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Stretching the food dollar

Published:Thursday | June 7, 2012 | 12:00 AM
To make your 'Food' dollar stretch, shop wisely. - File

Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

With the recent increase in food prices announced in the new national Budget, householders are concerned about how much further they can stretch the food dollar to provide adequate nutrition for their family.

Food suggests several measures that can be taken to manage finances while maximising nutrition to meet the family's needs.

Make a food budget

Write down what you spend each week or month to include all your essential items in the food groups. These include carbohydrate and protein sources, and fruits and vegetables which can be used to make salads and beverages. You should cut down on the amount of oils you buy and use, as these occur naturally in foods.

Plan a menu

Plan the week's meals before you go shopping and use it for your shopping list.

Check for cans of foods in the back of your kitchen cupboards and integrate into the week's menu.

Use up leftovers in the freezer. Remember the first in, first out (FIFO) rule.

Will family members be away or are you having house guests? Plan accordingly.

Write a shopping list and stick to it. This reduces impulse buying which is costly, when you pick up items you want but do not need. Organise your list by categories to make your shopping experience more efficient.

Supermarket Savings

Do not go shopping when you are hungry: Supermarkets are cleverly designed to entice you to buy more, with expensive and tempting items at eye level and the cheaper varieties on the lower levels.

Leave children at home if possible: If not, find a way to get them involved in shopping like counting fruits and vegetables.

Start using coupons: More stores are giving coupons, so save these and use them with your purchases.

Sales specials: Watch for advertised specials and branded offers. Look out for special offerings by name brands so you can still maintain loyalty to your favourite brand. Supermarket discounts may come as weekly specials, and very often these prices are below cost. These items are 'loss leaders' to draw shoppers to the store.These deals sometimes work out better than wholesale buying.

Remember last prices: Try to keep a mental tab of the last price you paid in your regular store.

Buy local: Buy local fruits and vegetables in season. Now you will have to buy from the market or from the farm gate if you want to avoid the tax added to raw foods at retail outlets. Local produce tastes better and is more nutritious than food items shipped from other parts of the world and stored. Use your green grocer, market, fishmonger and butcher. You pay less as there is less fancy packaging.

Buy cheaper cuts of meat and types of fish: Do not buy specialised cuts for a recipe. You can get the same item from a whole item, for example chicken breasts, thighs, wings or legs can be cut from a whole chicken. The remaining parts can be used for other dishes combined with vegetable, pastas or ground provisions.

There are economical varieties of fish which work well in dishes. You can cut the filet from the whole fish. Braising beef can work for fancy beef dishes. Just spend time to trim the fat. Other cheaper cuts of beef include shin, rump and flank.

Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk to get wholesale prices is a great way to save and plug those savings into other parts of your daily expenses.

Start your own bulk co-op with friends, family or church groups. Buy sacks of rice, beans, flour, and oats and divide them up among group members.

Be careful of spoilage. if you are not using items frequently and they are perishables, you will lose. Items like toilet paper and paper towels can be purchased in bulk and stored if you have space. However, resist the temptation to overbuy in warehouse clubs, particularly on non-food items.

Cost per ounce. walk with a calculator to figure out the unit cost or cost per ounce, as it does not mean that a bigger package will be cheaper in unit costs.

Do not buy single-serve packages, but buy items in bulk packages and rewrap and freeze for future use. You can buy blocks of cheese and grate and repackage in usable portions and freeze.

Calculate your membership fees if you are part of a wholesale club. You only recover the cost of joining if you shop frequently.

Cooking on a Budget

Consider cooking in bulk so you can freeze portions for future meals. Recipe ideas ideal for bulk cooking and storing include

  • Stewed chicken in curry or brown stew
  • Oxtail
  • Chili
  • Rice and peas
  • Stewed peas
  • Soup
  • Chicken paella
  • Casseroles and meat pies
  • Pasta dishes
  • Burgers
  • Bread pudding

1. Make your own meals from scratch. Home-made meals are more nutritious than ready-made meals from the supermarket or deli. You know what you add to your dishes and you can be sure of the freshest foods, free of additives and other ingredients that are less healthy. Read your labels.

2. Cook for quality. There is a link between a good diet and your children's ability to learn. So you should be feeding your family the best foods like oven-baked home-made fries and crispy chicken, and skip processed snacks. Try making your own bread at home and you can learn to make your own pizzas and buns.

3. Do not waste food. If you cooked too much, take some for lunch the next day or freeze the extra portions. Even if they are small portions, they can be incorporated into a snack or meal. Left-over minced meat can be stored to make patties another day. Cool foods quickly after cooking and place in refrigerator or freeze in covered plastic containers until needed. Do not store with raw meats.

4. Cook in bulk. Double quantities of a recipe and plan to freeze some for another day. Date the containers as you place them in the fridge. You can pressure cook a bulk portion of peas and portion for rice and peas, stewed peas and chilli dishes.

5. Pasta-licous dishes. Buy pasta in bulk and use them creatively with sauces.

6. Add baked beans to dishes for added protein value. You can stretch salt fish or sausages with baked beans which you may have stored in your cupboard

7. Add vegetables. Carrots, sweet peppers and string beans can be added to dishes for more colour and nutrition.

8. Vegetarian meals. Beans, lentils, pulses and nuts are all excellent forms of protein and are significantly cheaper than meat and fish. Try having a vegetarian meal at least twice a week from our range of local produce.

9. Eat what you grow. Reaping from your backyard is the cheapest way to get produce and reduce food expenses.

Cuban Beans and Rice

An economical dish from our neighbour, "Kidney beans simmered with onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomato ketchup and rice. You can substitute black beans, if you prefer."

Ingredients

1tbs vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1tsp salt

6tbs tomato ketchup

2 cups or 1 can kidney beans drained, with liquid reserved

1 cup uncooked white rice

Directions

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic. When onion turns clear, add salt and tomato ketchup. Reduce heat to low and cook two minutes. Stir in the beans and rice.

2. Pour the liquid from the beans into a large measuring cup and add enough water to reach a volume of 21/2 cups. Pour on to beans. Cover and cook on low for 45 to 50 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked.

Source: Allrecipes.com