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Plan meals to save time, cut down on costs

May 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Food prices are skyrocketing and there's no sign of them coming down anytime soon. So it's time for a game plan to keep costs down on the meals you make at home.

While heading to the market isn't the best part of your week, you can win the grocery game if you have your meals and market list well prepared.

"You've got to go to dollar stores, you've got to go to club stores, you've got to go to grocery outlets. You really have to dig a lot deeper than we did three years ago when the recession first hit," said supermarket guru Phil Lempert.

Lempert says produce prices went up 49 percent since January. With food prices going up, people need to be smarter about what and where they buy.

"Take inventory of what you have in your cupboard, what you have in your freezer so you don't overspend," said Lempert.

That tip is one that most people don't do, but if they did, they would likely cut down on spending.

Check weekly store specials and stock up on sales if you have the room. Keep a running list of items when you run out, so you don't go for impulse buys. Keep all your meal plans, so you can create an easy "go to" quick list of meals.

"Of course never go shopping if you're hungry, cranky, in a good mood or in a bad mood, because you're going to overspend," said Lempert.

Now get ready to prep.

We've got a week's worth of meals so you and your family can eat well on a pauper's budget.

Start with eggs, beans and tuna: Three very economical proteins. Marry them with inexpensive produce and whole grains.

First up: canned tuna. Try a tuna salad made with plain yogurt in lieu of mayo, then pack two cups of chopped veggies to add volume. I used jicima, celery, apple and cabbage.

Eggs are one of the cheapest proteins. Make an egg sandwich on whole wheat toast or a spinach omelet. It's a great start to the day with sliced baked potato slices as a nice side.

Beans are a complete protein and perfect married with brown rice or potato. Mix up a can of black beans, can of crushed tomatoes and brown rice. Blend that up the next day for soup or just top a baked potato.

And use your leftover rice with veggies, egg and cheese. It makes a great baked casserole as well.

The average American family throws away about 14 percent of its food every year-- about $600 worth-- so using food this way cuts waste down considerably.

Finally, freeze what you don't use in well-labeled containers and make sure you rotate the oldest up front.

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