- Make things from scratch. That means bread, pizza, pasta, pancakes, muffins, meatloaf, or taco mix. Whatever you buy that is pre-made, there are extra costs involved. Bonus: homemade things are not only cheaper, but they are healthier too. Drawback: this might require more time in the kitchen...but can usually be remedied with good advance planning.
- Don't waste money on sodas, bottled water or alcoholic beverages. I know that this might be a hard one to swallow...literally. But it is so easy, and better for the environment if you buy a water filter and a reusable water bottle and make your own purified water at home. As for the alcohol, well, any good wine and spirits that are worth drinking usually cost a lot of money. The exception might be made for some lesser known wines. So moderation and special occasion might be the key.
- Buy produce in season. This one just makes sense. If you want a watermelon in December, it will have been shipped from half way around the world, taste horrible, and cost a bundle. Don't do it. Produce in season will be plentiful and cheaper. Enough said.
- After you buy produce in season, be like your prudent great-grandmother and put it up for the winter. Make jams and preserves when fruit is in season, freeze berries and green beans, make applesauce, or dehydrate tomatoes to use in your winter pasta sauces. These rather out of fashion things are not difficult to learn how to do. They are time consuming, yes, but just imagine how lucky you will feel when you save both time and money in February by pulling out a zip lock bag full of delicious green beans you have saved from the summer!
- Eat less meat. There are so many good studies out there that show that the cultures with the highest longevity are those in which they are nearly vegetarians, eat mostly seafood, or meat is used as a condiment or side dish, not the main event. Meat is mostly bad for you, bad for the environment, and very, very expensive. Buy a whole chicken and stretch it out over several meals. Make vegetarian tacos or chili, and eat beans....not from a can (because that is expensive too), but from scratch. A pound of beans costs about a dollar and can feed you for several meals.
- If organic is a priority, but money is an issue, educate yourself on which foods you should absolutely always buy organic and which foods are okay grown conventionally. The truth is that organic costs more. And farmers markets cost more too. For me, eating organically is a huge priority, but even more important than that is buying my food from local growers at the farmers market, where they may not be certified organic, but they can tell you exactly what they do to their crops to control pests. (Many do not use pesticides, but cannot afford to be certified as "organic.") In the supermarket, the farmers make just cents on the dollar for every pound of produce sold because of all the extra costs involved (overhead, shipping, packaging etc). But when you buy directly from the farmers themselves, they get the entire dollar (less their own gas). And in these hard economic times, it's nice to know that I can do my part to help out the little guy. Check here for a list of foods that you should always buy organically grown. Believe me, once you see a strawberry field being harvested by workers wearing hazmat style suits to protect them from the pesticides, you will never buy conventional strawberries again.
- Don't buy pre-packaged snack foods. 100 calorie snack packs are a clever way to charge the consumer more money for less food. Buy a big bag of your favorite snack food (goldfish/chips etc.) and then divvy it up into small zip lock bags for convenience, if you have several lunch sacks to fill every day.
- Eat less. Most Americans are used to super-sized meals and super-sized snacks. Snack on fresh fruit and veggies, and down-scale your portion sizes on other meals. Both your waistline and your pocketbook will thank you.
- Plant a garden. Seeds are so very inexpensive, and gardening is a lovely way to spend time. Grow your family's favorite fruits or veggies or try something that might cost a lot at the market (heirloom tomatoes). You will be pleasantly surprised at both the flavor of home-grown foods, and the money you save on groceries.
Well, that is about all I could come up with for today. After re-reading this list, I realize that it may require more time preparing food from scratch for your family. But anything worth doing, takes time. If saving money and eating more healthfully is a true priority, time can be set aside over a weekend or in the evening to make a nourishing meal, put up fresh produce or plan a week's worth of meatless meals.
Tonight we had tacos, a request from a picky child who is on a breakfast food only kick. So I humored him. But do you think I used taco seasoning from a package? Heck no! I made it myself from a few herbs and spices I had in my pantry already. It has tons less sodium than the packaged stuff, no ingredients that I can't pronounce, and it tastes a lot better too. Quadruple the recipe and save the rest in a little container and then you won't have to make it again for awhile. It should last at least 6 months.
Combine 1 T chili powder, 1 1/2 t paprika, 1/2 t oregano, 1/2 t onion powder, 1/2 t garlic powder, 1 1/2 t cumin, 1 t salt, 1/2 t black pepper, 1 t cornstarch, and 1 T dehydrated minced onion in a bowl. Brown meat in skillet, drain of any fat and add seasoning mix, along with one cup of water. Stir and heat through.