Recently I got a frantic letter from Barbara C., who lives in Florida. It seems that her teenage son has taken up bodybuilding and her husband is adhering rigidly to the Atkins Diet, both of which are protein heavy. Barb got through the first week with a major case of mixed emotions: Her husband lost 7 pounds, her son gained 4—and her food bill doubled!
Can Barb keep her food costs down while still supporting her family’s eating choices?
Special diets don’t have to be budget-busters. In the same way they are adjusting their way of eating, Barb needs to adjust the way she shops.
Buy carbs in bulk. Find a warehouse club, ethnic market, health food store or food coop that offer rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts and legumes in by the pound. Store dry items in the freezer to retain freshness.
Don’t pay full-price for protein. Tuna, chicken breasts and lean beef cuts are always on sale somewhere. If you don’t want to store-hop, you can always find some cut of meat, fish and poultry on sale in your favorite market. Eat what’s on sale and if it’s a loss-leader (that means dirt-cheap in an effort to entice people through the door), stock up for the coming weeks. Grab up the items like meat and poultry that are marked down for quick sale and then freeze.
Shop with a list. Buying on impulse can blow a budget and a diet. So can arriving at the store hungry. Eat before you get there, stick to your list so you leave nothing to chance.
Buy generic. Let go of your brand loyalties. Shop by best value and not by brand. Try the store brand. Most all stores have a “satisfaction guaranteed” policy. If you try something and it is awful, ask for a refund. Some generic items are identical to their brand-name cousins, while others are pretty bad. So you be the judge.
Think before throwing food away. Freeze extra rice or left over pasta in freezer bags. Save up meat bones and scraps in the freezer to make stock or soup. Ditto on vegetables.
Stick to the perimeter. If you’re on a diet or special food plan, most everything you need is around the outside perimeter of the typical store (dairy, meat, produce), while the high-calorie, high-priced items are in those center aisles.
Don’t pay for convenience. Pre-washed bagged lettuce and pre-cut veggies might be convenient, but they are expensive. Pre-cut vegetables are three to four times more. Individual packets of oatmeal are outrageously priced. The way to make sure you’re getting the best deal is to shop by price per unit, not package price. When it comes to produce, buy what’s in season and you’ll get the best price and best quality, too.
Control portions. Eating more than is prescribed by your food plan will blow your diet and your budget. Take the time to measure and weigh. Tomorrow before you pour out your bowl of cereal, read the box to find out how much cereal makes a single serving. Now measure that amount into your bowl. Does it looks a little puny? It’s possible that your “dump method” has been treating you to 3 or 4 servings at a time instead of just one. Whoops.