Moms Guide to Cheaper Eats and other Budget Basics

By Sandra Gordon

Because of last summer's severe drought in the Midwest, food prices will take a bigger bite out of your grocery budget in 2013, increasing it by as much as 5 percent, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. So what is the good news? Your family can eat better and spend less. Check out these smart ways to get the savings rolling.

USDA Dietary Guidelines

In the USDA blog posting "Nutrition Doesn't Have to Be Expensive," Dr. Mark Lino points out that moms like you – the functional CFO's of most households – can still feed your family healthy foods without breaking the bank.

For example, the total costs for satisfying the USDA dietary recommendations for fruits and vegetables is approximately less than $2.00 per day. In fact, some of the most popular fruits and vegetables purchased by consumers, such as apples, bananas, oranges, carrots, onions, and potatoes, cost less than 40 cents per cup-equivalent.

A recent Produce Marketing report determined that most consumers can satisfy fruit and vegetable recommendations by spending approximately $.50 per cup.

A recent Produce Marketing Association report "The Cost of the Recommended Daily Servings of Fresh Produce" shows people can meet vegetable and fruit recommendations for about 50 cents per cup. The national average price moms pay for fresh fruits and vegetables recommended for a 2000 calorie diet is approximately $2.18.

When buying fresh fruits, you will spend less money on watermelon, bananas, apples, pears, pineapple, and peaches. Potatoes, lettuce, eggplant, greens, summer squash, carrots, and tomatoes rank among the least expensive fresh vegetables. The USDA also points out that you can save even more money by purchasing frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.

Your must-have shopping skills should also consist of comparison pricing, using coupons, buying fruits and vegetables in season, and refrigerating produce bought in bulk to preserve them safely for use over a longer period of time.

Here are some other helpful hints that can serve as your unofficial guide to cheaper eats.

Plan a weekly menu. It's the game plan for food budgeting. For ideas on what to make, start with what you have on hand use or an app, such as Food on the Table (free, iOS, Android), which can help you plan meals based on what's on sale at your favorite local supermarkets.

Don't buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables. They cost more because the work has been done for you. Instead, buy whole produce and slice and dice it yourself. More tips: Buy onions, apples, oranges and potatoes by the bag rather than individually. Salad greens: Compared to pre-packaged lettuce blends, whole heads of lettuce are a better buy. Go for darker greens, such as romaine and red leaf for the most nutrients. Stock up on low-priced seasonal berries too and stockpile your own baggies for the freezer. You'll be so glad you have those homemade bags of frozen blueberries or peaches come October.

Look for "Manager's Special" meats. They're a great buy because they're about to expire. The trick is to prepare or freeze them immediately. Also, buy a whole chicken and debone it yourself (search YouTube for how-to's) instead of buying pricey packages of chicken breasts or parts. Make your own chicken nuggets and freeze them. For meaty casseroles like lasagna, double or triple the recipe (for the freezer) but don't triple or double the amount of meat. Nobody will miss it.

Stick to skim/nonfat milk. Skim milk and nonfat milk are both heart healthy and half the cost of soy milk.

Experiment with store brands. Stock your pantry with your favorite store brands foods; they're often less expensive than on-sale name-brands. If you're a new mom who uses infant formula, buy Store Brand Formula. Store Brand Formulas such as Walmart's Parent's Choice and Sam's Club's Simply Right infant formulas offer the same complete nutrition as name-brand formulas yet cost up to 50 percent less, which can add up to a savings of $600 per year.

Use coupons. Visit the Perrigo Nutritionals consumer site, www.storebrandformula.com, so you can sign up for free baby formula coupons. At the time of this writing, consumers were able to sign up for $5.00 coupons for Store Brand Infant Formulas sold at participating retailers. You just need to enter your name, e-mail address, and answer three questions: When was your baby born/your due date? Where do you live? And which formula brand do you buy most often? Don't worry. Perrigo Nutritionals will never sell your personal information or contact you without your permission.

Learn More

For more information on how to slash your food budget, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

About the Author

Sandra Gordon is a consumer products expert, a writer, and a mother of two. She has appeared on NBC's Today Show and as a baby safety expert on The Discovery Health Channel's "Make Room for Baby." A Consumer Reports author, her latest book is Save a Bundle: 50+ Ways to Save Big on Baby Gear.

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