What are the top ways to stretch my food budget this month?

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Answered by: Melissa, An Expert in the Grocery Savings Category
The key to grocery savings in my book is organization and meal planning. I Inventory my freezer and pantry first, make a list of everything that can be used for a meal, then throw away any out-dated items. I make a list of the healthy meals that my family enjoys, considering the days that we will be packing lunches or grabbing something cooked ahead, or on the way out the door for breakfast. Some people make a menu one week at a time, others conquer the whole month. I like to print out a simple, blank calendar that I can use to fill in the days of the month with breakfast, lunch and dinner plans. This helps my family know what's cooking and makes it easy for them to know how they might help.

As I fill in my menu, I take into consideration what is in season, as well as if there might be shellfish to harvest or berries to pick. I can really stretch my food budget with what grows naturally, which is free or inexpensive, in the area where we live. We grow tomatoes, squash and potatoes in the summer to add to the bounty. There are you-pick farms here where we pay less per pound because we do the picking and packing. I shop the farmers' market in our town each week and although the cost is usually a bit higher, the nutritional content and taste is so much better that it is justified in my eyes. Those fruits and veggies never get ignored or thrown out! I buy our free-range chicken eggs and raw milk from a farmer too, because the flavor and quality are beyond compare. After planning around what's fresh, I then look to the grocery store ads to find the best deals on items to fill in my menu, and for other necessities.

I always set a price point, say $1.29 a lb. for a whole chicken, then I never pay more than that. I watch for a sale, and if it goes under, then I add it to my list and maybe grab an extra one for my freezer for the next planning session. You can take advantage of the bargains in this way, stocking up, in addition to purchasing the items on your menu list.

It's a big savings to skip impromptu fast food, by remembering the busy nights ahead of time. When I'm writing out the menu I include my own fast, nutritious food, and I might plan to put together a pan of enchiladas on a weekend afternoon and pop it in the freezer for Friday night dinner. We also make up french toast ahead to grab from the fridge and warm up in toaster for the Monday morning rush.

Food is essential, but having enough delicious food at mealtime takes some work. I have learned that it's easy to stretch my food budget with diligent planning and I find it's so worth it when my family works together to prepare our meals and gathers around the table to feast.

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