The USDA is predicting an increase in all foods for 2011; depending on the item it is expected to range from 2% for things like sugars and cereals to as high as 5.5% for dairy products. If you are interested you can see the chart here. Part of the increase is due to the higher costs for corn and soybeans. Remember, it's a cycle, what we eat needs to eat. I actually anticipate that the costs for meat will be much higher than currently predicted due to more people deciding to purchase meat and dairy that is organic to avoid the GMO contamination of corn and soy. These are two of the most heavily GMO crops but our government doesn't identify that so the only way to avoid it is to purchase organic.
There are a number of ways that you can save money on your food bill in the upcoming year:
Plant a vegetable garden. Using your space for edible gardening can be attractive and save you food dollar costs. During both World Wars Victory Gardens were planted in every yard and public park all across the United States. It's a concept that I think many people are rediscovering.
Even if you buy a tomato plant at the garden center and plant it in a pot you will still get far more produce than if you purchase your tomatoes at the grocery store. And believe me, they'll taste better. We've just re-arranged our side yard and brought in a load of organic dirt, working on creating a better vegetable garden. We've also put in herbs and a few fruits in the yard.
Here are a couple of books that I think are great for backyard vegetable gardening
Mel Bartholomew is the authority on getting the most out of the smallest space. If you have any gardening space available, even just one square foot, you'd be amazed at what you can grow.
Rosalind Creasy shows you how to incorporate beauty and function in your garden by making your landscape edible.
If you live in an apartment or don't have access to a plot of ground you can consider container gardening. Even one reasonable size container can grow a lot of tomatoes and basil or peas and mint or…read the book.
And there seems to be an increase in folks growing food on rooftops and terraces.
If you shop at warehouse stores frequently the prices are good but the quantities are huge. Don't buy more than you need, after all 50 pounds of potatoes is a lot, especially in a family like ours with just three people in the house. Just because the price per pound is low, if you wind up throwing out rotten potatoes (or anything else) you've just lost money. If you really want the item consider saving money by asking family, friends and/or neighbors if they want to share these items with you. This way you'll both save money and there will be less waste.
And speaking of waste…
According to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, Americans, on average, throw away half of their food. Half! That's a mind-boggling concept. Knowing, really knowing exactly what is in your pantry is a great start, learning how to be mindful of it is the next step. Jonathan has a lot of great information on his blog to help you avoid food waste. Don't want to read the book (although I highly recommend it)? There's an app for that — yup, a company called UniByte has created an app to help you better manage your food purchases so you will waste less.
If you do wind up with food waste, and some of it is inevitable such as potato peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds, and the like, consider composting. This is also environmentally friendly in that the food scraps become usable dirt instead of going to the landfill where they cannot be used to grow more food.
A little off the beaten path but for those who have access, inclination, and a sharp eye there is always the idea of foraging. According to my friend Merriweather it is important to remember a couple of key points:
1. Know what you are foraging. Many edibles have an inedible counterpart that looks almost the same. He points out that these inedibles wind up in either the “kill your kid dead” or “keep you on the toilet sick” category so it's important to be very sure of your identifications.
2. Forage responsibly using appropriate tools to cut and dig rather than ripping and shredding. This allows the plants to continue to grow and is the best way to forage.
3. Make sure you have permission. Here in Texas, and probably elsewhere, plant rustling is against the law. Getting a huge fine for public trespassing or theft is not going to help your grocery bill any.
While Merriweather sadly does not yet have a published book there are some great foraging books out there:
And last, but certainly not least, another way to save money at the grocery store is to learn to make your own. One of my favorites is making my own granola which definitely saves money over the store-bought versions. You can make your own pudding, soups, muffins, snacks, spice mixes, beverages, pickles, jams and much much more. Currently I am fermenting kimchi on my kitchen counter, starting another batch of kefir and have just finished making another batch of bean sprouts. These require very little hands on time and save quite a few dollars while providing healthful foods for my family. Making your own has a number of benefits:
1. It will save you money
2. You will avoid extra packaging and commercial waste
3. You will avoid additives, preservatives and chemicals (which you don't need in your diet anyway)
4. Often when you make your own you make smaller batches so you are less likely to waste it
So here's to a new year, a new grocery budget, and new possibilities for your health.