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Living and dining relies on the ability to stretch

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Brenda Hill [Photo provided]
Brenda Hill [Photo provided]

Editor's Note: Melba Lovelace is taking a couple of weeks off to recover from illness. Her Swap Shop column returns next week, here is some advice for stretching the budget from Brenda Hill of the Oklahoma State University Extension Center in the meantime.

Does your family ever have trouble making your food dollars stretch to the end of the month? There are many ways to save money on foods that you eat. The three main steps are planning before you shop, purchasing the items at the best price, and preparing meals that stretch your food dollars. The choosemyplate.gov interactive web site offers these great tips to help you save on your food budget.

1. Plan, plan, plan!

Before you head to the grocery store, plan your meals for the week. Include meals like stews, casseroles, or stir-fries, which “stretch” expensive items into more portions.

2. Get the best price

Check the local newspapers, online and at the store for sales and coupons. Ask about a loyalty card for extra savings at stores where you shop. Look for specials or sales on meat and seafood — often the most expensive items on your list.

3. Compare and contrast

Locate the “Unit Price” on the shelf directly below the product. Use it to compare different brands and different sizes of the same brand to determine which is more economical.

4. Buy in bulk

It is almost always cheaper to buy foods in bulk. Smart choices are family packs of chicken, steak or fish and larger bags of potatoes and frozen vegetables. Before you shop, remember to check if you have enough freezer space. If space is an issue, consider shopping with another person, and dividing large packages between you. Be sure to label each package with the contents and directions for preparation.

5. Buy in season

Buying fruits and vegetables in season can lower the cost and add to the freshness! If you are not going to use them all right away, buy some that still need time to ripen.

6. Convenience costs … go back to the basics

Convenience foods like frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables, and instant rice, oatmeal, or grits will cost you more than if you were to make them from scratch. Take the time, to prepare your own — and save.

7. Easy on your wallet

Certain foods are typically low-cost options all year round. Try beans for a less expensive protein food. For vegetables, buy carrots, greens or potatoes. As for fruits, apples and bananas are good choices.

8. Cook once … eat all week!

Prepare a large batch of favorite recipes on your day off (double or triple the recipe). Freeze in individual containers. Use them throughout the week and you won’t have to spend money on take-out meals.

9. Get your creative juices flowing

Spice up your leftovers — use them in new ways. For example, try leftover chicken in a stir-fry or over a garden salad, or to make chicken chili. Remember, throwing away food is throwing away your money.

10. Eating out

Restaurants can be expensive. Save money by getting the early bird special, going out for lunch instead of dinner, or looking for “2 for 1" deals. Stick to water instead of ordering other beverages, which can add to the bill.

The Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, national origin, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status. OCES provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

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