Trim the fat from your food budget

Campbell’s senior chef David Landers examines produce at Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market

After you've divvied up your income between rent, mortgage, car payment and other big ticket items, what's the biggest expense in your budget?

If you're like most Americans, it's food.

Between grocery bills, restaurants, and the Monday morning coffee run, the cost of food can add up.

And food prices are steadily on the rise with meat, eggs and dairy taking the lead. Last year's devastating drought, coupled with a nasty virus in the nation's hog population all contributed to higher prices at the grocery store.

Kristin Wong, a personal finance writer with the Lifehacker blog 'Two Cents', stopped into the Marketplace Money studio to share a few tips about how to get our food spending under control.

Find protein that's cheap, not steep

With hamburgers and pork chops taking a bigger bite out of your grocery bill, Wong recommends giving less expensive forms of protein like tofu a second glance.

"Not everybody has the palate for tofu, but if you do it's a really good cost effective way you can eat."

Focus on in season produce

Stocking up on cheap, healthy staples like sweet potatoes, potatoes and lentils is another way to pad out your dinner plate.

"You can get a lot of produce that's on sale and in season and you can freeze it and use it when it's not in season," she says.

Plan ahead

But, Wong says, meal planning is where the real savings come in. She says a fellow blogger turned her on to a technique called the Inverted Pyramid Method that allows you to plan an entire weeks worth of meals around one or two big recipes.

"They'll plan out one or two really big meals then they'll plan the rest of their meals for the week based on the leftover ingredients from the one or two big meals," she says. "It's a cool strategy because you're avoiding food waste, which is what this all boils down to. That's the main thing you don't want to do when you're on a budget."

Mix and match

And if you're just not sure what to make with a hodge podge of leftover ingredients? That's where a website called Supercook comes in handy.

"You can put in whatever you have in your pantry and it will compile recipes for you. And you can even highlight the ingredient that you want to focus on, so if you have extra tofu you can highlight that and all these recipes will pop up with tofu as the main ingredient."

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

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