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Strategies to make your grocery budget go further

grocery shopping
Posted at 2:17 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 18:03:19-04

NORFOLK, Va. - If it seems like your grocery bill has been a lot higher than usual, that's because it likely is.

Prices are going up due to disruptions in the food supply chain.

News 3 anchor Erica Greenway spoke with Consumer Reports Nutritionist Amy Keating to find out what we can do to make our money go a little further.

Q: How much of the food we buy is getting wasted?

A: The average American household throws away a lot of food. One recent study estimates that it could be as high as a third of the food you buy. Nobody wants to eat food that’s gone bad. It’s a balancing act, and most of us are simply erring on the side of too much waste.

And sometimes we indulge a bit too much at the store. We’ve all been there—the berries at the supermarket look so tempting or your favorite brand of pasta is on sale and you buy too much. Or you think you’ll be making dinner every night during the week, but then things come up and the food goes bad before you’ve had a chance to use it.

Fortunately, it’s a fixable problem. There’s actually a lot you can do to make sure food stays good longer.

Q: Let’s talk about how to do that. Are there any items people should be particularly keen to pick up - or to avoid - when they're trying to reduce waste and maximize their grocery dollars?

A: You should not feel like you can only stock up on canned or highly processed boxed goods because they have a longer shelf life. In fact eating more whole, unprocessed foods is important now more than ever to keep you healthy. A little planning before and after the trip will help you use all that you produce, both fresh food like fruits and vegetables and less perishable items.

It’s a good idea to plan a couple of meals per shopping trip that freeze well. That way, if you wind up with too much fresh food, you can simply make the meal and toss it in the freezer so you can use it next week or even next month. Things like soups, casseroles or something like chili can easily be frozen. And, those frozen meals can last months with little impact on quality (USDA recommends 3 months). All that food can come in handy when unexpected issues arise and you simply don’t have time to cook!

Q: Most food packages have a “use by” or “sell by” date on them. Should consumers always follow them?

A: These dates are a real source of confusion for the consumers - don’t take them as gospel, even for yogurt, milk or eggs. It is estimated that confusion over date labeling accounts for an estimated 20% of consumer food waste.

There are a couple of different types of dates but they all relate to quality, not safety:

The “sell by” date is listed for retailers to help manage inventory, but does not relate to safety.

The “use by” or “best buy” is also a date that reflects the manufacturer's best estimate at which the quality may begin to diminish beyond that date.

The exception being infant formula.

So, don’t interpret them as throw out dates; instead, examine those foods. if there are any signs of spoilage, you should toss them. But otherwise, they can be perfectly good to eat.

Related: Experts show how to preserve groceries for 2 weeks, after White House urges people to stay home

Q: So, how do you get more shelf life out of the basics like eggs, bread, and fresh produce?

  • A: Eggs usually last three to five weeks after purchase.You can freeze them for longer term storage if you crack them, gently blend, and then once thawed cook for an omelette or something that requires them gently blended.
  • Bread - Never refrigerate bread or baked goods like bagels. Refrigeration will prevent mold but speed staling. For longer storage, you can freeze bread, whole or sliced, depending on whether you’ll be defrosting by the slice or the loaf. Wrap it tightly in foil or plastic wrap and put it in a sealed container and it will keep for three months.
  • Greens can deteriorate quickly and you’ll usually see it, so eat the ones you can’t freeze first (iceberg, romaine); others can be blanched and frozen, blanching will stop the enzymes that can contribute to losses of flavor, color and texture that are breaking it down. It will work for spinach, collards, kale and also vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, corn kernels, or okra.
  • With berries, the key is to wash them as you go; the moisture leads to quicker spoilage for delicate berries like strawberries and raspberries.

Q. Lastly, meats are becoming scarce and more expensive at the supermarket. What can we buy instead - and still get our protein fix?

A: Beef, pork, and poultry aren’t the only sources of protein—or the only centerpieces for a hearty meal—and in many ways they’re not the best, either. There are plenty of plant proteins to turn to. You probably already have a fair amount of peanut butter and beans in your cupboards; other sources include tofu, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and whole grains. Cheese, yogurt, and eggs are also good sources and can replace meat, too. Eating more plants will give you more of the nutrients many of us don’t get enough of, like antioxidants, potassium, healthy fats, and fiber.

Here’s an idea to help your chopped meat feed more mouths--and avoid some fat in your diet. To make a small amount of ground meat go further, mushrooms can be an almost magical secret ingredient, adding moisture, bulk, and flavor when you substitute them in for half the meat called for in meatloaf or meatballs.

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