by Emily Buckley

As our family has grown and our children are becoming “real” eaters we’ve noticed our grocery bill becoming more substantial. Still, with a little planning and extra effort we’ve learned to stick to a budget that doesn’t require a sacrifice when it comes to quality and nutritional value.

Here are five tips to help you stay on track:

Stretch your budgetMake a meal plan, and stick to it. Although it sounds simple, it may be the most challenging tip in the mix…and the most effective in helping you maintain your budget. Sit down once a week and plan your family’s meals. When planning consider what you already have on hand, and then shop for only the items you need. Allow for leftovers in your meal plan, and give yourself some leeway and be realistic about nights you may be too busy too cook and end up eating out. The time spent planning will cut down on excess food you buy on the store and prevent waste.

Stretch that protein! Instead of filling your plate with meat, poultry or fish, use it sparingly for flavor – almost as though it is a condiment. You can make your protein sources go further by adding a conservative amount to a vegetable stir-fry, pizza, casserole or pasta dish, for example.

Stay in season. Not only is out-of-season produce more expensive, but it is also less flavorful. Choose recipes that call for fruits and vegetables that are in season and available at lower prices. In spring try berries, asparagus, artichokes and fresh peas; during the summer use recipes that call for tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs and peppers; and in fall and winter look to squashes, dark leafy greens, citrus and potatoes. You may also want to consider stocking up on in-season produce and preserving it by either freezing or home canning.

DIY. One of the best ways to maximize saving is to skip convenience products and take the few extra minutes required to do it yourself. On weekends when you have a little extra time, or in the evenings after you’ve put the kids to bed, do a little work that will put you ahead. For example, chop your produce or make pizza dough to sit in the fridge overnight.

Eat more vegetarian meals. Meat and poultry account for the most expense at the grocery store. Consider serving one or two vegetarian dinners a week. Dishes based on wholesome staples like rice, whole grains, beans and legumes are protein-rich, filling and inexpensive. You can incorporate seasonal produce for flavor, color and freshness. A major bonus to this budget-friendly: Research shows eating more plant-based foods may lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.