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Will the recession make you fat?

TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer shares four clever, practical tips to easily trim cash (and calories) off your grocery bill.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Nervous about how spending less might affect your health and appearance? TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer shares four clever, practical tips to cut back on spending and unnecessary calories:Stop buying beverages
A few sodas from the office vending machine, a couple expensive coffee drinks on your afternoon breaks, a few bottles of water, smoothies or vitamin drinks at the gym, plus the juice drinks and soda you keep at home … the cost of all these beverages can add up really fast! 

An individual can easily spend $25 every week on drinks. Now, think about that spending for a family of four! What’s worse, most of these drinks provide little to no nutrition — they’re just an expensive source of sugar water and extra calories we don’t need in our diet. 

Make it a new policy to stop spending money on extra beverages, and stick with filtered water from the tap instead. It’s virtually free (and that’s a word we love to hear right now)! Cutting out soda and juice drinks may be a big change for you and your kids, but it will benefit everyone’s health, and save you a lot of money on groceries each month. Make a one-time investment in a set of fun, colorful, reusable water bottles for the whole family to use and keep them filled and ready to go in the fridge. This is a really practical tip and a realistic way to save money. 

Go generic
There’s really no need to spend extra money to get name-brand versions of your favorite foods, especially the foods you purchase often. In fact, quite a few generic products are nearly identical to the more expensive national brands, so nutritionally speaking, there’s no benefit to trading up to higher priced name-brand versions. Save money and select store-brand versions (unless, of course, your name-brand faves are running low-cost specials) of items like yogurt, low-fat dairy (cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc.), cereals and oatmeal, canned and frozen produce, canned tuna and salmon, whole grains, nuts and nut butter, etc.

Buy large, and portion yourself
Instead of paying a premium for preportioned, individual packages of foods, buy the largest size available and portion it out yourself. For instance, you typically save 15 to 20 percent by purchasing yogurt in the large 32-ounce tubs rather than individual 6-ounce cups. Just portion out the yogurt into small food storage containers and it’s ready to pack into lunches or carry to work. 

You can save over 50 percent by purchasing the largest canister of oatmeal at your store instead of the individual packets. Simply measure out one serving — 1/2 cup dry oats — every time you want oatmeal. It literally takes just seconds more time than tearing open a packet. Buy large, family packs of chicken breast, lean ground turkey or beef, or other lean meats that you cook with frequently. When you get home from the market, break up the packages into 1-pound portions (or whatever size is most convenient for your family), carefully pack in freezer bags and store in the freezer. 

Also, if you’re a big fan of 100-calorie snack packs, start making your own at home. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much money you can save. Purchase an unportioned package of your favorite treat (baked chips, pretzels, nuts, Teddy Grahams, Wheat Thins, etc.) and portion out 100- to 150-calorie servings in resealable bags at the start of the week. Then, stash them in your cupboard so they’re ready to go when you are.

Skip organic and fancy produce
If cost weren’t an issue, I’d be all for organic. But in these hard economic times, I’d rather you pinched pennies by purchasing less costly conventional fruits and vegetables than by cutting back on the amount of organic produce you’re buying. 

Also, don’t fall prey to marketing claims that eating “fancy produce” (pomegranates, goji berries, acai, even pineapple and papaya) is the only way to go. The more common, and therefore much less expensive, fruits are still packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutritious compounds. For example, a recent study out of Texas A&M University tested a variety of fruits and found that plums and other stone fruits met or exceeded the antioxidant content of the nutritionally famed blueberries (very expensive out of season). Stock up on whatever’s cheapest or on sale — bananas, apples, oranges, grapefruit and pears are great fruit choices this time of year.

The same goes with fresh veggies; choose fresh asparagus, ripe tomatoes, red/yellow bell peppers, spinach, etc.  only when they’re on sale. Otherwise, stick with the cheaper staples: broccoli, cauliflower, green bell peppers, onions, potatoes, cucumber, carrots and celery. You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to keep your house stocked with veggies and fruit.

Here are a few other ways to save on produce:

  • Buy frozen produce without shame. It’s nutritionally equivalent to fresh, and much cheaper! Just make sure there is no added sauce, salt, sugar, corn syrup, or anything else. Pure produce only.
  • Buy apples, oranges and grapefruit in big, prepacked bags when available. Your cost per piece of fruit will drop significantly compared to the price you pay for fruit from the bins. The fruits in the bulk bags also tend to be a little smaller, so it’s convenient for people who are closely monitoring their caloric intake.
  • Don’t automatically go for the precut fresh veggies. Sure, you’re going to save time if you buy fresh produce precut in bags (like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuces), but you’re also going to pay a price premium. Basically, there’s a classic trade-off here between money and time. If you can afford to spend a little extra time prepping in the kitchen, buy the whole produce and do the chopping yourself — or choose precut frozen veggies instead.