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Money-Saving Meals: Healthy, Low-Cost Dinner Recipes

Eating healthy on a tight budget is easy with these expert money-saving tips for grocery shopping and low-cost meals. The number-one piece of advice: Plan your dinners in advance. It's easy with these healthy, budget-friendly dinner recipes.
Smart Shopping Tips to Help You Save Money

In the Produce Aisle
Don't overbuy. If you need only a small amount of a food -- say, a quarter cup of bell pepper or shredded carrot -- getting it from the salad bar can be cheaper than letting the extra go to waste, according to Andrea Astrachan, vice president of consumer affairs for Stop & Shop.

Halve your fruit and eat it too. At Whole Foods Market and Stop & Shop, ask an associate to cut your pineapple in half or sell you just half a bag of grapes.

Know how long each fruit or veggie will stay fresh. Stop & Shop posts a "Food Keeper" guide for customers to consult.

In the Cereal/Grains Aisle
Buy grains and cereal from the bulk bins. "No packaging means they're cheaper, good for the environment, and you can purchase only what you need," says Barry Hirsch, a spokesperson for Whole Foods.

Look for private-label products. Most food chains have them, and some, including Stop & Shop and Albertsons, have introduced organic store-brand lines, which are often priced about 15 percent below national brands.

Take a taste. Just ask and both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's will let you open any package in the store to make sure you like the product enough to buy it. (Leftovers are often given to other customers as samples.)

In the Refrigerator/Freezer Section
Eat more eggs. "At less than 25 cents each, they make a nutritious, low-cost meal," points out Heidi Diller, RD, corporate dietitian for Albertsons.

Buy blocks of cheese instead of preshredded. Convenience foods are more expensive and generally spoil faster, Diller says.

Portion foods yourself. Individually packaged yogurts and other snacks save you time, but the multiserving tub or bag is usually cheaper.

In the Meat/Poultry/Fish Section
Buy frozen fish. "It's often less expensive than fresh, with no sacrifice in quality," Diller says.

Get cold cuts at the deli counter. Packaged from the refrigerator case, they can cost as much as 40 percent more.

Go vegetarian one or two nights a week. Swapping chicken breasts for canned black beans can save you more than $4.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2009.