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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Chow Line: Plan ahead to trim food budget (for 2/22/09)

February 12, 2009

We're trying to cut back on our grocery bill but want to keep eating healthfully. What are some guidelines we should follow?

Cutting costs at the grocery store could offer big payoffs, depending on what you currently spend. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of food eaten at home for a family of four can range from $526 to $1,186 a month or more, depending on the age of your family members and, even more important, how thrifty you are in your spending.

The USDA offers a 78-page booklet, "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals," that you can download free from its Web site, Some of its advice:

  • Plan meals ahead, so you know what you already have on hand and buy only what you need. Shopping from a list helps you avoid impulse purchases, which can add up quickly.
  • Build meals around less-expensive rice, noodles, pasta or other grains, and plan smaller portions of meat, poultry or fish. Many nutritionists also suggest doubling up on vegetables -- which, again, are often cheaper than most sources of protein and offer a boost nutritionally, too.
  • Use coupons, but only for foods that you would normally buy, not as a way to get a discount on something you might want to try -- the latter strategy just adds to your bottom line cost. Also, be sure to check prices of similar products, especially store brands. They might be less costly even if you use a coupon.
  • When your budget allows, buy extras of super-low-cost nutritious foods, such as potatoes or frozen juices or vegetables. In fact, you might want to walk every aisle to look for specials that offer significant savings on products you normally buy, but which might not be on your list this week. If you can freeze or otherwise store the product for the longer term, this type of "off-the-list" purchase could be a good investment to save on future grocery bills.
  • Reduce or eliminate prepared convenience foods. Making foods from scratch is generally much less costly. The booklet contains two weeks' worth of meal plans and 40 recipes for items including soups, chicken nuggets, baked potato cakes and other items consumers often purchase ready-to-eat but could make themselves relatively easily.

Additional money-saving strategies are available from Extension experts across the country at Click on Financial Crisis and choose the family-related information for a wide range of guidance, including more tips to save on your food bill. Additional money-saving strategies are available online at

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Shertzer, registered dietitian and program specialist for Ohio State University Extension in the Department of Human Nutrition, in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

For detailed information on food spending averages, see the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion's Web site at Click on "USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food."


Martha Filipic
Julie Shertzer