Food costs are on the rise. Here are some tips on how to stretch your food dollars every day but also for the holidays. By planning ahead, budgeting, making smart food choices, and preparing low-cost recipes

Before shopping:

Plan your weekly meals and snacks. Preparing in advance will help you know what you need and also help you put leftovers to good use.

Use store circulars and go online to look for coupons, sales, and store specials. Only use coupons on foods you normally eat. Make sure the coupons give you the best value for your money.

For added savings, sign up for the store discount card or bonus card at your local supermarket.

During shopping:

Have something to eat before you go shopping. It’s easier to stick to your shopping list when you are not hungry.

Try store brands. They are the same quality and cost less.

Compare products for the best deal. Use unit pricing and also the Nutrition Facts labels to get the best product for your money. For more on food labels go to snap.nal.usda.gov/ resource-library/handouts-and-websites/using-nutrition-facts-labels.

Check “sell by” or “use by” dates. Buy the freshest food possible. For more on food product dating, go to fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/ fsis/topics/food-safety-education/ get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/ food-labeling/food-product-dating/foodproduct-dating.

After shopping:

Store food right away in the refrigerator or freezer to keep it fresh and safe.

If you buy a large amount of fresh food, like meat, poultry, or fish, divide it into meal-size packages, label the food, and freeze it for later use.

Use foods with the earliest expiration dates first.

Best buys for cost and nutrition breads and grains:

Choose whole-grain breads. Look for bargains on day-old varieties. Buy regular brown rice and old-fashioned oats and grits instead of instant varieties to save money and consume less sugar, salt, and calories.

Vegetables:

Buy large bags of frozen vegetables. When choosing canned vegetables, look for “low sodium” or “no added salt” on the label.

Fruits:

Buy fresh fruit in season — it generally costs less. Frozen and canned fruits are available year round, can save you money, and have similar nutrition values to fresh.

Low-fat or fat-free milk products:

Buy low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese in the largest size that can be used before spoiling. Larger containers cost less per serving than smaller sizes. Ultra-pasteurized milk found on store shelves has a longer expiration date and won’t spoil as fast.

Meat and beans:

Dried beans and peas are a good source of protein and fiber. They can last a year or more without spoiling. Canned tuna packed in water is an inexpensive healthy protein choice. Light tuna has less mercury than white (albacore) tuna.

Source: USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent.

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