Downsizing, unemployment, salary freezes and rising food and gas prices make it difficult to keep your grocery budget in check. Plus, it seems that healthier foods are also more costly.  Eating healthfully does require more time to plan, shop and cook foods. But in the end, you will be able to bank the benefits — health wise and in your pocket. Following are some tips to help stretch your food budget (and time) without compromising good nutrition.

First, make a menu. Planning out your meals for a week helps determine what to shop for and what needs to be thawed. Use the grocery store sale flyers to plan your meals around the meat that’s on sale.

Try cooking once and eating twice. Consider making double your usual main dish and freezing half of it for another time. Meats and casseroles freeze well and make a quick meal when you are too busy to cook from scratch.

When you cook a meal, plan for leftovers. Make a dish for one meal, cooking extra meat, then save some of the cooked meat for a re-made leftover dish. Use extra steak or chicken for fajitas, a stir fry or a soup; crumble extra hamburger and use for tacos or chili; use extra pork roast and make sweet and sour pork or barbecue pork sandwiches another night.

Shop with a list. Seems simple, but a lot of extra money is spent on impulse buys. Use your weekly menu and the store ad to organize your list. To get through the store quickly, organize your list by the aisle layout of the store where you usually shop.

Have you checked out store brands? Look at the nutrition label, not the fancy packaging. Often store brands are identical to the brand names and cost less.

Remember that foods placed at eye level are the most expensive, so be sure to check the higher and lower shelves. Also, focus on the outer aisles. Produce, meat and dairy are found on the outer aisle of the stores. More expensive, more processed foods take up the bulk of the center aisles.  But, don’t forget to check the aisles for things like canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, dried beans, rice, pasta and oatmeal.

Tempted to buy the giant bag of cereal? Consider that bigger is not necessarily cheaper. Check the price per ounce on the shelf label to get the best price. Jumbo size containers are never a good value if you can’t use it all before it expires or goes stale.

Check prices on convenience items, like shredded cheese. Usually, it is cheaper to buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself, but from time to time the grated is cheaper. Likewise, baby carrots are more expensive than regular carrots; instant oatmeal packets cost more than regular oatmeal.

“Special” foods cost more. Buying sugar-free or fat-free products is often more expensive. All foods can fit into a healthy diet in moderation, just read the nutrition label. Often, there is little nutrient difference for the price.

And finally, when you cook, mind your portions. Plan for 4 ounces of meat per person for a main dish. If you are making a soup or casserole, consider cutting back the meat in the dish or replacing it with beans.

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