt in bulk and add your own favorites, such as cereal, nuts, fruit, ground flaxseed, dark chocolate chips. Sprinkle with some cinnamon. These are just a few tips to get you started. Small changes may add up to savings and allow for other luxuries. Bon appetit!

Basic White Sauce

In a saucepan, melt 2 Tbsp. butter (you can substitute margarine with added plant sterols). Lower heat and blend in 1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp of flour (wheat/white, rice, potato) until a paste forms. Slowly add 1 cup of milk, and continue mixing with wire whisk. Simmer and continuously stir the sauce with wire whisk until thickened and smooth. Sauce can come to a slight boil, and then reduce heat. Add seasoning of choice, such as a sprinkle of salt and pepper, fresh or dried herbs, grated cheese. Makes 1 cup.
Per Tablespoon (made with 2% milk and butter): 30 calories, 1 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrate, 2 gm fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 18 mg sodium

Author's Bio: 

Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. Her background includes nutrition counseling, health promotion, corporate wellness, recipe development and writing. Her new book, Boomer Be Well! is available on her website at http://www.susanpiergeorge.com