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Cost-Effective Menu Planning

Recession. Economic Tsunami. Economic Armageddon. Scary words in uncertain times. The only words more frightening, “Grocery Budget.” With most families dealing with a cut in pay, loss of employment, or the pressures of an unaffordable mortgage, rising grocery costs only add to the stress. 

A little pre-planning and shopping-savvy can help control your food budget, even if you can’t control the economic environment. 

Planning doesn’t have to be complicated. Janis Bowers, Founder of The Dinner Spin, says that eating on a budget doesn’t mean eating from a can. “Fresh food doesn’t have to break the bank; menu planning takes a small amount of discipline to pay attention to what’s in season or on sale, then you need to know how to use those budget-minded ingredients to create healthy meals.” 

Bowers shares her insight with subscribers to her online menu-planning service. Members to this online community say they save $10 to $15 per week by planning ahead, avoiding the need to stop for take-out, or grabbing impulse convenience items. For the average family that planning could put $780 back in their pockets.

Learn how you can stretch your mealtime dollars by following these thrifty tips.

Plan a weekly menu. Make fewer trips and avoid impulse buys when you start your week with a well-laid plan. Carefully determine how many nights you will be able to cook, gather recipes, check your pantry, and make a detailed list by section of the store for fast, focused shopping.

Ingredient match game. When choosing recipes, stick with what’s in season. Use the weekly grocery ads to match up, in season, on-sale items with your weekly menu recipes.

Scratch it. Find a few basic recipes that you can make from scratch instead of buying boxed or costly convenience items. You’ll save money, calories and reduce your sodium intake.

Be generic. Do you know that you pay an extra $1 per name brand cereal box just because of the advertising? Don’t be a label snob; use the generic brands of almost everything to save with out sacrificing.

Avoid tossing leftovers. Spend some time learning alternate uses for items that you might otherwise pitch in the trash. Use your freezer as a vegetable rescue center; frozen veggies can be used in soups, stews, sauces, and stir-fry recipes. Stale buns can be made into bread crumbs, croutons or topped with butter, garlic salt and Italian seasoning. Get creative.

Stock up only when it makes sense. Buying in bulk seems to be the way to save until you throw away eight cans of Beef-a-Roni. Only buy sale or bulk items that you know you can store and use. Consider shelf life and the space available in your freezer before losing yourself to the allure of a sale. 

Apply these tips to reduce your bills all while eating healthy, nutritious food.