In today's shaky economy, people are pinching pennies wherever they can, and that includes the grocery store. According to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, Americans cut food spending in the latter part of 2008 more than any other time in the past six decades.
Luckily, you don't have to eat Ramen noodles to avoid grocery store sticker shock. You can purchase healthy foods that fuel your active lifestyle while sticking to a budget. Use these smart shopping strategies to navigate the grocery store.
The Produce Aisle
Studies suggest boosting fruit and vegetable intake can reduce your risk of chronic disease. Here's how to shop in the produce aisle to get the benefits without the high cost.
Buy local. Fresh fruits and vegetables are more delicious, nutritious and easy on the wallet when in season. What's in season now? Vitamin- and antioxidant-rich blueberries and tomatoes, for starters. Many grocers are stocking local seasonal produce at bargain basement prices.
Buy frozen. Fruit and veggies flash frozen at the peak of ripeness may contain more nutrients than produce trucked in from afar that's been wilting for days, says Heather Jones, author of The Grocery Cart Makeover. Plus, it can be a lot cheaper than out-of-season fresh items.
"Use frozen vegetables as an economical addition to soups and stir-frys, and frozen fruit in post-run smoothies," she suggests.
Hunt for overripe deals. Puree overripe bananas, peaches and cantaloupe and freeze them in ice cube trays, then blend the cubes with other smoothie ingredients. Apples, plums and pears can be peeled, diced and cooked over low heat for all-natural fruity spreads.
The Packaged Food Aisle
The narrow aisles where the packaged foods are kept are usually full of overpriced, nutritionally empty choices. But, believe it or not, you can eat well while spending less by paying attention to labels.
Skip the brand names. "Generic versions of canned beans, peanut butter, pasta sauces and cereal are often just as nutritious and tasty as the name brands," says Jones. Many supermarket chains have introduced organic house brands, such as Safeway's O Organics and Whole Foods' 365 Organic Everyday Value, making it easier for you to choose organic foods and spend less.
Snack wisely. Popcorn is about half to a third of the price per unit of other snack foods like pretzels, chips and cookies, and as long as it comes without butter, it's "a low-calorie, whole-grain snack that's a good source of dietary fiber," says Orlando-based sports dietitian Tara Gidus.