Shopping

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A woman and young girl shop for fruit in a grocery store.

Shopping


With a little planning and a little thinking, you can buy healthy foods for your family and save money, too!

Click here to download a chart showing the ideal seasons to buy fruits and vegetables!

  • Plan meals and snacks for the week before you go to the store. Plan how much you want to spend.
  • Write your planned meals and snacks on a calendar, a chalkboard, a piece of notebook paper, whatever works for your family.
  • Make a grocery list of the things you plan to buy. Be sure to take it to the store with you!

Making the grocery list

Keep a list of your family’s favorite meals and snacks. Look at the list for inspiration when you’re feeling stumped about what meals to plan.

Check your refrigerator, freezer, and cabinets. What foods do you already have on hand? How can you build a meal using these items? For example, if you have a lot of frozen vegetables, plan to have a soup, stew, or casserole that could be made with those vegetables. Put any additional ingredients you need on this week’s grocery list.

Check for sales, coupons, or other discounts in your local newspaper or online. Plan meals or snacks around items that are on sale. Ask about a loyalty card at your grocery store. Sometimes, a loyalty card will qualify you for additional discounts.

Plan to have leftovers. You can make a double-batch of something, or you can cook extra amounts of an ingredient that can be used in another meal later in the week. This can help you save time. You may also be able to save money by buying in bulk.

At the grocery store

Shop at the right time. Go to the grocery store when you are not feeling hungry and when you are not too rushed.

Stick to your grocery list. Don’t go down aisles that don’t have items on your list.

Find and compare the unit price or price-per-ounce displayed on the store shelves or on the label for meats. This will help you get the best price.

Buy store brands, if they are less expensive than name brands.

Buy bulk. Choose items, especially meats, in bulk or in family packs. They usually cost less per ounce.

Buy in season. Choose fruits and vegetables when they are in season. When they are in season, they are less expensive.

Buy frozen or canned. When the fruits and vegetables are out of season, or when fresh is too expensive, choose frozen or canned. Choose the option that costs less per ounce.

Buy the healthier choice. Choose low-sodium versions of canned vegetables. Choose canned fruits, vegetables, or meats packed in water rather than in syrup or oil.

Save year-round. Good low-cost options available all year include:

  • Canned beans (garbanzo beans or chick peas, black beans, and cannellini beans). These are good sources of protein.
  • Carrots, greens (collard, mustard, or turnip), cabbage, sweet potatoes, low-sodium canned tomatoes, and potatoes.
  • Apples and bananas.

Keep it fresh. Buy only the amount of a fresh food that you can use or freeze before it spoils. Frozen, canned, and shelf-stable foods last longer.

Keep it safe. When you get home, store food in the refrigerator or freezer right away to keep it safe to eat.

Keep it frozen. If you buy a large amount of fresh food like meat, chicken, or fish, divide it into meal-size packages, label the packages, and freeze them for future meals.

In the kitchen

Pre-cook when you have time, so that you can just re-heat a meal on a busy day.

Double or triple recipes. Serve one meal right away, and freeze the others. Freeze meal-sized or individual serving containers of soups, stews, spaghetti sauce, or casseroles to serve later.

Go meatless by substituting beans or peas for meat.

Try a no-cook meal like a salad with lots of veggies.

Use leftovers in another meal later in the week.

Be creative. Try different meals using the same ingredient during the week.

Shopping for Fruits & Vegetables

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A woman and young girl shop for fruit in a grocery store.

Shopping for Fruits & Vegetables


Fruits and vegetables are tasty and nutritious! And they can fit into any budget. Here are some tips for getting healthy fruits and veggies at the best price.

Buy in season.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are most affordable when they are in season. They are easier to find and have more flavor. To find out which fruits and vegetables are in season at which times of the year, check our Extension publication P3144, Buy Fresh Fruits & Vegetables in Season!

Try canned or frozen.

Compare the price and the number of servings for fresh, canned, and frozen versions of the same fruit or vegetable. Choose the one that has the lowest cost per serving.

