Eating Right Better on the Pocketbook, Too

If there was one positive side effect of the country's economic woes, it would be the closer attention many people are paying to their personal spending habits. Whether laid off or not, many people started examining their personal finances more once the economy started to struggle.

What many Americans discovered was irresponsible financial habits characterized by excessive spending and not nearly enough saving. Though it's easy to point to overspending on household appliances, additions or even the house itself as poor financial decisions, many people are overspending every day in a more subtle way. Though it might not seem like much, how you spend on what you're eating is no doubt a bigger drain on your finances, not to mention your health, than you might realize. Fortunately, there are ways to eat healthier and save money at the same time.

* Eat in. Dining out might be easy and enjoyable, but it's definitely a drain on the finances. Consider a study from from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics comparing family food spending at the turn of the 19th century and near the end of the 20th century. In 1901, only 3 percent of the family food spending went to meals away from home. By the late 20th century, however, that figure had risen to more than 42 percent. Why such an increase? Many cite the lack of time to cook a meal at home, an argument that actually holds little water. When considering the time it takes to get ready to leave for the restaurant, arrive and wait for a table, order a meal, eat the meal, pay, and then return home, consumers aren't really saving any time, and they're certainly not saving any money.

Those looking to save money should eat at home more often. A meal of pasta for four at a restaurant will likely cost upwards of $50, whereas a box of pasta cooked at home will cost less than $2, the sauce another $3 or $4 and some bread no more than $2. In other words, that restaurant pasta dinner will cost a minimum of $50 (not to mention fueling costs for the car to get to and from the restaurant) while the same dinner at home will cost roughly $10. In addition, the meal at home will be healthier, as restaurant portions are often larger than those at home.

* Get to the store on weekends. After a long day at the office, few people are enthusiastic about going to the grocery store on the way home, increasing the likelihood they will dine out instead of cook at home. Shop for groceries on the weekend, so when it comes time to go home on a weeknight, your fully stocked refrigerator will be there waiting for you when you get home.

* Purchase frozen vegetables. Nearly everyone is aware of the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, and one common misconception is that frozen veggies are not as healthy as their fresh counterparts. This isn't necessarily true. Though canned veggies can lose a significant amount of nutrients during the preservation process, frozen vegetables tend to be processed at their peak ripeness when they are most nutrient packed. So says Gene Lester, Ph.D., a plant physiologist for the USDA Agricultural Research Center, who notes that freezing the vegetables locks them in a relatively nutrient-rich state.

It's also important to note that fresh produce is also limited throughout much of the country, particularly those areas with long and cold winters. Frozen veggies can also help save money because they can simply be stored in the freezer, whereas fresh veggies have a far shorter shelf life and must be eaten before they go bad.

* Purchase certain items in bulk. While it's not wise to purchase many items in bulk, shoppers can make the most of their food money by purchasing certain items in bulk. Grains and beans, for example, can be purchased in bulk at substantial savings. In lieu of purchasing a box of boil-in-bag rice with four 2-cup servings for $3 or $4, shoppers can purchase a 5 lb. bag of rice for roughly $4 or $5. That 5 lb. bag will go a lot further than the portioned servings in a box, and you'll have the added benefit of always having something in the cupboard to supplement your entree.

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