Stretching your food dollar – Part 1

Healthy foods on a smart shopping budget.

Due to busy schedules we often forget or don’t have time to plan our meals in advance. We get hungry and with very little time to cook at home we choose fast-foods or convenience foods to fill us. Eating fast-foods and convenience foods on a regular basis can lead to poor health and can eat up your food budget. Fast-foods and convenience foods are not the healthiest choice; often they are high in fat, salt and sugar, as well as being expensive.

Michigan State University Extension offers some simple strategies you can use at home and the grocery store to help you stretch your food dollar, plan your meals and stay within your budget.

  • Plan a food budget
  • Check sales ads
  • Plan meals in advance during less chaotic times
  • Make a grocery list

Knowing how much money you have to spend on food each month will give you a guide to follow when shopping for your family. Determine how much it costs to feed your family for one month. If you receive food assistance, will it cover your costs? If not, how much cash will you have to add to feed your family?

Make a list of staple foods you have in your cupboard – those are foods that have a long shelf life. Staple foods include peanut butter, flour, corn meal, sugar, dry milk, dry/canned beans, canned tuna, rice, macaroni, spices, salt. These are item that you do not need to buy each week. Perishable items are foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and milk that need to be purchased weekly.

Your next step is seeing what you have on hand in the cupboards, freezer and refrigerator before you go shopping. Staple or “just in case” foods will store well and stretch meals. “Just in case” foods include pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, canned green beans, corn, jarred spaghetti sauce, raisins, canned fruit, canned tuna, canned or dry beans, canned soups, etc. Taking inventory of what you have on hand will keep you from buying food you do not need. Check the ads for sales. If you are almost out of a staple food and it is on sale, put it on your list. Also, looking through the food ads can give you an idea of new recipes and meals. Planning meals ahead each week will help to keep you within your food budget. Try to make enough food to last a couple of days. Leftovers can be handy for lunches and quick dinners. Contact MSU Extension for the schedule of SNAP-Ed nutrition and food preparation classes. For quick, easy recipes go to

For more ways to stretch your food dollar at the grocery store read part two of this article.

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