With grocery prices creeping higher, many are left wondering—could we be eating for less? The answer, says Alea Lester Fite, MS, RD, LD, is yes.
As a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee, Fite has some tips on meal planning. “A good starting point,” Fite begins, “is to watch the ads and sales. When you find something on sale that your family likes, buy it in bulk. Keep in mind that most things freeze easily if they are not shelf stable.” Indeed, meat, fish, vegetables and fruits are relatively easy to freeze, and with some planning, dairy can also be frozen. Here’s a tip: Grated cheese, butter and even eggs (if scrambled with salt) can be frozen for four to six months.
Fite continues, “I recommend buying frozen produce, especially in the winter. Frozen produce can be a less expensive option and contains all the same nutrients.” Bulk produce is available from most large retailers such as Costco and Sam’s Club, but also consider buying from local farmers when in season. Fite shares that another way to save money is to “shop in season.” She says, “Produce that is in season often tastes better, is richer in nutrients and is just plain cheaper.” A variety of produce is available at the Rochester Farmers Market.
The internet is full of websites and blogs devoted to large-portion cooking. By creating slow cooker meals or pressure cooker casseroles, you’re able to get more meals out of one grocery stop. Pinterest alone has over 900 “eating on a dime” ideas to get more from your meals. Soups, casseroles and pasta dishes are the most cost effective large-portion options. Cook a pot of cost-effective chili and freeze half for later.
Several online articles exist with directions on how to create healthy meals for $4 or less. Black beans and rice costs under $1 per serving. Several soups, such as chicken noodle and minestrone, average $2.25 per serving. A mixed green salad with poached egg and quinoa costs just over $3 per serving. Eating for less doesn’t have to mean eating fast food.
With varying diets and dietary needs, not everyone’s pantry will look the same. But when focusing solely on price, there are a few items that pair well with frozen meats and produce items for a quick meal. “Whole wheat noodles, microwaveable brown rice packets, no-salt added canned beans and dried spices have a long shelf life and work with many meal types,” Fite explains.
While most diets and health coaches teach to shop around the “fresh perimeter” of the grocery store to select healthy food options, Fite says, “Don’t be afraid of the center aisles.” She believes “some great deals on healthy options” exist there. Dried beans, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter and oats are all available with a long shelf life (and health benefits).
Once you’ve planned purchases and prepared food for freezing, what can be done to ensure it doesn’t end up being thrown out? Fite’s tips include making sure your freezer is set to the right temperature to avoid freezer burn, freezing bread to keep it longer and buying only what you need for the week, unless planning to create freezer meals. Here’s a tip: Do not fill your freezer with food all at once. The freezer must keep out moisture and remain at a freezing temperature (such as 0°F) to prevent freezer burn.
If you’re unsure where to start, Rochester Hy-Vee dietitians host monthly virtual freezer meal workshops to help you plan ahead. Happy shopping! ::