Trimming your food budget doesn't mean you should give up on making healthy choices. Here are 20 easy ways to do it.
1. Kiss food fads goodbye.
Sure, pomegranate juice is yummy and good for you. But you can approximate the same flavor in drinks, cocktails or smoothies by adding less expensive cranberry juice and still get that anti-oxidant burst. An even less expensive substitution: 1 cup red grape juice (still high in anti-oxidants) and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
2. Save more with savvy recipe substitutions.
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If a recipe calls for a high-fat ingredient such as sour cream, consider using plain yogurt. If the recipe calls for an exotic ingredient, swap a less expensive one. From abalone to zwieback, The Food Substitution Bible by David Joachim is one of the best resources on the subject.
3. Bag your own lettuce.
Salads might be a dieter's delight, but bagged salad mixes are rarely a bargain. Buy lettuce and other greens by the head. Wash and chop leaves yourself, then store in a zip-top bag.
4. Bulk up on spices, which are loaded with anti- oxidants.
To save money, buy from bulk bins. Although it might sound counterintuitive, buying spices this way allows you to buy only the amount called for in a recipe, so there's no waste.
Whole spices are the best value and last longer, up to two years. Powdered red spices, such as paprika, chili powder and cayenne, which typically have a one-year shelf life, last longer when stored in the refrigerator.
5. Munch money.
Popcorn is a budget-friendly snack food. And it's a whole grain. You can easily transform plain popcorn with a dab of your favorite seasoning blend, a sprinkling of fresh herbs or a shaving of Parmesan cheese.
6. DIY dressings.
Bottled salad dressings are pricey and usually loaded with preservatives. Instead, use oil and vinegar at a ratio of 3-to-1.
7. Down-size dinner — and dessert.
When meal-planning, keep in mind a serving of meat should be no larger than a deck of cards, a serving of cheese is about the size of four dice, and a medium piece of fruit the size of a tennis ball. But don't skip dessert. It's easy to downsize with mini-muffin or tiny-tart pans.
8. Save with speedy grains.
Quick-cooking grains like barley, couscous and quinoa are economical and quick to fix.
9. A big return on investment.
Most nuts and seeds are pricey but well worth the investment healthwise because they're loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. To keep nuts and seeds from turning rancid quickly, be sure to store in the freezer.
10. A cereal two-fer.
Grab a barrel of old-fashioned rolled oats and you're doing your heart — and wallet — a favor. A versatile staple, you can use rolled oats to make oatmeal or to make your own granola. To avoid boredom, experiment with different natural sweeteners (maple syrup, honey, molasses, agave and so forth) and vary the dried fruit and nut combinations you choose.
11. Get more bang for your organic buck.
The Organic Food Shopper's Guide lists these foods that might be worth paying more for if you are concerned about pesticide residue: apples, beef, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cherries, chicken, citrus, coffee, corn, eggs, imported grapes, milk, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach and strawberries.
12. Snack attack.
Don't pay a premium to have someone else throw a few cheese crackers in a sandwich baggie. Buy in bulk and take a few minutes to portion them into your own reusable containers. Not sure what 100 calories looks like? With most snacks, it's about a handful, but check the nutrition labels.
13. Budget be ef.
Like butter and eggs, beef is no longer considered a nutritional bad boy. Red meat provides protein, vitamin B-12 and iron. Choose lean beef cuts that are more moderately priced. Consider recipes that call for bottom round steak, hanger steak, tri-tip, shoulder tender or shoulder center steak.
14. Fizz for less.
Instead of buying pricey carbonated juice drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners, make your own thirst-quenching spritzer using sparkling water and a splash of 100 percent fruit juice.
15. Save a penny.
Bakery cakes, cupcakes and pies are pricier than baking from scratch. When you bake yourself, you control the kinds of fats, sugar and flours you use.
16. Trickle-down economics.
Drink more tap water. It's good for you. It fills you up. It's free.
17. Pint-size purees.
Making your own purees for baby keeps the ingredient list as simple to decipher as ABC. All you really need is a decent food processor or an inexpensive food mill. Plan on pureeing the family dinner. Keep an eye out for produce on sale. Use freezer trays to freeze the food, then pop the cubes into a zip-top freezer bag for storage.
18. Bargain-basement beans.
How low can you go? Beans are one of the most inexpensive staples you can add to your shopping list. Loaded with protein, fiber and folates, they're also one of the most nutritious.
19. Waste less food.
Americans reportedly waste 15 percent to 30 percent of all food they buy. Guilty? Make your own vegetable stock from vegetable remnants. Turn a stale heel of bread into bread crumbs. Save the yolk, even when the recipe calls for egg whites only.
20. Luxurious leftovers.
Take what lurks in the shadows of the refrigerator and make it into a sumptuous meal or snack. For instance, you can turn a lowly head of cabbage into something fit for the deli with the addition of a curry dressing, blue cheese crumbles or a handful of nuts and dried cranberries.