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|March 27-April 2, 2008
• Authenticity in the afternoon
Trattoria on Pearl packs the ultimate power lunch
by Clay Fong
• Parsnip tips
This lowly root vegetable tops trendy chefs’ lists
by Amy Culbertson
Cheap tricks for groceries
How two big families shop
by Kathleen Purvis
You think your food bill is up? Try shopping with Don Hinkle. He buys 6 to 8 gallons of milk a week. If meat is marked two-for-one, he’ll buy $200 worth.
Hinkle has a lot of mouths to feed: three teenagers, ages 19, 18 and 16, and 7-year-old triplets. “We were afraid of losing tax deductions,” he jokes.
Joking aside, that’s a lot of food. Hinkle, an information technology project manager for Wachovia who lives in Weddington, N.C., really notices when prices go up.
“It pains me,” he admits.
How can you save money on food? Ask the experts — like the families in Mothers of Multiples, a networking group for people with twins, triplets, quads and quints.
Food and beverage prices climbed 4.8 percent last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the biggest increase since 1990. The numbers vary slightly according to which study you use, but most statistics show eggs were up almost 30 percent, whole milk was up 13 percent and bread prices climbed more than 10 percent.
The reasons could fill a shopping cart: higher demand for milk and meat in Latin America and Asia, drought in several parts of the world, more corn and soybeans being scooped up for ethanol, big boosts in the fuel it takes to grow food and get it to market.
You don’t have to tell Meredith Ritchie food costs are up. Ritchie has only three kids — in MOM, triplets doesn’t get you much in bragging rights. But that means she has to fix breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week for three 7-year-olds.
Ritchie works part time, as a vice president of sales for Momscorp, a professional staffing company for mothers returning to the work force. Her husband, David, works for a nonprofit, the Boy Scouts of America.
“Every dollar counts in the Ritchie household,” she says.
Both Ritchie and Don Hinkle, who does the shopping for his family of eight, watch prices as closely as a schoolkid watches snow clouds.
“I’ve got a real math brain, so it’s easy for me to keep tabs,” says Ritchie. “I have it in my head that I don’t want to spend more than $100 a week.”
To do that, she moves her shopping around — perishables one week, bulk goods another week. And she doesn’t like to compromise on food for her kids.
“I try to be calm about organic, but I do believe in it.” For instance, her kids eat peanut butter and jelly almost every day for lunch. But since that’s their main source of protein, she prefers the organic peanut butter she finds at a good price.
And she looks for other ways to trim. The kids take lunch to school, but baggies are expensive. So she found a brand of inexpensive reusable containers — the kind with two compartments — that fit in a lunch box.
“We wash them and pack them the next day, so we don’t use baggies. It’s just part of the routine.”
She buys large containers of organic yogurt and parcels it out. She buys pudding and gelatin snack cups in bulk.
Hinkle also moves around a lot for his shopping, buying perishables and meat at a supermarket, cereal at Big Lots and staples at Costco.
He buys so much at Costco, he gets the executive membership that earns back 2 percent of what you spend. He gets back enough to pay the cost of the membership.
He doesn’t drive far for a deal, he says. “At the price of gasoline, it quickly counters that.”
But he and his wife, Laura, make lists, then adjust them for sales at the store.
“If it’s not on sale, we’ll wait. We can do without it, or we’ll do a different vegetable or a different combination of things.”
A favorite way to stretch their food dollar: potluck night. Everything gets pulled out and put on the table.
That can mean some odd combinations. One night recently, dinner at the Hinkles was lasagna, pancakes, pork chops and pork roast with cherry sauce. But it keeps them from wasting food.
At the Ritchies’, budget dinner is often breakfast. Meredith Ritchie watches sales on bacon and when it hits two-for-one, she’ll buy 20 packs and freeze it.
Both the Hinkles and Ritchies say a key to scooping up sales is storage. The Ritchies have two refrigerators. The Hinkles have two refrigerators and a deep freezer.
That’s how Hinkle scored a great deal on meat. When the supermarket had a two-for-one sale, he bought $400 worth for $200.
“If it’s two for one, I’m loading up the car.”
There’s one budget shopper tip Hinkle doesn’t use, though: Leaving the kids at home when you shop.
Taking them along, one at a time, is part of teaching them to be thrifty — how to pay attention to the price per ounce and which things are more expensive than they’re worth, like junk food.
One of his kids is now a sophomore in college and he rarely drinks soda.
“He’ll order water at a restaurant.”
Part of teaching kids to eat cheap is to train them early, he says.
“We don’t make special things for dinner,” he says. “We teach them, ‘This is dinner — eat it. This is not a restaurant — you don’t get to choose.’”
10 way to save big on your groceries
1. Put an erasable board on every refrigerator and freezer to keep track of what you have and need to use.
2. Visit international markets. Things like rice, spices and produce often are much cheaper.
3. Eat a meat-free meal at least once a week.
4. Make a price list of things you use a lot and take it to the store, so you’ll know when prices go down — or up.
5. Make a weekly meal plan and a shopping list, then stick to them.
6. Never shop hungry.
7. Set up one week a month as Use-It-Up week: Plan all your meals using only what you already have.
8. Don’t throw away stale bread (unless it’s moldy). Grate it into crumbs in a food processor, then freeze. Or butter leftover hamburger and hot dog buns, sprinkle with garlic powder, broil and serve with pasta dishes. Cut French or Italian bread into cubes, toss with olive oil, season and bake into croutons.
9. Use every bit of leftover food. Grate several kinds of leftover cheese and melt with skim milk over low heat to make cheese sauce. Or grate and freeze to make a cheese mixture for topping dishes. Cut up leftover baked potatoes and add to scrambled eggs for breakfast, or saute with diced leftover meat and vegetables for hash.
10. Keep a plastic container with a tight lid in the freezer for storing leftover vegetables and the cooking water. Save them until the next time you make soup.
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