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What to eat & what to skip to save money on food

By Matthew Thompson, August 7, 2012 - 9:58am

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What to eat & what to skip to save money on food

Like a great many people, I was disheartened to learn that the price of food will be on the rise over the next year. According to a statement made by the U.S. government (and widely quoted in articles in The New York Times, Yahoo! and other sources), the prices of a great many grocery store staples are predicted to increase by 4 to 5 percent over the next year. That might not seem like much, but as any family on a budget can tell you, those little markups at the supermarket can really accumulate. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to offset these rising costs.

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For those who don’t know, what’s happening is this: the severe drought enveloping much of the country this summer has affected a large part of the nation’s feed-corn crop. This corn is used to feed cattle, pigs and chickens all over the country (and abroad—it’s our leading farm export). The upshot is that all those farms dependent on feed corn will have to raise prices (and, possibly, decrease output) to cover their costs. And that could mean less money in your pocket.

But it doesn’t have to. We at EatingWell have discussed a few simple strategies for beating these rising prices. We pored over tips from our EatingWell on a Budget cookbook for some surefire ways to beat the rising cost of food. Here’s what we came up with:

1. Buy Meat Now: This might be counterintuitive, but according to Daniel R. Glickman, a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture quoted in The New York Times, meat prices are actually likely to fall before they rise. This is because farmers will be selling off or culling cattle to compensate for the rising cost of feed. If you buy soon, you’ll be locking in the lowest price you’re likely to see for a while. And since uncooked beef can keep for 4-12 months in your freezer, you’ll be able to use it all year long. Of course, how you store the item will lengthen or shorten its freezer life. Air coupled with moisture is the enemy of frozen food (think freezer burn), so if you can keep those two elements out you’ll give your frozen foods a longer life. That’s why I love the vacuum sealer. It sucks air out of the packaging so foods last longer than if they’re just stored in plastic bags or their original packaging.

2. Or Consider Going Meatless: Skipping meat, even once or twice a week, can help save money, since meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. And you will have a lighter impact on the environment—almost one-fifth of the world’s manmade greenhouse-gas emissions are generated by the meat industry, according to the United Nations. Even at current prices, you can save $210 per year by swapping out 1 pound of sirloin ($5.99) with a 14-ounce block of tofu ($1.96) once a week for a year.

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3. Seek Out Alternative Proteins: Many of America’s most common sources of protein—eggs, milk, beef and chicken—will be impacted by rising prices. But they’re not your only options. Lentils and beans can be great sources of protein, plus they pack in a healthy dose of dietary fiber and other nutrients too. At about 50¢ or less for a 1/2-cup serving of canned beans, you just can’t go wrong—and dried beans are even cheaper. And these foods are much better for the environment than beef or chicken. Find some other great protein options here.

4. Love Your Budget Cuts of Meat: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are super-convenient and practically fat-free, but they’re usually the most expensive way to buy chicken. So, with prices going up, you’re better off buying a whole chicken and roasting or grilling it, then using leftovers in soups, salads or sandwiches. Whole legs, drumsticks and thighs are also good bets if you don’t have time to cut up a chicken. Can’t afford steak? Your slow cooker makes inexpensive cuts of meat like brisket, pork shoulder or beef chuck meltingly tender.

5. Discover Great Ways to Use Canned Fish: Just like their fresh counterparts, canned salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fats, which help keep your heart healthy by lowering triglycerides and blood pressure. The difference: canned fish is really cheap. At just $3.68 per pound (just over 3 cans at $1.15 each), canned tuna is a delicious, healthy and cheap option for dinner.

Recipes to try: 17 Delicious Ideas for Canned Tuna

6. Find Non-Milky Ways to Get Calcium: According to reports, the price of milk will increase 3.5 to 4.5 percent in the next year. If that’s straining your budget, you can find cheaper ways to get your calcium. Calcium-set tofu is an excellent source (that’s tofu prepared with calcium salts; check the label). It delivers a quarter of the daily value of calcium in just a half cup. You can also put other foods you eat to work garnering you calcium. For instance, leafy greens like kale are a reliable source. Though the body doesn’t absorb calcium as readily from some vegetables (like spinach and beans) as it does from milk, that’s not the case with the kale family (which includes broccoli, cabbage, bok choy and mustard greens)—the body absorbs calcium just as readily from these veggies as from milk, though of course you’ll have to eat more to get the same results (a cup of 1% milk has about three times the calcium as a cup of cooked kale).

Are you worried about the rising cost of food? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Matthew Thompson, Food Blog, Budget meals, Cooking tips, Dinner, Food & health news, Vegetarian

Matthew Thompson
Matthew Thompson is a former associate food editor for EatingWell Magazine.

Matthew asks: Are you worried about the rising cost of food?

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