On Plan, On Budget

Use our 10 ways to cut food costs, and make three delicious meals for 4 that clock in under $20 each.
On Plan On Budget

Sure, you can get a lot of fast food for a couple of bucks — much more food than at most salad bars. "But down the road, you're going to pay for it," says Nelda Mercer, RD, a registered dietician in Ann Arbor, MI. Too many meal deals can jeapordize your health and your kids' long-term eating habits, she explains.

But healthy eating doesn't have to put you in the poor house. "The key is planning," says Mercer, who offers up some smart ways to save at the supermarket.

10 smart saving tips

1. Limit impulse purchases
"Go to the store with a shopping list," says Mercer. And stick to it.

2. Buy in season
Blueberries are a cheap treat come summer but practically an investment once it's fall. Consider growing some of your own produce as well.

3. Use coupons
Sign up for your supermarket's shopper discount card, too.

4. Purchase sale items in bulk
"Use the same main ingredient and dress it up differently," Mercer suggests. Turn ground beef into chili, burritos and a topping for baked potatoes. Plus, freeze some beef for the weeks to come.

5. Buy generic
Follow this rule except when you know a certain brand is of higher quality. A major national brand of sliced Swiss cheese recently sold for $4.74 per half pound versus $3.49 for the store brand (priced on peapod.com).

6. Think whole foods
"The more processed foods you buy, the higher the price," Mercer says. Even a banana in pricey New York City only costs 35 cents whereas a small candy bar costs at least 75 cents.

7. Do it from scratch
"You're paying more for convenience," says Mercer. So grate your own cheese and shred your own lettuce.

8. Shift those proportions
Use pricey meats as an accent; not the main event. For instance, skip the pork chops and cook up a pork stir-fry.

9. Load up on beans
Meat is expensive, says Mercer. A pound of 85% lean ground beef purchased on shoprite.com costs $3.69. A 1-pound can of black beans? A mere 50 cents.

10. Shop at wholesale food stores
Some examples include Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's and more. Make sure you know prices, though, to guarantee a savings.

Three meals for four under $20 each (priced on peapod.com)*


Italian Salad
Combine chopped Romaine lettuce, sliced tomato and red onion, and diced cucumber in a large bowl. Toss with light Italian dressing.

Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Pizza
Spread a prepared pizza crust (such as a thin Boboli) with canned tomato sauce; sprinkle with dried herbs to taste. Cover with shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese and layer with thin tomato slices. Sprinkle with freshly chopped basil and bake according to pizza crust directions.

Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies
A bite-size version of a classic.

Money-saving tips: Buy a whole head of Romaine and clean and chop it yourself; buy a block of cheese and grate it at home; purchase inexpensive canned tomato sauce and flavor it with your own herbs and spices.


Turkey Enchilada Pie
A Mexican specialty loaded with seasoned lean ground turkey, fresh tomatoes and cheese.

Canned Fat-Free Refried Beans
Heat according to package directions.

Fruit Salad
Combine fruit such as sliced, seedless grapes; chopped strawberries; and cantaloupe cubes in a medium bowl.

Money-saving tips: Load up on non-perishable staple sale items like canned beans; buy seasonal fruit and do the prep work yourself; purchase store-brand ground turkey breast; minimize food waste by buying fillings to make wrap sandwiches with the extra tortillas from the enchilada pie.


Spicy Pork Stir-fry
A sizzling spin on a Chinese staple thanks to chili oil and red pepper flakes.

Brown Rice
Cook according to package directions without added oil or butter.

Fortune Cookies

Money-saving tips: Buy larger bags of non-perishable items like rice since they are usually cheaper per ounce than smaller boxes; opt for less expensive store brand items that will be incorporated into the stir-fry such as marmalade and vinegar.

*Does not include the cost of staple pantry items like salt, pepper, flour, sugar, cornstarch, cooking spray, oil, vinegar, dried herbs and spices. Prices may vary depending on season and geographic area.

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