Byline: DEBORAH GEERING; For the Journal-Constitution
So many choices, so little cash.
American grocery stores are wondrous, bountiful places, but they are also evil tempters: shelf after shelf of pricey convenience foods trying to lure you off your budget, as well as your diet.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says a thrifty family of four can eat for a week on $93.10 to $107.70.
Doable? You bet --- even without clipping coupons, buying in bulk or eating Spam twice a day. Inside this section, you'll find a sample menu and shopping list to prove it. But to get a week's worth of interesting, healthy meals at that price, your family may have to change a few habits, say nutrition experts.
"One of the most difficult areas is lunchtime," says Trudy Alexander, a registered, licensed dietitian in Atlanta. At dinner, she explains, a family can cook in volume and eat the same foods, but at lunch, everyone's off in different directions. Even when someone's making sandwiches, deli-style meats are far more expensive than dinner cuts.
"Baloney sandwiches are cheap, but I wouldn't want my family to be eating baloney because of the fat and salt content," Alexander says.
Her solution? "At dinner, double the portion. Then you can have lunch or at least another meal out of it."
Packing leftovers is also simpler than preparing sandwiches for the whole family, making it more likely that everyone will be sent off with a brown bag instead of lunch money. That one change can save more than $15 a day.
Another health-promoting, cost-cutting step is to keep your kids out of the breakfast cereal aisle --- or at least train them to look beyond the lowest shelves, where the super sugar zingers lurk. "Those are usually the most popular and least nutritious" brands, Alexander says. Instead, she suggests buying the out-of-reach house brand.
"That saves a lot of money; I mean a lot. Cereal is one of the most expensive items that you put in your cart. And kids go through that stuff."
Before you place any food in your basket, consider how much nutritional value it packs for the buck.
"Beans are one of nature's best foods," says Cindy Kanarek Culver, a registered and licensed dietitian who serves as the area nutrition coordinator for Cobb County Public Schools. "They're a good source of protein and iron, high in fiber, low cost, great taste."
Keep cans of kidney, pinto, black and garbanzo beans on hand to toss into soups, stews or vegetable side dishes. Use them to extend a pasta sauce instead of meat, suggests Alexander.
"We don't need as much meat as a lot of people think," she says. "What we need to focus on is the fruits and vegetables."
Fresh produce is wonderful, but it can be expensive. On our sample shopping list, for instance, fresh vegetables and fruits accounted for roughly 40 percent of the total bill. To maximize nutritional value while keeping costs down, says Culver, select in-season produce in a variety of colors. The more colors on your plate, the wider the nutritional spectrum, she says.
Fresh corn, lettuce, squash and green beans are at good prices right now. So are tomatoes, melons, peaches, mangoes and bananas.
Because produce is highly perishable, however, it also presents the risk of waste. One way to reduce that risk while saving money, says Alexander, is to buy frozen. That way "you use what you need and put the rest in the freezer."
"Ideally, it would be fresh, all the way, but it's not going to happen. You can't always be a purist when it comes to time constraints."
Finally, suggests Culver, watch your portions.
Big meals can be a double whammy, striking your wallet as well as your waistline. If you tend to reason that supersizing is worth a few more pennies, Culver says, consider the potential long-term costs to your body: obesity, heart disease, diabetes. "You're going to end up going to the doctor, when you could have just saved your 25 cents, and your health."
ON THE WEB: Food pyramid dietary guidelines: www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2000/document/contents.htm
Black Bean Soup, *CPS: 32 cents
Cornmeal muffins from a mix (Jiffy): 18 cents each
Green salad, *CPS: 41 cents
Sauteed Pork Chops With Rosemary-Green Grape Pan Sauce, *CPS: $1.25
Roasted Sweet Potatoes, *CPS: 28 cents
Fresh green beans, *CPS: 37 cents
Bread, Tomato and Chickpea Salad, *CPS: $1.13
Chilled Cantaloupe Soup With Lime, *CPS: 44 cents
/ Styling by DEBORAH GEERING / Special; WILLIAM BERRY / Staff
THE SHOPPING LIST
Feed a family of four for a week on about $100? It can be done, and you won't have to eat a single hot dog or plate of mac 'n' cheese. But you will need to plan ahead.
