Stretching food dollars

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Americans are fortunate to have lots of food available for them, and although people are talking about the rising costs at the grocery store, it's still possible to stay within a food budget and to eat healthy.

Here are five tips for eating nutritious meals while stretching your food dollars:

1. Avoid buying "convenience" foods.

"Convenience" foods include frozen pizzas, TV dinners, and deli foods that are quick to fix. To get more for your money, cook meals from scratch. For example, consider this scenario.

Betsy is tired after working all day. She has no idea what to fix for dinner. Besides, she doesn't feel like spending time in the kitchen. So on the way home, Betsy stops at the store and picks up a frozen pizza, on sale for $5.99 and a small bag of prepared salad for $1.99.

Now consider this. The pizza meal lasted for one night, but Betsy could have bought a portion of a picnic ham, on sale for $7. It could have been turned into three meals: baked ham the first night, cubed leftover ham in a scalloped potato casserole the second night, and finally slow cooker ham and beans, made with soaked dry beans, the ham bone and leftover meat.

Likewise, leftover baked chicken can be used for chicken noodle soup and casseroles. Beef roast can be turned into beef stew, vegetable beef soup and barbecued beef sandwiches.

2. Spend time with a cookbook

Time browsing through cookbooks can be time well-spent. If you don't have any, check some out from the public library. Visit Web sites that feature recipes. Write down recipes that fit your family's likes. Find out about cuts of meat and ways to use leftovers. Learn about spices that are used to make tasty foods. (If you don't have many spices, purchase one each time you shop.)

3. Plan menus and make a shopping list

Decide how much money you can spend for a week's worth of groceries. Check your calendar. (Which are your busiest nights? Plan to have fast meals on these nights.) Check out the weekly grocery ads. With all of this in mind, write menus for the week. Then make out your shopping list.

Don't forget to figure vegetables and fruits into your menus. These foods are needed for essential vitamins and minerals. According to "Beef Up Your Fruits and Veggies!" a handout provided by Julie Moore from the Colorado Beef Council, the USDA MyPyramid recommends eating 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily. Shirley Lawton, Chairwoman of Moffat County Farm Bureau Women's Committee, suggests buying fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. They're often cheaper and more nutritious when compared to those that are canned.

4. Choose the Right Time to Shop

On your day off from work, go to the grocery store in the morning, after breakfast. (Hungry shoppers tend to want to buy everything in the store.) There will be a good supply of fresh produce and meat at this time of day. If possible, leave your children with a sitter. While at the store, stick to your list. Avoid buying snack foods. Try to get everything so that you don't have to go back to the store during the week, or you'll end up buying more.

5. Make use of every minute

When you have time to cook, use it wisely. Bake cookies. (Cookies from the store are expensive.) Bake up meat that you'll use during the week. Don't boil up just enough potatoes for one meal. Extras can be used to make scalloped or fried potatoes or potato soup. Leftover mashed potatoes can be used to make potato salad or for a casserole topping.

Eggs contain lots of protein. Boil up a dozen. Refrigerate with the shells on. Use them for snacks, in salads, and to make a tuna and egg salad sandwich mix. Chop up lettuce and vegetables ahead of time for salad. Store in a plastic bag or container with a lid. Cut up carrots and celery that can be eaten for snacks. Make your own vegetable or fruit dip.

Set out the slow cooker so you can remember to fill it in the morning. Cut up vegetables for the next day. Brown ground beef and refrigerate for the next day's casserole. The next night, when you're tired, you'll be thankful that you did.

You can reach Diane at 824-8809 or write to her at Box 415, Craig 81626.

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