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Feed Your Family, Save a Fortune

It�s all about the nutrient density.

By Amy McVay

Last week, I confessed to a frugal heresy. Namely, we don't clip coupons. So how are we saving money if we're not busy annoying the people in line behind us with a huge coupon stash?

In a nutshell, we buy food with high nutrient density when it's on sale. Nutrient density is simply the amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals) per calorie consumed.

Meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and some nuts and whole grains, all with high nutrient densities, make our shopping lists.

Anything else generally doesn’t make it into our cart.

We also minimize our use of disposable products.

So that’s it, that’s our strategy. However dull it might be, buying food this way does work. Our average weekly food bill hovers between $70 and $120 for our family of four.

Unfortunately, Minyanville probably won't post a three-paragraph article. So I'll fill in the details of how we shop:
  • Buy few or no "treats", aka snack food: We buy about 1.5 gallons of ice cream a month. Chips and soda are reserved for parties only. Snack food just isn’t necessary for survival. It’s entertainment, expensive, and unhealthy.

    The worst offenders in this category I've seen are households with small children. Kids don't need snack food, either. Letting them choose between fruit or no snack is better for them and easier parenting in the long run.

    Bonus: Walking briskly past the cracker aisle for economic reasons keeps your waistline thin, too (sorry, Nabisco).

  • Limit consumption of disposable products: I wrote an article a few weeks ago on alternatives to paper towels, napkins, and Kleenex. (See The Real "Quicker Picker Upper"). We’re busy, too -- it’s doable. Obviously, keeping on top of your dishes also helps.

  • Avoid most processed or boxed food: These are usually a nutrition disaster, worthy of being avoided for that reason alone. From a cost point of view, however, these almost always work out to be extremely expensive alternatives to their un-boxed cousins. Rice is cheaper than Rice-a-Roni (PEP), potatoes are much cheaper than chips or fries -- you get the picture.

  • Pay attention to cost per pound/per serving: It drives me crazy to read or have people call cold cereal a "poor" or "low-income" food. Cold cereals such as Special K only look cheap because grocery stores don't price them per pound.

    The cheapest cold cereal I can buy locally costs $1.60 per pound. For that kind of money, I could be buying whole grains, on-sale meat cuts, eggs, vegetables, and fruits. In other words, anyone who can afford cold cereal can afford far more nutritious food. Looking at cost per pound (or per serving) leads you to the highest-value food items.
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