When you are buying canned, choose fruit canned in water or 100-percent juice (not syrup) and vegetables that say “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. When you are buying frozen, choose vegetables without sauces.

Buy small amounts of fresh.

Some fresh fruits and vegetables go bad quickly. Buy small amounts of these, but more often. This way, you will have the fruits and veggies you need, without losing any to spoiling.

Buy in bulk for things that last.

It is often a better buy to choose large-size bags of fresh fruits and vegetables that you use often and that last a long time, like apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions. Be sure to store them properly so they will last!

Buy large quantities of canned or frozen fruits and vegetables when they go on sale. If you have space in your cabinet or your freezer, you can stock up!

Buy store brands.

Store brands of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are often less expensive that name brands. You can get the same or a very similar product for a lower price.

Buy them whole.

Buy fruits and vegetables that have not been pre-washed, pre-cut, peeled, or processed in any way. These convenience foods are often much more expensive per serving than buying the food whole and doing the preparation yourself.

Use them up!

Fix and freeze vegetable soups, stews, and casseroles to enjoy later. Add extra or leftover veggies to these dishes, too. Extra or overripe fruit is great to add to smoothies or baked items like quick breads.

Grow your own.

Start a small garden in your yard, in a container on your patio or balcony, or even in a little pot on your window sill!

Even if you have never gardened before, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are easy to grow. They can also add freshness, flavor, and nutrition to all your meals.

Get in touch with your county’s office of the Mississippi State University Extension Service to find out more! You can find their contact information here.

Shopping for Milk and Dairy Foods

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Shopping for Milk and Dairy Foods


Go low fat.

  • Choose fat-free (also called skim) or low-fat (1%) milk instead of whole milk.
  • Choose plain, low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream.
  • Choose fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream or half-and-half.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese.
  • Choose reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses instead of regular cheese.

These choices will reduce calories and saturated fat, but they won’t reduce calcium or the other essential nutrients in milk and other dairy foods.

Go local.

Local or store brands of milk and dairy foods often cost less than national brands. Be sure to check the price per ounce to make sure you get the best deal.

Go big.

Larger containers of milk and yogurt usually cost less per ounce than smaller or single-serving containers.

Switch it up!

  • Use fat-free or low-fat milk on your cereal or oatmeal, instead of whole milk or cream.
  • Use plain, low-fat yogurt on your baked potato, instead of sour cream.
  • Use plan, low-fat yogurt to make your favorite dip, instead of sour cream.

Limit added sugars.

Flavored milks (like chocolate or strawberry milks), flavored yogurts, frozen yogurt, puddings, and ice creams can contain a lot of added sugar.

  • Choose low-sugar or no-sugar-added options for these foods.
  • Add your own fresh, canned, or frozen fruit to plain yogurt. Use low-fat Greek-style yogurt for an even creamier treat!

Don’t forget the coffee!

If you drink coffee, be sure to choose fat-free or low-fat milk instead of whole milk, cream, or a commercial coffee creamer.

Can’t drink milk?

If you are lactose-intolerant, you can still get your calcium! Try low-fat yogurt, fat-free or low-fat lactose-free milk, or soy milk.

Be a role model.

Parents who drink milk and eat dairy foods show their kids that these foods are important. Dairy foods are essential for growing strong bones in children and teens and in maintaining strong and healthy bones in adults.

Shopping for Beverages

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A woman and young girl shop for fruit in a grocery store.

Shopping for Beverages


Adults and children can easily consume more than 400 calories every day in beverages alone. Making good choices for drinks can reduce calories and save money, too!

Water for the win!

Water is a great option for saving money and calories.

Water from your faucet at home is the least expensive. But, if you need to buy water at the store, the gallon-size containers are the best value. Compare prices of different brands to get the best buy.

When you eat out, order water instead of tea or a soft drink to keep the costs and the calories down.

