Penn State offers tips on shopping smart for your holiday feast

November 21, 2008

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Family holiday dinners are times to make special memories, but paying for the turkey and egg nog on a tight budget is an experience many would rather forget. An expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences saod a few helpful hints can help save time and money while shopping for that perfect holiday feast.

Julie Haines, education specialist for Penn State Nutrition Links, said planning is the key ingredient when it comes to saving money on holiday meals. "Planning the holiday menu ahead of time helps greatly because you can take advantage of those post-Thanksgiving grocery store sales for Christmas," she said.

"If you have an idea for what you will serve, you can buy those foods far in advance. Always take advantage of sales on non-perishables such as sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. You also can buy fresh cranberries and freeze them for Christmas dinner."

Haines said that, in general, making holiday dishes from scratch is a better option than buying prepared or "convenience" foods when you are cooking large quantities of family favorites. For instance, stuffing, a staple at many holiday meals, is much less expensive if made from scratch. "You can make your own stuffing with day-old bread and add some common spices," Haines said. "Usually you'll make a large enough quantity that you can use leftover stuffing in many casseroles or recipes. Plus, if the family derives pleasure from knowing Grandma's potato salad was made a certain way, you want to preserve the tradition for future generations."

However, Haines said, while shopping for holiday meal ingredients, there might be instances when convenience or pre-made foods will save money and time. This can be true for spices and condiments, which are often expensive and have a two-year shelf life. "For example, if you use curry in a rice dish and don't use it any other time of the year, consider using prepackaged spice mixes," she says. "This is more cost-effective than buying a bottle of spice when you'll only use half a teaspoon in a holiday dish."

Haines suggests serving more vegetables and less meat on the holiday menu as a good way to save money and stay healthy. "From a nutrition perspective, it is much healthier to be consuming more fruits and vegetables than meat," she said. "Look for dark green and orange vegetables to get some extra nutrition, many of which are in season and are affordable this time of year."

Shopping for advertised store specials and checking out store fliers could be the best strategy if you have not planned ahead for your holiday feast. "If an item is on sale and fits into your menu and your budget, absolutely take advantage of it," she said. "For discounts on larger quantities of items, ask friends to consider shopping with you so you can split buy-one-get-one-free offers."

Haines said asking your local grocery store's customer service counter about upcoming sales and discounts is another great shopping strategy. "Don't be shy about asking how long or when the foods you need will go on sale," she said. "The customer service desk often will know the sales in advance."

Haines also suggests taking advantage of any classes or tools grocery stores may offer to help their customers save money. For example, Wal-Mart has an online family financial expert who gives advice on how to stick to a budget during the holidays and year-round. The chain's Web site also provides a holiday budget calculator that can total one's cost for food and drink in addition to other expenses.

"Some supermarkets even have consumer educators placed in the stores," Haines said. "Another source is your local Penn State Cooperative Extension office, which can provide consumer advice before you hit the market."

Sometimes the best place to find great deals on holiday ingredients is not at the grocery store, Haines added. "Look for bargains in unlikely places," she said. "When you run into the drugstore for your prescription or a greeting card, you could find the foods or ingredients you need on sale for a great price."
 

 

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Last Updated March 19, 2009