The bad news: Supermarket food prices are rising 4 to 5 percent this year and are expected to go up another 3 to 4 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.



The good news: There are lots of ways to save on your grocery bill.


First of all check out this weekend Daily Deal for Gatto's Discount Foods at our newest website Daily Deals NEPA.com Click here for more information ans to save 50% to 90% on goods and services from local businesses and merchants.


The bad news: Supermarket food prices are rising 4 to 5 percent this year and are expected to go up another 3 to 4 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

The good news: There are lots of ways to save on your grocery bill. First of all check out this weekend Daily Deal for Gatto's Discount Foods at our newest website Daily Deals NEPA.com

"Rising prices lead to food insecurity," said Jenna Hogan, nutrition and wellness educator at the University of Illinois Extension.

Food insecurity is when a person is unable to consistently access nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for a healthy life.

In the U.S., food represents 6.9 percent of average household expenditures, she said. That's $2, 208 per person annually, or $184 per month.

The key to big savings, she said, is meal planning.

"You don't want to be asking, ‘What's for dinner?' at 6 o'clock. You'll want to go out to eat," she said.

Meal planning decreases the need for store visits, limits impulse buys, reduces anxiety over what to prepare for dinner and allows for healthier meals.

Hogan gives these tips for meal planning:

-- Pick a day to plan each week's menus.

-- Involve the family. Ask for suggestions.

-- Don't try a complicated recipe on a night you'll be busy.

-- Check food supplies and plan around what you already have.

-- Try some meatless meals.

-- Plan with leftovers.

"If you have leftover chicken, put it in a crust with vegetables and condensed soup and you have a pot pie," she suggested.

More tips:

-- Make a shopping list.

-- Cut coupons and look for sale ads and specials.

-- Examine whether it's really worth buying a membership to a warehouse club.

-- Buy nonfood items, such as pet food and cleaning supplies, from discount stores.

-- Sign up for your supermarket's discount card/savings club.

-- Check the bargain bin for dented cans or discontinued items.

Hogan suggests making a running grocery list; keep it with a pen in the kitchen. It's also handy to have "contingency commodities" on hand in case your meal plan falls through. Emergency dinner items might include peanut butter and jelly or cheese slices for sandwiches, canned tuna and chicken for salad, canned soup or chili, frozen vegetables or canned fruit.

Compare unit prices listed on the shelf tag under the product.

"You may have a coupon for a name-brand product, but the store brand still may be cheaper," she said.

At the cash register, check your change. Before you leave the store, examine your receipt for errors.

But savings don't stop at the grocery store, Hogan said. Once you get home, portion out meat if bought in bulk; double wrap it, date it, label it and freeze it. Rotate canned goods so you use the oldest ones first.

During the week, try to use everything you bought, even scraps you normally throw out.

"Instead of cutting off broccoli stems and throwing them away, make a soup with them," Hogan said. Do the same with scraps from other vegetables.

In addition:

-- Repackage large containers of snack foods into smaller bags.

-- If time allows, cook in big batches and freeze for later use.

-- Drink tap water with meals.

-- Don't cook separate meals for children and adults.

"Kids don't always want to eat what's served," Hogan said. "It may seem harsh, but don't give in to their demands for a different meal."

These inexpensive dinner dishes are from "The Healthy Family Guidebook" published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service.

Sensational Six-Layer Dinner

        2 to 3 raw, sliced potatoes (medium size)
    
        2 cups sliced carrots
    
        1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    
        1/2 teaspoon onion, sliced
    
        1 pound lean ground beef, browned and drained
    
        1 1/2 cups green beans, peas or corn
    
        1 can tomato or any cream soup

Lightly oil or spray baking dish with cooking spray. Layer ingredients in order given. Cover. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender and thoroughly heated. Uncover and bake 15 more minutes. Serve with whole-wheat bread, fruit cocktail and milk. Makes 6 servings.

Bean Enchiladas
   
        3 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (or two 15-ounce cans)
    
        1 tablespoon chili powder
    
        1/2 cup low-fat shredded cheese, such as Monterey Jack
    
        8 (6-inch) flour tortillas
    
        Salsa (optional)

Place beans in large bowl and mash coarsely with fork or potato masher; stir in chili powder. Wrap tortillas in damp paper towel. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, or until tortillas are soft and warm. Divide bean mixture among tortillas and spread down center or tortilla. Sprinkle cheese on bean mixture. Roll tortillas to enclose mixture.

Spray 13-by-9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place enchiladas, seam side down, into baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm with salsa.

Accompany with lettuce and tomato salad, pears and milk. Makes 8 enchiladas.

Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.