Before you leave for work or other activities, fill a reusable water bottle from your home faucet. Put it in your backpack, bag, or car, and drink from it throughout the day to stay hydrated. If you freeze it the night before and put it in your lunch box, it can keep your lunch cool and be ready to drink by lunchtime!

Don’t forget dairy!

Low-fat or fat-free milk is a great option for a beverage for kids and adults. Milk provides important nutrients, like calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.

Make it kid-friendly.

Make water, low-fat or fat-free milk, or 100-percent juice easy options for your kids. Keep ready-to-go containers of these drinks in the refrigerator where kids can reach them easily. Include them in lunchboxes and backpacks so they will have healthy options when they are away from home.

Control the calories, sodium, and caffeine.

Soft drinks, energy or sports drinks, juice-blends, and other sugary drinks contain a lot of calories from added sugars. And they have little nutritional value. They can also be very high in sodium and caffeine.

Make it a treat.

If you just can’t do without sweet tea or a soft drink, make it special. Don’t have these drinks with every meal. Instead, have them as a special, occasional snack. You will enjoy them more, and you’ll save money and calories.

Cut back on the size of the container. Check the serving size and number of servings in the can or bottle. Choose smaller cans, bottles, or cups instead of the super-sized options.

Teach your tastebuds.

If sweet tea is your thing, gradually reduce the sugar. Try half-sweet/half-unsweetened tea for a while. Then try unsweetened every now and then. Eventually, you will be a fan of unsweetened tea!

If you just have to have the bubbles of a soft drink, try the sparkling water or club soda options. Choose the ones with no sweeteners, no caffeine, and no sodium. These come in a variety of flavors, so you can find the ones you enjoy most. The store brands of these drinks are usually less expensive than national brands. If you can’t find them on the soft drink aisle in your store, check the bottled water aisle.

Shopping for Meats and Other Proteins

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Shopping for Meats and Other Proteins


Go lean.

Choose lean cuts of beef like round or sirloin. Choose ground beef that is at least 95-percent lean.

Trim fat from beef or pork steaks, chops, ribs, or roasts before you cook them. Take the skin off of chicken before you cook it. After cooking, drain off any fat and throw it away.

Go fish.

Choose seafood instead of meat or chicken at least twice a week. Try different kinds of fish, especially fish that are high in healthy oils and low in mercury, like salmon and trout.

Catfish and tilapia are often an inexpensive option for fish. If you have space in your freezer, look for sales or discounts on bulk packages of individually frozen fillets. These will save you money and time because the fillets thaw and cook very quickly.

Choose fresh or frozen whole fish or fillets, instead of pre-breaded or processed options.

Canned fish like tuna or salmon can also be a good value. Choose fish packed in water rather than oil. Season it with a little black pepper or lemon pepper instead of mayonnaise.

Be an egghead.

Eggs are a smart option! They are a good, inexpensive source of protein. And they can be cooked in a variety of ways.

Boiled or scrambled eggs are a quick and easy option for a meal any time of the day. A quiche or casserole can stretch just a few eggs to feed the whole family!

Try plants!

You may be surprised to know that many kinds of beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and soy are good sources of plant-based proteins. They are lower in saturated fat than meats, and they can be good sources of fiber, too!

Look for these kinds of beans and peas:

  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans)
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Split peas
  • White beans (includes cannellini beans, navy peas, and great northern beans)

If you buy your beans or peas dried, be sure to rinse them before cooking them. If you buy them canned, drain off the liquid in the can and rinse them before cooking.

You can find soy foods in several forms. Tofu, tempeh, and many kinds of veggie burgers are made from soy. You can also find whole soybeans, also called edamame (pronounced “ed-ah-mah-may”), usually in the frozen foods section of your grocery store. If you find them still in the pods, it’s fine to cook them that way. But don’t eat the pods. Just eat the beans inside!

Sometimes you feel like a nut!

Unsalted nuts and seeds are great as a snack. You can also use them to add protein and crunch to salads and other dishes.

Nuts and seeds pack a lot of nutrition and calories into a small package. Keep your portions small!

