1. Create a Weekly Eating Guide / Meal Plan
Make sure you fill in every detail. It's best to use a spreadsheet program to create a form. Then create a shopping list. Put down everything, including where you plan to eat out and what you'll order. You can also use meal-planning applications such as sparkpeople.com; supertracker.usda.gov/default.aspx; or eatingwell.com/eatingwell_menu_planner
2. Make a List and Eat Before You Shop
Make sure you have a shopping list and a full stomach when you go to the store. Lack of planning and hunger can lead to impulse buying that will cost you extra money and calories. Get an app to help you. - GroceryIQ; Pushpins.
3. Avoid Convenience Food Items
There are exceptions, but convenience foods are usually more expensive as well as less nutritious. Don't pay extra for pre-washed, chopped salad mixes or vegetable sticks. Buy heads of lettuce, bunches of broccoli and bags of carrots; then wash, clean and slice the vegetables all at once. Store them in plastic containers or bags in the refrigerator so you can grab them when you need them.
4. Use Store Brands, but Check Unit Pricing
Store brands can often be substituted for costlier name-brand items. Try making the switch; you can always return to the name brand next time if you're not happy. In addition, many supermarkets will take back foods you don't like.
5. Watch Out For "Diet" Foods
Don't fall prey to gimmicky diet foods. You don't need to buy overpriced specialty items to lose weight.
6. Coupons Save You Cash
Use coupons based on the meals you plan to prepare for the week. You won't be spending your money wisely if you buy a food that's on sale but don't know exactly what you're going to do with it. Use coupons only for items you'd buy anyway. Get an app and make it easy. The following are recommended by Consumer Reports: Cellfire; Coupons.com; GroceryIQ; Saving Star
7. Use Chicken, Turkey and Fish
They're less expensive and a healthy change from beef. Also, canned tuna, peanut butter, eggs, egg whites and beans are inexpensive protein-rich staples.
8. Buy in Bulk
It's more economical, and you'll know you have the product in your pantry when you need it.
9. Batch Cook
One of the most effective ways to ensure that you always have a healthy meal on hand at home is to cook several meals at once, portion them into single servings and freeze what you won't be using immediately. Or, as an alternative to cooking entire meals ahead, just double or triple up on some basic building blocks that will speed you through prepping future meals.
10. Buy Fruits and Vegetables in Season
Just because almost all fruits and vegetables are available year-round doesn't mean you need to buy them. In-season produce will be the least expensive and will also give you a good variety in your diet throughout the year. healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/features-month/whats-season
11. Don't Throw Away Bruised Fruits or Veggies
Use them. You can make stews, soups, or just cut out the bruised portion. Have you noticed that grocery stores often sell cut up, prepackaged fruits and veggies? You actually pay more for the convenience, and the store makes a profit on produce with bumps and bruises that would otherwise have been thrown out.
12. Buy Frozen or Canned
Most fruits and vegetables are nutritious whether fresh, frozen or canned. When buying canned, check the label for vegetables with no added salt and fruits packed in their own juices. Compare prices to get the best buys.
13. Shop at Farmers' Markets
The USDA has a fantastic search engine listing more than 4,000 farmers' markets throughout the country. You can search by specifics, such as products (e.g., baked goods, cheese and/or dairy products, fish and/or seafood, fresh fruit, nuts, plants, honeys, jams and preserves, soaps, etc.), and even by payment methods accepted. See: search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/ Also, this column I wrote on shopping better at farmers' markets will help: dietdetective.com/weekly-column/diet-detective-how-shop-bette...
14. Grow Your Own
Try growing some of your own vegetables. Many can even be grown successfully in pots. See: goo.gl/XLn1no
15. Store Fruits and Veggies Properly
The greatest cost comes from throwing food away. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables before they spoil. Make sure they're visible and not hidden in the back of the fridge or in a fridge drawer. For storage tips see: fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/fruit-and-vegetable-storage-101
16. Learn to Cook
When you cook your own food, you don't have to pay restaurants or convenience food companies to cook it for you. And the best part is, you control the ingredients.
17. Eat Oatmeal
Plain, old-fashioned oatmeal (not the instant single-serving kind) is cheapest. To jazz it up, try it with raisins, cinnamon, or strawberries.
18. Eat Beans
Beans are a great source of high-fiber, low-fat protein. Always keep some cans in the house so you can throw together a healthy meal fast. Black beans, corn, salsa, a tiny bit of low-fat cheese and tortillas are the only ingredients you need to make tasty vegetarian quesadillas. Beans are also a great addition to pasta dishes. Try cannellini beans, spinach and stewed tomatoes over pasta. If you buy beans in the bag and cook them yourself, they're even less expensive than the canned variety.
19. DIY (Do It Yourself)
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are typically much more expensive than whole chicken breasts on the bone. If you need chicken for a stir-fry, don't pay extra for chicken tenderloins. Slice your own out of whole breasts.
20. Veg It Up
Use vegetables as a main dish with meats and poultry on the side.
21. Bring Your Lunch to Work or School
You can make a great sandwich for the cost of a fast-food burger and fries. If you have a microwave available, consider making a bit extra for dinner and bringing the leftovers for lunch the next day.
22. Soup It Up
Making soup is very easy, and you can make big batches and freeze individual portions. Here are a few recipes: dietdetective.com/weekly-column/healthy-winter-and-spring-sou... and dietdetective.com/weekly-column/diet-detective%E2%80%99s-fall.... Also see my homemade chicken soup recipe here: dietdetective.com/weekly-column/diet-detectives-powerhouse-di...
Canned soup is good too.
23. Make Your Own Desserts
Make your own muffins and healthier pies. Here is a recipe for delicious 100% Whole-Grain Strawberry-Blueberry-Banana Muffins:
1/2 cup 100% whole-grain rolled oats
1 1/2 cups 100% whole-grain wheat flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 very ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups unsweetened frozen or fresh blueberries
1/2 cup unsweetened frozen strawberries
2 tablespoons skim milk
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray, such as Pam, or line with muffin liners. Put the rolled oats in a food processor and process until ground about 10-20 seconds. Combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and combine them with the blueberries, strawberries, milk, egg whites, vanilla and honey. Stir in the flour mixture. Spoon into muffin cups until they're about 3/4 full. Bake 20-22 minutes or until golden brown. One 3-ounce muffin has 174 calories along with 4 grams of protein and 4.6 grams of fiber.
24. Eliminate Expensive Junk Food Snacks
Gradually switch to healthier, more filling and less expensive foods, such as homemade muffins, apples and carrot sticks, air-popped popcorn or whole grain breads.
CHARLES PLATKIN, Ph.D., is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com. Copyright 2014 by Charles Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at DietDetective.com.