Easy ways to save money on food during the holidays

Monday, October 1, 2012
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Let's face it: In America, food is a main attraction at any social gathering. Now, food prices are on the rise nationwide -- just in time for tailgate parties, holiday get-togethers and potlucks. Rhonda Bramlett, a nutritionist at the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, says higher food costs, as well as gas prices, are a concern for seniors, especially during the holidays. Here are some tips on how to be generous while keeping your grocery bill in check:

Have lunch at the senior center. The O.A.K.S. centers in Southeast Missouri offer well-balanced meals for a suggested donation under $4, says Bramlett. Attendees can also participate in activities and meet up with new and old friends. "Saving here may make it easier to spend elsewhere," says Bramlett.

Take advantage of senior discounts. Many restaurants and stores have senior days, senior discounts or specials throughout the week. Again, saving money wherever you can frees up money to spend on extra food during the holidays. (Did you receive our Senior Living Guide last month? If not, stop by the Southeast Missourian for your free copy -- it includes a list of senior discounts in the Cape Girardeau area.)

Fill your freezer. "Go ahead and buy the family pack that is cheaper and just freeze them in smaller portions," says Bramlett. But remember, buying in bulk only saves money if you will actually use the quantities, says Kristen Canter, development director at the Southeast Missouri Food Bank.

Make your grocery list with the sale ads and coupons. They're likely to have specials throughout the holiday months, say Bramlett and Amy Woodall, a big-time coupon queen in Whitewater, Mo.

Slurp on soup. It's a great way to save money on food, whether cooking for yourself or a big group. "Often the protein in our meal is the most expensive. However, most soups, stews and chili have smaller amounts of meat and also have the cheaper sources of protein in them, like beans and peas and a sprinkle of cheese," says Bramlett. "It does not compromise the nutritional value, it's just less of an impact on your wallet. Soups, stews and chili are good for all of us. It is hard to 'pig out' on them simply because you can't eat it quickly without a serious burn!"

Look for cheaper sources of protein, such as nuts and eggs, Bramlett suggests. "Pairing incomplete proteins is best, like red beans and rice, whole grain bread/crackers with peanut butter, or hummus on pita," she says. Dried beans, peas, lentils and canned fish are other affordable protein options, says Canter.

Stock up on baking goods. They'll be at their lowest prices in the next few months, says Woodall. "Stock up on those items you will use throughout the season," she says. "It will save on those 'quick trips' to the store that usually will cost you more in the long run, because you pick up things you really do not need. ... You want to be able to enjoy the holiday season without being in the store all the time. So, stock up in one shopping trip and use those great sale specials."

Make a list and stick to it. This is another big one for Woodall and Canter. It's easy to get tempted by the latest seasonal Oreos or the center-aisle tower of game day snacks -- but you'll save a lot of money if you buy only what you came to the store for in the first place.

Consider powdered milk. "It has a long shelf life and can be used in nearly any recipe," says Canter.

Shop for fruits and vegetables that are in season.

Buy store or generic brands. "They're usually cheaper and taste as good," says Canter.

If you've got a dollar to spare ...

The cost of an average meal in Southeast Missouri has been $2.36, but it's expected to increase because of the drought, says Kristen Canter, development director at the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. "The food bank currently serves about 55,000 individuals every month, but the need is much larger and will more than likely increase due to the cost of food," she adds.

If you're one of the lucky ones with a dollar to spare, a $1 donation to the food bank can provide seven meals for area families. Call 573-651-0400 if you'd like to donate or volunteer.

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