You can find nuts and seeds in the produce section, the baking section, and the snack section of your store. Compare the price per ounce to choose the lowest-cost option.

Keep your sandwich healthy!

Make your sandwiches with turkey, roast beef, canned tuna or salmon (but not a mayo-based salad!), or peanut butter.

Many cold cuts or deli meats, like ham, bologna, and salami, are high in fat and sodium.

Use a little mustard instead of mayonnaise to cut down on fat.

Cook smart.

Try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking meats. These cooking methods add great flavor without adding fats.

Leaner meats are often less expensive. But they need to be cooked low and slow, with moist heat, to keep them tender. Use a slow cooker or a covered pot or baking dish in your oven. Use a cooking liquid that will add flavor, but not fat.

If you really need that crunch, use olive oil or cooking spray to add a light coating of bread crumbs or crushed plain cornflakes to chicken, pork, or fish before baking. This will give you the crunch you crave without the fat and calories of heavy breading and frying.

Check the salt.

Look at the Nutrition Facts label to find out how much sodium a food contains.

Many canned foods, like beans, meats, soups, and vegetables, contain a lot of sodium. Choose low-sodium or no-salt-added versions of these foods.

Processed meats, like ham, hot dogs, and sausages, can also be high in sodium. Choose the option with the lowest sodium, and save these foods to have as a special treat.

Even some fresh meats, like chicken, turkey, or pork, are brined in a solution containing salt. Try to find versions of these foods packaged without the brine.

Shopping for Whole-Grain Foods

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A woman, a boy, and a girl shopping for fruits and vegetables in a grocery store.

Shopping for Whole-Grain Foods


The whole story.

Look at the Ingredients list. The word “whole” should be at the beginning of the list. Ingredients to look for are:

  • Whole-grain brown rice
  • Whole-grain corn
  • Whole oats
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-wheat flour

Foods that say “multi-grain,” “100% wheat,” or “high fiber” on the packaging may not actually be whole-grain products. Check the Ingredients list to get the whole story.

Just the facts.

Look for the Nutrition Facts label to choose whole-grain foods with lower sodium, low saturated fat, and low added sugars.

Find the fiber.

The Nutrition Facts label will also tell you how much fiber a serving of the food contains. If it contains 3 grams of fiber per serving, it is a good source of fiber. But if it contains 5 grams or more of fiber per serving, it is a superstar!

Go local.

Breads and other whole-grain baked foods from local companies are often less expensive than national brands. Local baked foods may not have the same preservatives as national brands, so be sure to store them properly and use them quickly.

Buy just what you need.

If whole-grain foods are not eaten quickly or if they are stored incorrectly, the oils in the grains can spoil, giving the food a rancid or spoiled taste. Purchase smaller amounts of whole-grain foods to keep from losing them to spoilage.

Handle with care.

Check the label of whole-grain foods for the expiration date and storage guidelines. Check several packages of the same product while you’re at the store. Choose the one that has the longest expiration date.

Make sure that the packaging of the whole-grain food is tight and well-sealed. Don’t buy a package that isn’t sealed.

After you open the package, keep the food in a container with a tight-fitting lid and store it in a cool, dry location. A sealed container will keep the food fresher and keep bugs out.

If you buy actual grains or whole-grain flours, these can be stored in sealed containers in your refrigerator or freezer to keep them fresher longer. In the refrigerator, whole-grain flours will keep for 2 to 3 months. In the freezer, they will keep for 6 to 8 months.

Whole-grain breads keep best at room temperature in the original packaging, tightly closed with a twist-tie. Don’t store breads in the refrigerator because they will quickly become dry and stale. But you can store bread in the freezer, if it is tightly wrapped.

Concerned about gluten?

People who can’t eat wheat gluten can still get the benefits of whole grains, if they choose those grains carefully.

Whole-grain foods that fit in a gluten-free diet include:

  • brown rice
  • buckwheat
  • certified gluten-free oats and oatmeal
  • popcorn
  • quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”)
  • wild rice