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Family and Consumer Sciences Experts Serve Up Ideas for Savings
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If your last trip to the grocery store left you clucking unhappily at poultry prices or rooting in the produce aisle for extra cash in your wallet, you’re not alone.
Amid the pandemic, a clogged supply chain and the war in Ukraine, a 40-year high in inflation has had Americans paying more for gas, housing and, yes, food. Prices in July climbed 8.5% overall compared with the past year—cooling a bit from June’s 9.1%, but with the food index still rising.
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But simple steps at the store and at home can help you get the most bang for your buck, say two experts from the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Shauna C. Henley, a family and consumer sciences senior agent, and Laryessa Worthington, principal faculty specialist and Eat Smart and mobile technology coordinator, spoke with Maryland Today to provide tips on how to navigate the higher prices and get the most out of meals:
Build your grocery list around what’s on sale and in season, Worthington suggested. Supermarkets often advertise discounts a couple of days before they go live, she said, so shoppers can check online or on apps ahead of time to cost-effectively plan the week’s meals.
“You can even ask the butcher or the seafood or produce manager when things (during the week) might have a discounted price, too,” Henley added. “They’re there to make the sale and help you, so they’ll answer your questions.”
Both experts also recommended checking the unit price, the number on the price tag showing the cost per item or measurement, often in ounces or pounds. That allows customers to more precisely compare the prices of different brands or sizes to get the best deal.
Frozen or canned foods might not only be cheaper, but they last longer so you can stock up. This goes beyond just veggies and beans, Henley said, for Marylanders who want to get their seafood fix for less.
“A lot of times for our state, getting some pre-picked crab meat out of the seafood counter is great,” she said, “but you might also find some other good seafood options that are next to the canned tuna that you might not have thought of before.”
How and when you shop can also keep money in your wallet. Online shopping, like with services such as Instacart, can tamp down impulse buys, Worthington said.
“While it may be a little more expensive for you to use that particular app, you’re not putting all the extra things (in your cart) that you would typically get as you’re doing your own grocery shopping, which helps save money,” she said.
But if you prefer hitting the aisles in person, try to map out meals beforehand and stick to the list. (And if you’re out running errands, put your grocery run last, Henley said, to prevent food from spoiling in your hot car.)
Once you’re home with your groceries, make the most of them by getting creative in the kitchen.
Let’s say you opted for a whole chicken (it’s cheaper to cut it up yourself instead of buying specific parts, like just a breast, Henley noted, and bone-in meats will be cheaper than boneless). Try using “less desirable” cuts, like organ meats, too, she suggested, and stretch that protein by adding beans, nuts or even eggs.
“There are so many things out there cookbook-wise, and recipes and techniques that people can access (online) for free that weren’t available when I was younger,” Henley said.
Worthington also recommends checking out the Maryland SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) website and its Cooking 5 Ways resource for ideas on adding variety to beans, rice, canned goods and other pantry staples.
Always throwing away moldy fruit or funky milk? Avoid that waste by getting a refrigerator thermometer, with simple models available for under $10. That’ll make it easy to ensure your fridge stays at the ideal 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to avoid microbial growth, Henley said.
Other useful resources include the FoodKeeper App, which allows users to search foods to see how long they should be stored, and the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s guidelines.
Processed foods like crackers or cookies can do damage to your grocery bill. If you have the time, Henley suggests, satisfy that craving for salt or crunch by making those items at home. Bonus: That’s the healthier option, too.
“I was the crazy person that was like, ‘Cheerios, that has a lot of added sugar in it. Let me see if I can make my own,’” she said. Oat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and water did the trick, with Henley rolling the dough up, cutting it with a knife and baking it until it was dry. (She opted not to form the bite-size pieces into O’s to keep it simple.)
You can also pack some punch into your recipes and save money with homegrown herbs or veggies, she said, like basil, peppers or tomatoes.
Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.
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