Smart Food Shopping

Your Food Dollars

Could you answer the question, "Do you know how much money you spent on groceries last month?" If you don't know how much you spend on food, here's an exercise that can help you answer that question. Save all of your grocery receipts for one month. Also, keep track of how much you spend on food away from home. At the end of the month, answer the question below.

How much money did you spend at grocery stores, farmers' markets, etc. last month? Add up all of your receipts that you have saved over the past month. Write the total on line A below.

How much of the money spent was spent on food? Circle all of the non-food items, such as detergent, toilet tissue, shampoo, pet food on the receipt. Add the circled amounts. This is the total for non-food items. Write the total of non-food items on line B below. Subtract the amount on line B from the amount on line A.

Write the answer on line C. This is the total you spent on food that you ate at home.

How much money did you spend on food away from home last month? This includes restaurant food, fast food, lunch money for children at school. Write the total on line D.

Add the amount on line C and line D and put the answer on line E. This is the total amount of money you spent on food last month.

$ ________A - $ _______B = $ ________C

$ ________C + $ _______D = $ ________E

E = $ Amount spent on food

Food Resources

Think about your food buying resources. What are they? Take a few minutes to list your resources. How much money do you have for food? Add in any SNAP allotments and WIC coupons. Don't forget resources such as gardens or USDA commodity foods. You should divide the total amount of your resources to last the month. That way you won't use them all up at the beginning of the month.

Plan Before Shopping

Planning is the key to saving money in the grocery store. Once you've figured out what you have to spend, begin planning meals. The more time you take planning, the more money you will save. The ideal is to plan your menu for the week, or even the month. This can save you time and money and give your family nutritious meals they can enjoy.

Feeding your family well means using MyPlate. You learned about MyPlate in an earlier lesson. Always keep it in mind as you plan your meals and make your shopping list.

Remember MyPlate and family tastes when planning meals. Another way to save money is to plan your meals and grocery list around foods on special sale and in-season. If you get a newspaper, check out the sales or check the sales paper posted at your local grocery store. Also clip any coupons for foods or items that you would normally use. Use these resources to help you decide which meals you'll cook for the week.

At the end of this lesson you will find a Meal Planning Guide. Use this Meal Planning Guide to plan meals for one week. Determine how many servings from each food group on MyPlate it provides each day. There's a place at the bottom of the guide for you to do this. As you plan, think of ways to incorporate sale items into your meals. Also, think of ways of storing and using leftovers.

Using the meals you've planned, make a shopping list. Remember to check and see what food you have on hand in your cabinet, refrigerator, and freezer. It's a good idea to keep an ongoing shopping list on your refrigerator. You can jot down food items as you run out.

Use The Thrifty Food Plan

The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is a fundamental part of the U.S. food guidance system and is now revised. It provides a healthful and minimal-cost meal plan to show how to have a nutritious diet using a modest budget or food stamp benefits. It is possible to obtain a healthful diet meeting current nutritional standards at a constant real cost. The Thrifty Food Plan has been revised to reflect current dietary recommendations, food consumption patterns, food composition data and food prices while maintaining the cost at the level of the previous baskets.

The cost of the Thrifty Food Plan food or market basket for what is termed "the TFP reference family" (male and female ages 20 to 50, and two children ages 6 to 8 and 9 to 11) was $138.20 per week in January 2011. The TFP is one of four official USDA food plans (the others being the Low-Cost Plan, the Moderate-Cost Plan, and the Liberal Plan) maintained by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. The TFP market baskets specify the type and quantity of foods that people could consume at home to obtain a nutritious diet at minimal cost. There are 12 market baskets for 12 specific age-sex or gender groups.

Learn more about the Thrifty Food Plan by visiting the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion's website at

Shop Smart

Once you've finished planning, it's time to learn to shop smart. There are things you should be aware of before you leave for your shopping trip. Here are some general tips to help you become a better food shopper:

  • Always shop with a list.
  • Clip coupons only for the things you need. Look for stores that double coupons.
  • Don't shop when you're hungry. Hungry shoppers buy more than they intend to buy.
  • Shop alone. Young children will distract you and make you buy more than you intended to buy. If you must take children with you, teach them how to make wise choices.
  • Become familiar with the layout of the store where you generally shop. Write your grocery list according to the store layout. This will help to save you time.
  • Learn to shop the outer aisles of the store. This is where you will find fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, milk products and breads. These foods are usually your best buys.
  • Go down only the aisles that have something on your list. This saves time and money.
  • Be aware of end-of-aisle displays. These are not always money-saving deals.

Comparison Shopping

Smart shopping is comparison shopping. You can make your food dollars s-t-r-e-t-c-h further by comparing forms, brands, sizes and types of foods.

