16 Tips For Cutting Family Food Expenses

Cutting food expensesDoes your lettuce turn to mush? Mushrooms start to grow fuzzy? Do your bananas blacken before your family can eat them? In the US, the average family of four, loses $1,500 each year to food it has to throw out. This is like tossing one bag out of every four purchased at the grocery store.

Food is a necessary expense but there are ways to save money. Check out these tips!

1. Use a Grocery List

Keep a grocery list where it’s easily accessible, such as on Use a grocery listthe fridge, and take it with you to the grocery store. Always shop with a list. Stick to your list for added savings, but do stay flexible if you encounter a sale. Gas for an extra trip to the store easily can add a dollar or more to your grocery bill. And the less you shop, the less likely you’ll buy something on impulse.


  • Gas to drive four miles for an extra trip to the store: $1.00 (or more!)
  • Impulse purchase of snack crackers at the store: An additional $2.50 spent.

2. Garbage Check

We lose money whenever we toss food because it spoiled before we got around to eating it. If leftovers get the “heave-ho” because they’re left too long, we’re putting money in the garbage can. Plan to avoid tossing foods.

Consider: If wilted lettuce frequently goes in your garbage can, serve more salads at the beginning of the week. If extra mashed potatoes get tossed because they’ve lingered too long in the fridge, make less next time. Some other ideas: Use ripe bananas in banana bread; add juice to smoothies or make popsicles; freeze leftovers for another meal.


  • Tossing a half bag of “tired” lettuce: $1.00.

3. Avoid Shopping When Hungry

Everything looks good on an empty stomach. And it’s all too easy to buy something to tide us over in the car until we make it home. Eating before going shopping not only helps forestall impulse buys, it may save calories. If you’re shopping with your kids, feed them in advance as well.


  • Buying an energy bar at the grocery store to tide you over until you get home: $1.50 more spent.

4. Brown Bag It

If you normally eat out at noon, consider brown-bagging it at least one day a week. The typical fast-food meal out easily can cost $5.00 or more. Take food left over from an Brown bag it and bring your own lunchevening meal to work the next day. A peanut butter sandwich and a piece of whole fruit can be quickly packed from foods on hand.

Note: You may save money on your children’s lunch by having them participate in the school lunch program. They can eat a balanced meal that is offered at a reasonable price.


  • Eating a sack lunch once a week: Save $2.50 (or more!)
  • Eating a sack lunch five days a week: Save $12.50 (or more!)

5. Coupon Common Sense

Use coupons only for foods you normally would eat, rather than for “extras.” Don’t miss out on potential sources of valuable coupons. Check your grocery receipt — sometimes there are great coupons on the back that help save money. Also, if you have access to a computer, check online for coupons. For starters, check the Web site of the store coupon common sensewhere you shop or for products you use.

Often the Web site address for many foods is given on the product label.

If possible, shop on double- or triple-coupon days when a store increases the value of coupons. Grocery store loyalty cards may be another source of savings, offering in-store discounts to cardholders.


  • Not buying that NEW dessert mix just because you have a coupon: Save $2.00.
  • Using two 50-cent coupons for items you do use: Save $1.00.

Check expiration dates6. Check Expiration Dates

Avoid buying a food that is past its prime. If it’s on sale and near its expiration date, use it soon.


  • Avoid dumping a half gallon of soured milk down the drain: Save $2.50.

7. Small-Scale Experiments

When trying a new food, buy the smallest size package. If your family doesn’t like the new food, you won’t be stuck with a big quantity.


  • Buy a small amount of an exotic spice until you discover if your family will eat it in the new recipe: Save $1.50.

8. Costly Convenience Foods

How much time do you really save when you buy a convenience food? It takes just a fewPre-cut vegetables seconds to mix your own sugar and cinnamon rather than buying it pre-mixed.
Microwaving a bowl of regular oatmeal rather than pouring hot water over the contents of a pre-measured package adds only a few minutes.

You’re likely to save by cutting fruits and veggies yourself. Plus, the precut ones won’t keep as long!


  • Buying one carton of old-fashioned or quick oatmeal that provides 30 servings vs. buying three boxes of instant oatmeal that contain 10 packets each: Save $5.50.

