Smart Spending

Cheap Ways to Feed a Family

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"Cheap Ways to Feed a Family"
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In today's difficult economy, feeding a family cheaply can be a difficult and sometimes even overwhelming challenge. By arming yourself with some practical knowledge about ways to save money and ways to stretch your food and make use of everything available to you, you can feed a family a healthy diet without having to go broke to do so. The key, of course, is planning properly so that you can take advantage of the best deals available.

Here are some ways to feed a family for cheap, regardless of whether you want to cook a full meal or do something easier.

*Plant a vegetable garden -

Growing your own vegetables is a great way to be able to include these healthy, but expensive foods in your family's diet. You can can things like tomatoes, make pasta or pizza sauces and can that, make salsa and can that. You can make your own pickles, freeze things like peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower or even peppers. You can also grow things like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries and save yourself a lot of money that way.

*Look to food co-ops and CSA programs -

Food co-ops typically sell many of the staples you'd buy in the supermarket in bulk. Things like coffee, sugar, beans, flour, pasta, grains and even laundry soap, shampoo and household cleaning supplies may be available in bulk at cheaper prices. Community Supported Agriculture programs offer people a really convenient and cost effective way to buy fresh, seasonal produce, and to be able to do so by paying a certain fee for it. You may have to pay to join the CSA, but the cost of membership will be worth your while because most CSA programs offer only organic produce.

*Shop at Dent and Bent Stores -

If you're looking for packaged and/or canned products, a Dent and Bent store can often be a great place to shop. You can purchase the same products you would find in your regular grocery store, but because the packages are slightly damaged, the supermarket may not be able to sell them at all. A Dent and Bent store will purchase the merchandise at substantial discounts and pass that savings on to you. You can easily save 50% over what you would have paid at a regular retailer by buying some things at a Dent and Bent Store.

*Look to Dollar Stores -

Surprisingly, more and more Dollar Stores are starting to carry food products. Things like pickles, canned products and mayonnaise may be considerably cheaper than the price of the same brand product at the grocery store. A bottle of pickles may cost roughly $2 at the grocery store, but the Dollar Store may sell some other brand for $1.25.  Some stores may even sell milk, bread and other things you wouldn't normally expect to find in a dollar store. If you need to buy bottled water, you may be able to purchase a gallon of something like Crystal Geyser for as little as $.50.

*Reduce your meat consumption -

If you learn to make meals that use less meat or more inexpensive types of meat, that can also be a big money saver. Vegetarian meals such as veggie pizzas, macaroni and cheese, vegetarian spaghetti, or even things like meatless burritos or other Mexican dishes will appeal to most family members.

Consider making one dish meals such as pots of chili in which you substitute turkey for ground beef. A big pot of bean soup is a hearty meal and you can add flavor to it by using ham shanks or hocks. Cut the meat off the shanks or hocks and there will be a little meat in the soup. Add vegetables such as canned tomatoes, celery, carrots and onions and the whole family will eat it.

*Learn to incorporate leftovers -

If you can incorporate your leftovers into additional meals out of which you create something new, or simply eat the leftovers as is, you will save a considerable amount of money. Wasting leftovers is tantamount to wasting money. You can take leftover cooked chicken and make something like chicken enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, a stir fry, fettucine, or chicken salad. Left over ham can be used in omelets, hash, or a ham and cheese casserole. Use left over ground beef from tacos to make some other Mexican dish or even Sloppy Joe's.

*Cook for the week ahead on the weekend -

If you really feel pressed for time and want to steer clear of the fast food joints, cook up some large dishes that can be eaten throughout the week on the weekend. You can divide the dishes up into usable portions and freeze what you aren't going to use right away. Then, all you have to do is microwave the portion you want to use to defrost it. Then you can heat it via whatever means you would normally use to reheat things.

*Plan your weekly meals -

Planning menus for a week is a good way to keep your food costs down. If you can check the store flyer and find out what is on sale and plan your meals accordingly, that will also save you a considerable amount of money. Stock up on staples that may be on sale because that way, you'll always have basic ingredients with which to put a meal together on hand.

*Use coupons -

The effort required to cut or print coupons can be very worthwhile if you are willing to use them. If you create an organizing system for your coupons, you'll find that it is very easy to use them when you want to purchase something. You may be surprised at the amount of money that you can save on your weekly food bill simply by carefully shopping and taking advantage of coupons. Inquire as to whether the store where you shop will double the value of coupons or accept expired coupons. If they will double coupons, then you can use a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon and get double the face value of each coupon off the product.

Consider abandoning brand loyalty. If you can learn to do that, you can take advantage of sales on whatever brand happens to be discounted at a given time. That also means that you can regularly take advantage of the best sales so that you always have a good supply of shelf stable staples in your pantry. Be sure you pay attention to expiration dates.

Look for discounts on packages in grocery stores. You may find a package of some meat product that would normally sell for as much as $3.48 a pound, but the sell by date is the next day, so the store has marked the entire package down to $.99. Instead of paying $7 for that package, you got a steal by only having to pay $.99, but you'll either have to freeze it or use it right away.

Feeding a family cheaply is not all that difficult to do. As long as you are armed with practical knowledge about how to do so and how to be a cost conscious budget shopper, you will be able to provide your family with a very healthy and varied diet, and you won't have to go broke in the process. Buy things when they are on sale, learn to use your leftovers, and learn to make healthy, one pot casseroles, soups and other tasty dishes. In a pinch, however, you can always take advantage of the cheap and easy dollar menus at many of the fast food establishments, although that is the least healthy option you could choose.

More about this author: Susan Klatz Beal

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