Welcome to another commercial free blogisode of “Keeping Up With The Hagopians”! Okay, so I’m reading a news story that says Americans are turning to less expensive culinary choices (read: junk food) and saying it’s in an attempt to save money.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a comfort food lover of the highest order. There are those insane days when the chef salad with healthy dressing just isn’t going to cut it, unless it comes with a quarter pounder & biggie fries on the side.  But for those lunging at unhealthy fast food choices on a pathological basis and then trying to blame it on a recession, it not only completely fails the smell test, but it truly ticks me off.    Man up!  (Ladies, you too!)  Show this recession what you’re made of!    Seek food choices that will benefit both your wallet and your waistline – it can be done!

To the meat lovers in the crowd – I’m with you, comrades. In fact, it was my husband who introduced me to the “no meat, no eat” concept in meal planning. When I have at least a bit of protein in every meal, I find I’m more focused, as well as satisfied with less. However, there’s no need to go overboard on meat choices – always remember that hamburger at $1.29/pound has the nutritional equivalent of Prime Rib at $12.99/pound. With two pre-school kids in our house, our family of four will use about one pound of meat for a standard supper dish.  Chicken is the overwhelmingly preferred protein of choice at Casa Hagopian. It’s versatile, easy to prepare, and when purchased on sale, an outstanding frugal meat staple.

Around us, boneless, skinless chicken breasts sell for between $3.99-$4.49/pound. And anyone who buys it at regular price can turn in their Frugal Deputy badge right now. Every major supermarket chain will have regular sales on chicken – start marking the dates when they’re going to occur! My favorite supermarket has half-price meat sales once a quarter, with chicken breasts selling for $1.99/pound. They also have spectacular sales twice a year, in which fresh, boneless, skinless chicken breasts sell for $1.25/pound. You can all guess when I buy mine. Our family eats chicken at least twice a week, meaning that we eat about 100 pounds of it a year. Purchasing it at $1.25/pound rather than $3.99/pound means we save at least $274.00 every year on chicken alone. The same types of sales yield high quality hamburger for .99/pound, whole roasting chickens for .49/pound (great Sunday dinners!), Italian sausage for .99/pound (great in casseroles & spaghetti sauces) and pork roasts for $1.49/pound. I would conservatively estimate the amount we save on meats to be about $800/year, making it well worth the few minutes a week I take scouring the sales flyers.

Smart strategies on produce can yield even bigger savings. When you get a moment, take a look at my earlier blog on buying your produce “Down Under”. My kids are fruit-lovers, with apples & bananas as top favorites. Most important Produce Rule: never spend more than .99/pound for produce.  If you see pretty produce at $1/pound or more, keep walkin’. Using our “Down Under” strategies and the .99 rule, we save about $1200 a year on all fruits & vegetables.

When it comes to side dishes, do your mental & physical health a favor and steer clear of the processed, white sugar, white flour junk. The more whole the food, the more you’ll enjoy it and the less you’ll need to feel satisfied. Stick to whole wheat pastas & breads. Try brown & wild rice rather than white. Try neat new grains like barley & buckwheat. They taste great, are very versatile with meats, and best of all, the next day you can dazzle friends & family with casual statements like: “we had the most spectacular buckwheat kasha with sauteed chicken last night…”  Watch their eyebrows shoot up, their jaws drop, and their opinion of you change radically.  (“Did you hear?  Kris had buckwheat kasha with sauteed chicken last night! What a culinary FREAK!”)   We buy all of our pastas, breads & grains at half-price or better at our favorite stores. Start seeking them out in your favorite stores as well.

Before Victor & I had kids, it wasn’t uncommon for us to spend $800/month on food, between groceries and eating out. Now, two kids later, using all of the above strategies, we keep our food budget at $300/month for our family of four, and enjoy outstanding, high-quality food, much of it organic. If I can do it, anybody can do it. The next time you grocery shop, throw some of the above ideas in play. Over time, you will LOVE the change in your wallet AND your waistline!

Take care everybody! K