There are, however, some basic dietary recommendations for everyone. These include eating balanced meals on a regular schedule, which may be five small meals or three larger meals daily, with midmorning and midafternoon snacks. Bedtime snacks that include a slowly digested carbohydrate and lean protein may also be a good idea, since they help some people maintain a steady blood glucose level overnight. Meals should contain a variety of foods including lean meats or other low-fat sources of protein, whole grains and legumes, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid concentrated sweets, and drink six to eight glasses of water daily.
Know your resources
If you have serious budget woes, there are several resources available to help you obtain food at little to no cost. In most states, you can dial 2-1-1 to obtain assistance on navigating state and local social service agencies and resources. Helpful online resources include www.feedingamerica.org, which can help you locate free food assistance programs in your community, and www.moneysmartfamily.com, which offers tips on saving from an extremely resourceful husband-and-wife team. Meals On Wheels (www.mowaa.org) is a program in which community volunteers deliver meals directly to senior citizens who cannot leave their homes. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, helps millions of Americans buy food. SNAP does not pay for nonfood items such as soaps and paper products, pet food, or alcohol. Eligibility for SNAP benefits is based on a number of factors, including income, savings, family size, and work status. For more information on the program, visit www.fns.usda.gov/snap.
What foods do you already have in your pantry, freezer, or kitchen cabinet? When you take inventory of what you already have, you may be surprised to find that you have enough to survive for a long time with some creative meal planning. Sometimes the best meals can be made from what you already have, by making substitutes in recipes. However, be sure to discard any foods that have passed their use-by date or that appear spoiled in any way.
Have an action plan
Your action plan should include your money-saving goals, menu plan, and shopping lists. For menu-planning to be successful, it is best to take small steps at first. For example, start by planning dinners for one week and then gradually expand to monthly planning. Create a standard grocery-shopping list of the items you eat regularly, and modify it as necessary for special meals. Countless sample lists are available online, and they can be adjusted to your personal preferences. Organize your list according to sections of the grocery store.
Using coupons can save families as much as $1,000 a year (or even more) on groceries. Coupons are widely available in newspapers, magazines, and online, and they are often attached to receipts at the cash register. Clip and sort coupons according to the sections of your shopping list. Be sure to read the small print on coupons to check for any specific instructions and to note the expiration date.
Before you buy a name-brand product using a coupon, however, note whether there’s an equivalent generic (or store-brand) product. If the generic product is acceptable to you and is cheaper than the discounted name-brand product, it is the better buy.
It is usually best to shop at one grocery store to avoid the time, labor, and expense of driving to multiple stores. However, you may find great food deals at dollar stores and pharmacies. Read and review the weekly sales in your local newspaper. There may be price markdowns, known as “loss leaders,” that are promoted simply to get you into the store to buy more. This means you can come out ahead if you only buy what’s on sale.