You won't have much room for convenience foods or packaged snacks. But your family can eat varied, healthy meals made with good-quality ingredients.
To compile this shopping list and menu, we made a few assumptions. First, we guessed that your kitchen is stocked with the following staples: flour, sugar, butter, cooking oil, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, dried spices, salt, pepper and jelly. Although these items did not appear in our total grocery bill, their cost was figured into each recipe's price per serving.
Second, we assumed that you'd be doing all your shopping at one grocery store (if you're willing to shop around, especially at discount or warehouse stores, you could save significantly). We shopped at Publix and Kroger the week of July 7. And though we didn't refuse any sale prices, including preferred-customer specials at Kroger, we assumed you would not be using any coupons.
If you can live off this grocery bill for a week, then, with a little economizing (using coupons, shopping at multiple stores, stocking up during sales, buying in bulk), you should have money left over each week for a few extravagances: a bottle of wine, a high-quality cut of meat or maybe even some of those brand-name snacks and cereals your kids are going to be screaming for.
2 heads lettuce
1 bunch celery
1 small red onion
1 head garlic
1 head cabbage
10 ears corn
2-pound bag carrots
1 pound green beans
4 yellow squash
4 large sweet potatoes
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint
2 pounds green grapes
1 pint blueberries
1 pound tofu
1 18-ounce jar peanut butter
2 small packages (Jiffy) cornmeal muffin mix (enough for 12 muffins)
1 pound black beans
1 pound pasta
1 pound rice
1 bag (12 servings) cereal
2 cans kidney beans
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 small can black olives
1 can tomatillos or salsa verde
2 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles
1/2 pound coffee
1 packet salad dressing mix
2 1/2-3 pounds chicken thighs
1 pound sliced ham
1 pound thin-sliced pork loin chops
1 pound ground beef
2 dozen eggs
8 ounces cheddar cheese
8 ounces feta cheese
1 8-ounce container plain yogurt
1 gallon milk
1 pint half and half
1/2 gallon orange juice
10 flour tortillas
2 loaves bread, at least one whole-grain
8 hamburger buns or sandwich rolls
1 pound bag frozen spinach
1 pound bag frozen broccoli
1 half-gallon vanilla ice cream
1 2-liter bottle soda
1 medium-size bag chips
Grand total at Publix: $92.43
Grand total at Kroger: $98.30
Breakfast: Ham, cheese and spinach omelets; orange juice
Lunch: Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Dinner: Chicken Chili Verde, Light Coleslaw, corn on the cob
Breakfast: Cereal, orange juice
Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, celery sticks
Dinner: Black Bean Soup, corn muffins, salad, sliced peaches and vanilla ice cream
Breakfast: Leftover corn muffins, fruit salad
Lunch: Chicken Verde Burritos, chips
Dinner: Sauteed Pork Chops With Rosemary-Green Grape Pan Sauce, green beans, Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Breakfast: Peanut butter and banana smoothies
Lunch: Black Bean Soup, Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Dinner: Spinach-Broccoli Frittata, Orangy-Minty Carrots, ice cream
Breakfast: Cereal, orange juice
Lunch: Quesadillas, green salad, grapes
Dinner: Tomato, Bread and Chickpea Salad; succotash; Chilled Cantaloupe Soup With Lime
Breakfast: Blueberry-peach smoothies
Lunch: Ham and cheese sandwiches, leftover succotash
Dinner: Clean-Out-the-Fridge Stir-Fry With Tofu and Peanut Sauce
Breakfast: Cereal, orange juice
Lunch: Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, celery sticks
Dinner: Grilled hamburgers, corn on the cob, salad, blueberries over vanilla ice cream