9. Staple Food Stock Up

Invest in staple foods when they’re on sale. Buying a boatload of bananas (or other perishable foods) isn’t a very good long-term investment. Stocking up on staple items such as reduced-price canned tuna or tomato sauce might be. Remember to check expiration dates.


  • Stocking up on 10 cans of tuna reduced by 20 cents apiece: Save $2.00.

10. Bulking Up When the Price Is Right and You Can Use It

Bulk of orangesFirst, do the math and check to see if you actually do save by buying a larger package.
The cost of two foods of a smaller size may be a better price than the larger one. Plus, will you
use the food while it is still tasty? Always check it out and if the larger size meets your criteria, go for it!


  • Buying a 5-pound bag of rice instead of a 1-pound bag: Save $1.50.

11. Store Brand Savings

Store brands are comparable in nutrition to name brands. And taste-wise there may be Store brand Mountain Dewlittle difference. In some comparisons, they have been preferred over the name brands.
Some store brands may vary more in size, color, or texture than the name brands. However this may be unimportant, depending on their use. A less-than-perfect-appearing vegetable may be just fine if used in a casserole or soup.

Don’t shop just at eye level. Store brands and lower-priced brands tend to be positioned on the top and bottom shelves. The national brands are more likely to be on the middle shelves.


  • Buying just two store brands and saving 50 cents on each: Save $1.00.

12. Prevent Food Flops

Check preparation methods for unfamiliar foods. A tropical fruit may look enticing at the store, but if you’re not sure how to prepare it or where to find more information once you bring it home, think again. Or that new cut of meat — do you slowly roast it or can it be grilled? Either way, find out or risk having a food flop.

Often the produce person or the meat manager at the store can give you some tips. Many produce departments have books with descriptions of all items, what they taste like, how to prepare them, etc.


  • Purchasing a bag of self-rising flour without first reading the recipe’s directions and discovering it won’t work: Lose $2.50.

13. Beware of Snack Attacks

Unless you’re fairly active and need the calories, limit snacks such as chips, cookies, Junk foodcandy, etc. You’ll save money and may lose unwanted pounds at the same time.


  • Buying one less bag of chips weekly: Save $2.00.

14. Shop the Specials

Plan your menus around sale items, especially more expensive purchases, such as meat. Buying several packages of meat on sale and freezing them may save quite a bit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that it is safe to freeze meat or poultry in its supermarket wrapping but this type of wrap is permeable to air. So, unless you plan to use them within a month or so, overwrap packages of meat for long-term storage using airtight heavy-duty foil, freezer plastic wrap or freezer paper, or put the packages of meat inside freezer plastic bags. Use these materials to repackage family packs of meat into smaller amounts.

While raw ground meat maintains optimum quality in the freezer for 3 to 4 months, larger cuts of meat like steaks or chops will maintain optimum quality for 4 to 12 months. At 0o F, frozen food remains safe indefinitely. The safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator on a plate on the bottom shelf so it doesn’t drip on other foods.


  • Buying meat on sale: Save $2.00.

15. Think Before You Drink

re-usable water bottlesBuy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Your investment soon will pay for itself. Limit consumption of soft drinks and fancy coffees. And if you do buy drinks occasionally, try to buy returnable bottles.


  • Drinking tap water vs. buying a 12-pack of bottled water: Save $4.00.

16. “Check-out” Temptation

As you wait in line, think twice about buying some last minute temptation at the check-out counter.


  • Resist that magazine: Save $3.50.

Grand Total

The more of these tips you use and the more foods you use with them, the family cutting expensesmore you save.

Case in point: If you were able to use each of the preceding examples in one shopping trip, you could save as much as $40 that week.

Multiply that by 52 weeks and the savings would be… over $2,000 yearly!

Note: Prices in this NebGuide were rounded to the nearest 50 cents and may vary by store and location.

Alice C. Henneman, Extension Educator, Nancy G. Frecks, Extension Educator, and Kathy Prochaska-Cue, Extension Family Economist 

(This article was originally published by the authors as a NebGuide. It is re-published here with their permission.)

