This summer was hot, with temperatures averaging in the 90s for months here in Cincinnati with no rain for weeks on end. The heat took its toll: Gardens wilted, fields dried up, and farmers struggled. With summer fading fast, you might think that the worst is behind us, but a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests otherwise. The drought that plagued much of the country this summer will mean higher food costs for all of us in the next year. While it's still too soon to say exactly how much the costs of specific foods will rise, the effects will be seen as early as this fall.
According to the USDA, the first price increases will be seen in beef, pork, poultry, and dairy--especially milk--in the next couple of months. In 10 to 12 months, we'll see the prices of processed grain products rise. Retail food prices rise on average between 2.5-3% a year due to inflation, and next year that increase will be between 3-4%. That means your gallon of milk that cost $3.43 in July, according to the Consumer Price Index, could cost 10 to 13 cents more next year. If you bought a gallon a week, that would add up to an extra $6.76 a year.
The good news is that those increases should be mostly in a few areas. The bad news is that those sharper increases are in foods most of us eat quite often--and they're the foods that already are costly: eggs, meat, and dairy. Rather than dwell on the negative, let's focus on finding ways to combat those rising costs while still enjoying the foods you like.
1. Portion control. This helps both your waistline and your bottom line. A pound of meat yields four adult-size servings, or four ounces raw and approximately 3 ounces cooked. One egg is one serving. And a cup of milk (8 fluid ounces) is a serving. By measuring your foods and eating smaller amounts, while supplementing with less costly items, you'll stretch your food dollars. Read more: 4 Ways to Stretch the Meat
2. Forgo convenience foods. Frozen pizzas, canned soups, and other ready-to-eat foods are convenient, but they come at a price. You will save money and cut back on sodium, sugar and fat by making your own at home. Learn more: Create Your Own Frozen Dinners
3. Eat less meat. Skip the meat in favor of less expensive plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, or tofu a few meals a week. Learn more ways to and add meatless protein.
4. Shop with a list. Every food dollar matters more than ever, so now is the time to cut back on impulse purchases. Make a list, plan your meals ahead of time, consult the sales fliers, and clip coupons. Tell everyone in the family: If it's not on the list, it's not going in the cart. Read more: 4 Steps to Plan Meals and a Healthy Grocery List
5. Buy in bulk. Smaller packages cost more per unit, so buy big and repack food at home to save money. Buy a gallon of milk and freeze half, choose family-size packages of meat, or opt for the larger blocks of cheese. For items such as nuts, flours, and dried fruit, shop the bulk bins so you can get as much or as little as you need. You're not paying for marketing and packaging costs, so the bulk items are cheaper. No matter what you stock up on, just be sure it doesn't go to waste. Cook it, freeze it, or share it.
6. Speaking of which... waste less food. Did you know that 19% of what goes into landfills is food scraps? Put your leftovers to work. If you can't eat them within a couple of days, freeze them (and label them). Get into the habit of eating dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. And have a casserole night, like I do. Every Friday night, turn the odds and ends from our fridge into dinner. Usually we have a grain or two, several kinds of veggies, and assorted proteins. I pick a theme, mix it together and top it with a sauce. Last week we had a quinoa and lentil dish with roasted broccolini and eggplant, which I served with a quick lemon vinaigrette.
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How are you keeping food costs low?