(BPT) - Mealtimes - they can be both the blessing and curse of family life. At their best, meals bring families together to share time with loved ones. But, in today's recovering economy, the pressures of putting food on the table, without busting budgets can make mealtime a source of stress.
Families are hard-pressed to meet all their economic needs; in fact about one-third of all American households are living hand-to-mouth - spending every last dime of each paycheck, according to a Brookings Institution study. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says a family of four can expect to spend between $595 and $1,184 a month on food. And, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that overall food prices rose 1.9 percent from April 2013 to April 2014, there is little relief in sight.
With some planning and thrifty shopping habits, however, you can provide flavorful meals every taste bud in the family will love, all while staying within budget. Here are some tips for delivering great taste and great value at mealtime.
Planning makes perfect. Like many of life's endeavors, organization and planning ahead are key. Designate one night to plan your family's meals for the coming week and then create a corresponding grocery list. This proactive approach allows you to be thoughtful, selective and mindful of your budget - for example, take advantage of lower prices on in-season produce by planning meals that use those ingredients. Taking time once a week to make a list will eliminate the daily stress of deciding what can be thrown together for each meal, not to mention saving money - and time - otherwise needlessly spent on repeated, aimless trips to the grocery store.
Breakfast made easy. Mornings can be a hectic time in any household but the first meal of the day can be easy, delicious and affordable with a traditional staple: ready-to-eat cereal. Big-brand cereals can be pricey, but you don't have to pay for a name in order to serve something the whole family will love. Bagged cereals (often found on the bottom shelf of the cereal aisle) cost less than most leading boxed brands and are available in comparable varieties. What's more, a recent MOM Brands national taste test found that consumers preferred the taste of four Malt-O-Meal bagged cereals over pricier Post Cereals boxed brands. Visit www.maltomeal.com to learn about available varieties.
Coupons, coupons, coupons. From Sunday newspapers to your social networks, coupons are everywhere. Turn those clips or clicks into money in your wallet. Find coupons that match the items on your carefully planned grocery list, and watch as your grocery bill shrinks and your savings grows.
Leftover love. Make sure the money you spend on food is not thrown away - literally. Rather than getting frustrated and looking past those containers of leftover food in your fridge, embrace them and get creative. If stored properly, they are additional meals waiting to happen. Or, if you know a particularly busy week lies ahead, plan to make a larger portion of a particular entree and use leftovers as additional lunches or dinners. For tips on how to properly store leftovers, visit the USDA at www.fsis.usda.gov.
Freeze your assets. A good way to reduce costs and hassle is to make a large dish and freeze portions of it for meals later in the week. You can also use your freezer to stock up on frozen fruit and vegetables, which are predominantly cheaper than fresh produce, are typically frozen at the height of nutritional value and often come in smaller or single-serve packages that can help eliminate food waste.