Unit Pricing

Have you ever compared the price of canned, frozen and fresh vegetables? Do you buy store brand or name brand products? Store brand usually costs a lot less. If you haven't tried store brand before, you could plan a taste test and even include your family!

In addition to comparing brands, comparing sizes can save you money. By looking at the unit price sticker, which is usually found on the shelf below the item, you can easily compare products and see which size is the best buy. Unit pricing helps you make quick, easy price comparisons between different products, between different brands and between different sizes of the same product.

Unit pricing will tell you the cost per unit of the food item, so you could compare the cost of Cheerios per ounce to the cost of corn flakes per ounce or the cost of a large box of Cherrios per ounce to the cost of a small box of Cherrios per ounce. Remember, the unit pricing compares only the price and not the quality of the product or your family’s preferences. When deciding the best one to buy, consider the amount of storage space you have available and whether or not you will use it before it gets bad.

"Nutrition Facts" Label

Once you've decided if a food is a good buy, you must decide if it is nutritious. Look at the nutrition facts panel. You learned how to use it in an earlier lesson. Remember to look at the number of servings and the amount of calories, fat, sodium and vitamins provided for each serving.

Buy in Season

Buy seasonal fresh foods when they are most plentiful in your area. Plentiful foods usually cost less than those not in season. For example, in December, oranges are a more economical fruit than strawberries.

Buying Meats

Meat takes the largest portion of your food dollar. Learn to compare cost per serving when buying meats, not cost per pound. Meats with less bone and fat may cost more per pound but less money per serving because there will be more servings to the pound. For example, you'll get more servings from a pound of ground beef, which has no bones, than a pound of spareribs with a lot of bone and fat.

The number of servings per pound depends upon the amount of edible lean meat in each cut after cooking. For a three-ounce serving of cooked meat, allow:

  • Boneless meat – 1/4 to 1/3 pound per serving (ground meat, meats for stews and soups, boneless roasts and steaks, and liver and other variety meats)
  • Bone-in meat – 1/3 to 1/2 pound per serving (roasts and steaks with a moderate amount of bone)
  • Bony meat – 3/4 to one pound per serving (spareribs, short ribs)

Remember....three ounces of cooked meat is considered a serving.

Other tips include serving several meatless meals per week. Include meat alternates such as dry beans and peas, eggs or peanut butter. You might try a high-protein dish such as macaroni and cheese in place of meat.

Beware...Location, Location, Location

Stores want you to buy. Beware of location or placement of food items on the shelves. The more costly items are usually placed at eye level to catch your attention. End-of-aisle displays are not always a bargain! Another marketing technique is putting items you buy often, such as bread and milk, in the rear of the store. This makes you walk through the store, and you may buy more than you came for.

Food Dollar Snitchers

There are things that we do that can be food dollar snitchers.

Impulse buying can be good if an item is nutritious, a good buy, and the family wants and needs it. Otherwise, it increases food costs.

Foods with low nutritional value are not a wise buy. Think of alternatives that are more nutritious.

Think of ways to economize on non-food items. Compare prices at other stores such as discount, drug or hardware stores. Don't include the cost of non-food items as part of your food budget. Non-food items take about 20% of the dollars spent in the supermarket.

Spoiled food adds to your food costs and could make you sick if you eat it. Remember to store foods properly and buy only what you can eat before it goes bad.

After Shopping

Store and prepare food properly. Take food straight home and store it properly in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry. Buy only what you can eat before it goes bad. Spoiled food adds to your food costs and could make you sick if you eat it.

Menu Planning Guide

 Menu Planning Guide

Use the Meal Planning Guide on the bottom of this page to plan meals for one week. Determine how many servings from each food group on MyPlate it provides each day. There's a place at the bottom of the guide for you to do this. As you plan, think of ways to incorporate sale items into your meals, also ways of storing and using leftovers.













Eat a Variety of Foods

Choose the recommended number of servings of foods from each different food group daily. Learn what a serving size is. Examples of serving sizes within each food group are given.


1 to 4 cups

1/2 cup cooked or raw

1 cup leafy greens

1/2 cup vegetable juice


1 to 2.5 cups

1medium fruit

1/2 cup canned, fresh or frozen fruit

1/2 cup juice

1/4 cup dried


2 to 3 cups

1 cup milk or yogurt

1 ½ ounces cheese


3 to 10 equivalents

1/2 cup pasta or rice

1 slice bread

1/2 bagel


2 to 7 equivalents

1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry or fish

1 egg

1/2 cup cooked dry beans

1 Tbsp peanut butter


1/30/2010 12:39:27 AM
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