10 Tips For Money-Wise Meals From Jean Chatzky

Trying to save money and still make great meals for your family? Jean Chatzky can help. Jean's down-to-earth advice has helped millions of people save money and conquer debt through her best-selling books, radio show, Web site and regular Today show appearances. She's also a busy mom with two kids, who puts home-cooked meals on the table 5 nights a week.

Here, Jean combines her kitchen know-how with her financial smarts to offer common-sense advice Taste of Home readers can bank on.

1. Shop your pantry. If you're like me, you load up on chicken breasts, boxed stock and other staples when they're on sale. It's fun, thrifty and a challenge to see what you can cook up with what you already have.

2. Go frozen. Fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at the peak of freshness, so you can buy them out of season for less. They taste great, too! My string beans are a neighborhood legend, but you can use the same technique for broccoli, spinach, whatever.

3. Shop on-line. Each time you enter a grocery store, you're tempted by impulse buys — a bag of cookies here, a box of crackers there, a pack of gum at the checkout — and suddenly you've spent an extra $10. That's why I do most of my grocery shopping on-line. You pay a few dollars more in service charges but save big by sticking to a list.

4. Shop bulk sections of health-food stores for grains, nuts, dried fruit and cereal. You can buy as much as you want, and prices tend to be more reasonable because you're not paying for brand names and flashy packaging.

5. Make your own 100-calorie packs. I love the idea of calorie control, but not the idea of paying for it. Instead, make your own 100- calorie packs when you get home from the store by separating cookies, chips, etc. into resealable plastic bags to toss into lunches.

6. Wednesday night is smorgasbord night. Or whatever you want to call it. Haul what you have out of the fridge, and let the family make their own plates. Or take a staple — like that leftover rice — and turn it into a fried rice dinner.

7. Know when organic is worth it. The one organic I always buy is milk, because the shelf life is considerably longer and we don't waste any. After that, I stick to the "dirty dozen": peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. These items tend to be the most contaminated, so it's worth splurging.

8. Coupon, coupon, coupon. With this recession, couponing has come back with a vengeance. Believe it or not, 80 percent of the coupons used in grocery stores are still found in Sunday circulars. If a week's paper is particularly good, it can pay off to buy two copies — or ask a non- couponing neighbor for hers.

9. Be loyal. For years, I didn't give the loyalty program at my local supermarket my actual 411. I fudged on the address. Skipped the E-mail. No more. That's because I know my shopping patterns are used to send me offers and coupons I'll actually use.

10. Make a list. Planning your week's meals before you hit the store saves money because you know exactly what you need to get through the week — no more, no less. Writing it down is the key to saving money ... and losing weight.

String Beans

Jean's Favorite Beans

1 big bag flash-frozen string beans (I like the skinny ones)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle of Parmesan cheese

Put string beans in a frying pan with a little water; cover and simmer on the stove, about 5 min., until hot. Push to one side of pan. Add olive oil; when hot, add garlic. When garlic is light brown, mix string beans in with oil and garlic. Turn heat to high and let brown a bit. Add salt, pepper and cheese to taste. Serve.

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