6 ways to save $2,997 a year on food

When I started doing research for our latest book, EatingWell on a Budget, I was blown away by the stats I came across. The one that sums it all up for me: a third of adults and 16 percent of children in the U.S. are obese and the highest obesity rates are associated with the lowest incomes and education levels, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, says, "Simply put, fats and sweets cost less, whereas many healthier foods cost more." For many Americans, cooking healthy food on a budget seems impossible.

But it doesn't need to be that way. A couple years ago we started costing out EatingWell recipes and we found that if you cook at home, with basic, all-natural ingredients, you can make delicious, healthy food for about the same amount it costs to get a fast food meal. All it takes is a little planning, smart shopping and the willingness to actually cook.

Today, with high food prices and a struggling economy, there's never been a better time to learn how to eat well for less. Whether you are a family trying to make ends meet or are trying to save for kids' college educations, these are lessons anyone can appreciate.

Here are 6 great ways to save almost $3,000 and recipes to go with them.

1. Eat vegetarian a few nights a week.
Try to include a couple of vegetarian meals in your menu for the week. Skipping meat, even once or twice a week, can help save money, since meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. And you will have a lighter impact on the environment-almost one-fifth of the world's manmade greenhouse-gas emissions are generated by the meat industry, according to the United Nations. 27 meatless recipes to try.
Savings: $210 per year. (Replace 1 pound of sirloin [$5.99] with a 14-ounce block of tofu [$1.96] once a week for a year.)

2. Minimize waste.
One of the easiest ways to save money is to make sure you're not wasting food. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw out more than 25 percent of the food we prepare. And a study at the University of Arizona that tracked food use and waste from production to the table to the landfill estimated that the average American family of four throws out $590 worth of food each year. So we need to do a better job of using leftovers and learn what to do with food before it's past its peak. Here are 20 creative ways to use up leftovers, which can help reduce waste.
Savings: $590 per year. (Estimated value of the food an average American household of four wastes in a year.)

3. Plug in the slow cooker.
If you don't have hours to spend at home tending a braise, then try a slow cooker. It will give you the same effect (i.e., it makes inexpensive cuts of meat meltingly tender), but you can plug it in, leave for the day and come home to a dinner like a Rich Chicken Stew or one of our other easy, healthy slow-cooker recipes. Inexpensive cuts of meat that work wonderfully in the slow cooker include chicken thighs, pork shoulder, beef chuck and brisket.
Savings: $78 per year. (Replace 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast [$4.99] with 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs [$3.49] once a week for a year.)

4. Discover great ways to use canned fish.
Just like their fresh counterparts, canned salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fats, which help keep your heart healthy by lowering triglycerides and blood pressure. The difference: canned fish is significantly cheaper. Here are tons of great recipes for canned tuna.
Savings: $224 per year. (Replace 1 pound of fresh tuna [$7.99] with 1 pound of canned tuna [$3.68] once a week for a year.)

5. Don't order a pizza. Make one at home.
Ordering pizza seems like a cheap and quick solution for dinner. But a typical pie costs more than $15. You can make your own at home, (like this Sausage, Pepper & Mushroom Pizza (recipe follows) for a lot less and in about the same amount of time delivery takes. Domino's large, Brooklyn-style Sausage, Pepper & Mushroom Pizza is $17.58 with tax (but not delivery charge) included. Our version is $7.58.
Savings: $520 per year. (Make pizza once a week instead of ordering.)

6. Pack a lunch.
When you're busy at work, the easiest choice is to grab a bite to eat someplace nearby. The problem is that the cost of buying lunch takes a toll on your food budget. (The average lunch at the national chain Panera Bread, which specializes in sandwiches, soups and salads, is $8.50.) Try bringing a lunch from home. When you make dinner, think about what you're going to eat for lunch tomorrow. If you're making a salad, make a little extra and put it in a container, undressed. And what about your leftovers? If you have a little extra chicken or half a can of beans, toss that in with your lunch salad. Make more than you'll need for dinner, and reheat it for lunch the next day. Here are 19 easy lunch recipes that cost less than $3 per serving.
Savings: $1,375 per year. (Replace an $8.50 lunch with a $3 lunch from home 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year.)

What are your most innovative ways to save money on food?

Sausage, Pepper & Mushroom Pizza
Makes: 6 servings
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
Cost per serving: under $1.50

This sausage, pepper and mushroom pizza is just a little more work than calling for delivery (but not by much), but there's no tipping required when you make it yourself. Plus you get it fresh from your oven, and with whole-wheat dough and a generous amount of vegetables on top it's far better for you.

1 pound prepared pizza dough, preferably whole-wheat (see Note)
6 ounces Italian turkey sausage, about 2 large links, casings removed
1 green bell pepper, sliced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup water
1 cup prepared marinara or pizza sauce
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, preferably "fancy"

1. Position oven rack in the lowest position; preheat to 450°F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Roll out or stretch dough on a lightly floured surface to about the size of the baking sheet. Transfer to the baking sheet. Bake until puffed and lightly crisped on the bottom, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, crumble sausage into a medium nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat, breaking up with a spatula or spoon, until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Place bell pepper, mushrooms and water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on High until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain.
4. Spread sauce evenly over the crust. Top with the sausage, pepper and mushrooms and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until the crust is crispy and golden and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

Per serving: 289 calories; 6 g fat (3 g sat, 1 g mono); 28 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 1 g added sugars; 16 g protein; 3 g fiber; 705 mg sodium; 260 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (28% daily value), Calcium (16% dv).

Ingredient note: Look for balls of whole-wheat pizza dough, fresh or frozen, at your supermarket. Choose a brand without hydrogenated oils.

By Jessie Price

EatingWell deputy food editor Jessie Price's professional background in food started when she worked in restaurant kitchens in the summers during college. She started out testing recipes for EatingWell and then joined the staff here full-time in 2004 when she moved to Vermont from San Francisco.

Related Links from EatingWell:

Financially Fit Feedback:Take our Survey »

Follow Shine


What extra baking essentials do you purchase?

Poll Choice Options


  • Bad financial habits to ditch in 2013
    Bad financial habits to ditch in 2013

    Don’t let these bad financial habits keep you from your long-term spending goals. Identify your weaknesses and start remedying them. …