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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

Jenna Smith, Extension Educator brings you helpful tips to make meals easy, healthy and tasty!
unit price

Stretching Your Food Dollars

Posted by Jenna Smith -

I recently went to the grocery store and steered the cart down my favorite aisle, the cereal aisle, only to find that my favorite cereal was now a whole dollar more than it previously had been. That's a huge price increase and a big blow to my pocket book when considering that my husband and I buy about 4 boxes of cereal each week! I can only expect that this is due to last year's drought. After doing some research, I've found that there is good news and bad news when it comes to food prices this year. The good news: USDA says food prices are expected to be lower than what they forecasted earlier. The bad news: USDA still forecasts a price increase: 2.5 to 3.5 percent, especially for most animal-based food products due to the higher cost of feed.

This means that knowing how to stretch the food dollar is imperative. The first step has been talked about in this blog many times:

· Plan for meals and snacks! Planning meals ahead of time can save trips to the grocery store, limit impulse purchases, reduce anxiety over what to cook for dinner, and allow for healthier meals.

· Check to see what you already have on hand. Is there something that needs to be eaten up before it goes bad? Wasted food means wasted money!

· Look at grocery store ads for sales, and check to see if there are any coupons. Grocery store ads can be a means for spurring ideas. Many times they will group together ingredients on sale that will make a meal. For instance, spaghetti noodles, spaghetti sauce and ground beef may all be marked down. In-store or online coupons can save you money.

· But don't spend money just because you have a coupon! Ask yourself: Is it something you would normally buy? Is it a healthy item? Are there other brands that actually cost less, even with the coupon? Coupons could make you spend more if you aren't careful!

· Compare unit prices. What is a unit price? It's the package price divided by the number of ounces or pounds. The unit price is usually smaller and next to the package price. See the picture above. Which cream of mushroom soup would be the best buy? (Answer below).

· Only buy in bulk when you have enough storage space and plenty of time before the item deteriorates. Stock up on non-food items like paper products, cleaning supplies and bathroom necessities at discount stores where they are often much cheaper.

· Choose food with less packaging. Convenience means costly. Whole carrots may be less expensive than shredded carrots, and a whole chicken may be cheaper than buying its "parts" separately. You may need to plan for a bit more time preparing meals, but it could save you money!

For money savvy programs and financial tips, from college saving to retirement planning, contact Pam Atkinson, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Economics at Check out the Plan Well, Retire Well blog that Pam contributes to.

Unit Price Answer: Since the unit price is the same, you are not saving any money by buying the larger size. Unless you need the larger size, the best buy is the 16 oz. Cream of Mushroom soup for $1.39.


Vegetable and Bean Quesadillas

1 can (7 oz.) low-sodium whole kernel corn, drained

1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes with green chilies

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup fat-free refried beans

16 (8-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas

1 cup reduced-fat cheese, shredded

½ cup nonfat sour cream, optional

½ cup salsa, optional

In a medium bowl, combine corn, tomatoes, and cilantro. Mix well. Spread 2 Tablespoons refried beans in 8 tortillas. Top with 2 Tablespoons cheese and 2 Tablespoons corn mixture. Cover each with 1 of the 8 remaining tortillas. In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, heat each quesadilla for 5 to 10 minutes on each side until cheese is melted and tortillas are toasted. Cut into wedges and serve with sour cream and salsa if desired.

Yield: 16 servings, ½ quesadilla each

Nutritional analysis per serving (without sour cream and salsa): 160 Calories, 4 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 510 milligrams sodium, 26 grams total carbohydrate, 4 grams dietary fiber, 7 grams protein

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