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5 Ways To Support Children’s Healthy Eating Habits


How do adults unknowingly overfeed children? Research has shown that adults are concerned if the child is eating enough, and a straightforward approach to alleviate this concern is to pressure children to eat.

“Do you need a snack?” “Can I get you another helping?” “Eat just one more bite. You will be hungry later!”

Research has shown that children up to 5 years of age can self-regulate their energy intake, or will eat or not eat based on their hunger and fullness signals. Why then, do we feel compelled to insist children eat everything on their plate? Why do we mandate children eat all of their green beans and drink all of their milk? By requiring that children meet these conditions for eating (and more), adults are actually teaching children to follow our cues for being full rather than their own.

Have you said to your child, “If you eat all your veggies, you can have dessert”? Most of us have used food as a reward in an effort to get children to eat more fruits and vegetables. However, such controlling practices (such as pressuring children to eat or offering food as a reward) negatively impacts children’s eating habits and is a risk factor for obesity.

Sit Down At A Table Together

Children are also more likely to put food on their plate, which increases the chance they will actually try a new food when they see their friends, teachers or another adult with a particular food on their plate. If you are a parent or child care professional you might not get another chance to sit down, connect with the children and relax, so don’t miss out – this is your excuse to take a load off and enjoy a meal together!

Turn Off The Television

What is so important on the television that can’t wait until after dinner? Television is jam packed with commercials that have my kids saying “I want that”, “Mom, can we get those.” Plus, commercials about food make us hungry! It doesn’t matter if we just ate –seeing commercials advertising food often leave us feeling famished.

Ask “Would You…” Or “Are You…”

Parents and professionals should focus on asking rather than telling when it comes to meal times. Rather than, “You need to try the asparagus” consider, “This asparagus tastes fresh and yummy. Would you like to try it?” Positive peer pressure occurs when a child tastes the food and then asks a friend to try it.

As the meal time is winding down you might say, “Boy my tummy is full, I don’t think I could eat another bite”. If children are still eating you could say, “You ate all of your peaches, if you are hungry you can have some more”. Research has shown that when you use the terms hunger and fullness you are supporting children’s internal cues. Just asking if they want more may override a child’s internal signals. Since children can recognize their internal signals of hunger and fullness, it is important to support and cue them by asking if they are hungry, when offering them more food.

Practice Family Style Dining

Research shows that children learn over time to take the right amount of food based on their internal cues for hunger and fullness. There are plenty of times for you to wait on your little ones hand and foot – the dinner table doesn’t need to be one of those times.

A great way to practice with children serving themselves is to add kitchen items to the dramatic play area. This will give children an opportunity to balance trays of food and pour milk and tea. For actual meal times, consider using or purchasing small serving bowls, and a small pitcher for the milk. Items like table spoons, ¼ and ½ cup measuring spoons and cups are also great to use to teach not only appropriate serving sizes but math at the same time!

It is perfectly ok to state that children can have 2 chicken strips, or 3 brussel sprouts to start out with, and more if they are still hungry. Sometime children get overly excited about being able to take their own food so I recommend stating a number before the bowl starts going around.

Serve milk last. It never fails that no matter how careful kids are, milk inevitably spills – don’t cry over it (or yell), simply ask the little one to grab a towel or paper towels and clean up their mess. The littler ones may need some assistance at the end, but should still be given the opportunity to learn that they need to clean-up their spills.

Childcare Professionals And Parent Communication

Parents and child care professionals should be in constant communication about meal times. Child care providers should mention if the child didn’t eat anything and in turn parents should mention if that matters to them or not. Communication about food is a must.

Research has shown that children will eat when they are hungry, so you do not need to pressure them. I am not suggesting you withhold food. It should be made very clear to the child that lunch (or whatever meal you are currently eating) is all they get until snack which is served at a specific time. Communicate to families and with family members and friends that this is how you work meal times and ask for support before this comes about.

Remember, no matter how innocent your intentions are with your children or the children you serve, they should be making the decision about how hungry or full they are. Children will eat when they are hungry – make the most of your meal and snack times and enjoy these early years. They will be over before you know it!

To learn more about effective ways to support healthy eating habits in children, check out Dr. Dev’s Other Work 

Dr. Dipti Dev, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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