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Sat, Jan. 18

Slim down food spending as well as your waistline

Tightening your food budget should not lead to expanding your belt. It's a common misconception that managing your food expenses means sacrificing good nutrition and eating a diet high in sodium as well as fat. In fact, you can be healthier and wealthier by getting wiser about planning meals and shopping.

Before you head out the door to the grocery store, check out store advertisements to look for sales on nutritious foods and ingredients. Create a shopping list and buy only the items on your list. Clip coupons, but let your list - not the coupon - guide your purchase decision.

While perusing the grocery store shelves, opt for less-expensive store brands over more costly name brands. Buy large sizes of foods and then separate them into individual or family-size servings. Large sizes may cost less per pound or unit, but they are not a bargain if they end up getting tossed.

Overall, you will get more nutrition for your money by choosing fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk products, whole grains, lean meats or other healthy foods. What's the good news about these selections? They meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines describe a healthy diet as one that:

• Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products;

• Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and

• Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.

Before you get to the grocery checkout, inspect your cart and consider how much of each product you will consume. Buy only enough fresh fruits and vegetables that you will eat within a few days. Also, try not to buy more perishable items than you will consume before the "use by" date marked on the package. Meats, poultry, fish, seafood, cooked vegetables, dairy products and eggs are examples of perishable foods.

Here are other tips for healthful eating and frugal dining:

• Shop locally

Buying local produce often allows you to purchase fresher fruits and vegetables. Local produce is sometimes picked just hours before it is sold. Ask the vendor when it was picked and how it was stored. Most produce sold in the U.S. is picked up to seven days before it is ready for sale and shipped an average of 1,500 miles.

• Grow your own

You slash produce prices the most by growing your own. Start a plot in your backyard or a container garden on your patio, and enjoy homegrown fruits and vegetables all season long. Like fresh herbs? Grow your favorites in small pots by the kitchen window and take a snip whenever you need it.

Once you've been on this "diet" for a time, your waist could shrink right along with your food budget.

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