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By Emily Smith

Cooking on a budget

How many times have shoppers gone into the grocery store for "just a couple of items" and come out exclaiming, "It cost that much for THIS little bit"! The simple fact is grocery prices are going up and with them, the stress of providing your family with nutritious and delicious home-cooked meals.

Some people think eating and cooking healthy is too expensive, and that it's cheaper to eat out. This is not true. Anyone can cook healthy and enjoyable meals for a large family and stay on budget by following a few easy tips.

Make a plan

Keep a meal planner or use a monthly calendar. There are many phone apps and websites available to help plan as well. How often is the food shopping done? Is it once a week, bimonthly, monthly? Write down any activities or plans your family may have for that time period, whether it is ball games, dance recitals, band concerts or work meetings. Those can be considered "quick meal" days.

Plan a night for "take out" night. The rest should be days that are available to cook and can be "home-cooked meal" days. If using a crockpot or if planning a meat that may take several hours to roast, write that down. Check the freezer and pantry for items that can be used in any of the meals.

Write a grocery list based on what items are needed every day on the meal planner. This may take a little bit of time to gather and write, but it is well worth it! It is amazing how much more focused shoppers are in the grocery store by having a plan.

Always shop on sale

Always shop for meat on sale and never purchase at full price. Make sure to look at the local sale ads or subscribe to their weekly email. Find out when their weekly sale starts. Many sales start mid-week. Numerous grocers will start marking down their weekly sale meat one to two days before the sale ends, depending on overstock. These are often tagged "manager's specials" for a quick sale. This is a great way to get discounted, fresh meat that can be frozen for use later.

Thanksgiving does not need to be the only time to prepare a whole turkey. During and after the holidays, whole turkeys and hams are on sale and usually at a very low price. Buy a couple and keep them in the freezer to be used for special occasions or for a weekend dinner. Turkeys yield a great deal of meat which can be used in an array of leftover dishes.

Also, always check the reduced-price baker's rack. Pies, Danish, sub rolls, dinner rolls and artisan bread can be found for more than half off. These freeze great!

Double the recipe

This is an easy way to stretch one meal into two. Some of the best meals to double with little added cost are spaghetti with meat sauce, vegetable or chili soup (or any soup at that matter), meatloaf and pulled pork barbecue. Leftovers are helpful for those busy weekdays that tempt many to pull through a drive-through on their way home.

Breakfast is also great to double when making pancakes, waffles or French toast. These freeze very well and are much cheaper than buying a box in the freezer section of the grocery store.

Buy fresh vegetables and fruit in season

Do some research and find out what vegetables are currently in season. Everyone knows that fall and summer are the best times for delicious cucumbers, juicy ripe tomatoes and sweet corn at local farmers markets. However, many people do not think about the fruits and vegetables that are available in the off seasons. Look for asparagus, strawberries, spinach, pineapple, mango and broccoli in spring and fresh Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, kale, leeks, pears, sweet potatoes, oranges and turnips in winter. Many city locations host indoor farmers markets during the colder months.

Buy a cow or hog from the butcher

Many meat markets will sell a whole cow or hog. The upfront price is rather expensive, but it yields many pounds of quality fresh meat that will greatly reduce grocery per-unit costs over time. Go in with friends and split the meat and cost by half.

Be prepared-this will supply a lot of meat. There must be large freezer space available for storage. Some of the fresh meat cuts will taste slightly differently than average grocery meat, for example fresh bacon or hamburger. If possible, ask the butcher for sample meat to cook before purchasing.

Eating out

It is nice to have a break sometimes. When planned, doing takeout with your family will not break the bank. Pizza night is a great budget-friendly meal. Make a salad and incorporate the meal into a fun game or movie night. Go online and order, as many places have online-only coupons. Craving Chinese food? Order a few favorite takeout dishes instead of paying for a buffet, which can be pricey for families.

It is nice to go to a restaurant for a special occasion, and sometimes it is worth saving up for. Try to avoid pricey dine-in restaurants, especially when having to buy multiple meals off the kid's menu. (Who wants to pay over $5 for a grilled cheese?) Add in the cost of overpriced drinks and a tip and the bill will be approximately equivalent to three or four home-prepared meals. Look for restaurants that offer "kids eat free with a paid adult" nights as well as buffet-style restaurants that offer the "kids eat free" option for children under a certain age

Here is a recipe that is lip-smacking good, easy to make, feeds a large family and produces plenty of leftovers! To really cut costs low, wait for the Boston butt roast to go on sale or on manager's special.

Pulled Pork Barbecue

6-8 lb. Boston butt roast

4 tbsp. paprika

2 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tbsp. dry mustard

2 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. black ground pepper

1 cup water

Package hamburger buns (optional)

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix to make a rub. Place Boston butt in a large roasting pan and rub mixture on all sides. Let marinate for one to two hours.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Add 1 cup water to bottom of the roasting pan. Cover with foil and cook for six hours or until meat reaches 170 degrees. Rest roast for 15 minutes. Take a fork and pull meat in pieces. Pour juice from the roast over top of meat.

Serve with or without bun; serve with baked beans, coleslaw or baked potato and favorite vegetable.

Cooking meals for a family on a budget can be challenging. However, with a meal plan in place and a little savvy food shopping knowledge, anyone can provide delicious and healthy meals for their family.

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