Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to Make Grab-and Go Foods Affordable and Available

Everyone knows that making all of your own food from scratch is a great way to save money. Anytime you pay another person to prepare your food, though, you’ll pay more than if you do it yourself. But what if there just isn’t time to cook from scratch? Often there isn’t time to cook, period. How do you balance saving time with saving money? The answer, unsatisfying as it may be, is doing the best you can. You save time when you can, and you save money where you can and with enough effort, hopefully you’ll achieve that balance.

One food group that can really put a dent in your budget is grab-and-go foods. Yet, if you need grab-and-go food, your time is obviously at a premium also. To give you an example, I have two grandsons who are involved in everything from sports to music to jobs to you-name-it. Being teenagers, they are always starved and always on the run. They don’t have time to sit down to a meal until late in the evening, and they don’t have money to grab a burger from a fast-food place if they are hungry in the meantime. There is a shelf in the pantry that their mother keeps stocked with single serving foods that they can just grab a handful of as they run out of the door to keep them going until they have a chance to eat a real meal. But if you have to buy grab-and-go snacks at the store, they will break the bank in no time at all. What do you do?

First of all, you have to know the prices, and you have to know how much you are willing to spend. Set a price for each item (not for the whole package), and then don’t spend more than that. You may be willing to pay and average of twenty cents each for granola bars or fruit roll-ups, and maybe stretch to twenty-five cents occasionally for something special, but no higher than that. (Of course, you will be adjusting as prices keep rising L )There are lots of things you can buy that you can eat on the run if money isn’t an issue, but if finances are tight they aren’t an option. When you see grab-and-go food on sale that fits your budget, buy as much as you can afford to stretch the savings through times when the items are only offered at full price. (Just don’t pull it all out at one time. Find a place to hide the extra supplies that stock your grab-and-go shelf to make them last longer.)

Shop around, and look beyond traditional supermarkets. Often membership clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club will offer large packages of grab-and-go snacks for prices you are willing to pay. Take advantage of these if you have access to membership stores. Deep discount stores like Wal-Mart and Target can frequently be sources for grab-and-go snacks also. Don’t forget day-old bread stores. They will often carry brands of snack foods at discount prices.

Package your own. Buying individually packaged bags of chips or cookies may be out of the picture, but you can make your own quite easily. Buy cookies or raisins or any snack food in a regular package, and them divide it up into individual zipper sandwich bags. You can usually get ten to twenty little bags out of a box of cookies, which brings the cost down to a dime or so for each portion. Dividing up a package of cookies doesn’t take more than three or four minutes. Even bags of dry cereal make good grab-and-go snacks.

Grab-and-go foods can be perishable items also. String cheese and yogurt are often, though not always, affordably priced. When they are, tape a note to the snack shelf saying, “Yogurt in fridge –don’t forget spoon” or something similar. (Buying a supply of plastic spoons when they are on sale is much cheaper than having your good silverware disappear.) Fresh vegetables can be chopped and sorted into zipper sandwich bags so you can take something healthy with you on the spur of the moment. And apples and oranges are always ready to stuff in a pocket as you head out the door.

So don’t despair if your family eats on the run – some of the time. With just a little effort, you can be ready as they race by, and you don’t have to break the bank to do it.

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