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Eat Better, Save More

How to buy the best food without supersizing your bill

Waste not, store a lot

If you're tossing away half of your CSA produce, you're not saving money. To use ingredients efficiently and avoid restaurant and takeout meals (which account for about 43 percent of the average American's food expenditures, according to the USDA), take up "batch cooking": preparing big quantities to stock your fridge and freezer with a week of meals. Use more perishable products first, store vegetables properly, and preserve or pickle the rest. Websites like FoodinJars.com offer reliable recipes for quick small-batch canning.

Stay seasonal

Farmers' markets get a bad rap as expensive temples of exquisite produce, but produce is often cheaper there than at supermarkets, studies show. The trick is to buy during seasonal peaks — the first strawberries cost far more than the later glut. Buy in bulk for a quantity discount, and don't fear bruised or imperfect fruit. "You won't be able to use every bite, but often you'll get it at 25 percent or less of original cost," Watson says.

Join a cow pool

Organic, grass-fed beef is better for you and the planet, but at $25 per pound or more, it can be tough on your wallet. Carnivores with freezer space and friends willing to share can try "cow pooling": You arrange for farmers to provide a butchered and wrapped beast, nose to tail, and then split it up. "Depending on where you are, every cut averages out to $5 to $6 per pound," said Lynne Curry, author of Pure Beef.  She also recommends "underappreciated and penny-wise" cuts such as sirloin tip, skirt steak and on-the-bone meats for braising.

Eat lower on the food chain

Eggs are a far cheaper protein than meat, and vegetarian meals are low-cost and nutritious. Organizers of the Meatless Monday movement, who advocate forgoing meat one day a week, estimate the strategy can save families $80 to $100 per month.

Grow your own

Herbs are money savers in kitchen gardens, especially perennials like rosemary and oregano. You can avoid the organic markup for berries by raising them clean at home; loose-leaf lettuces and greens like kale and chard sprout new leaves after they're trimmed, providing a season-long salad.

Go wild

Wild edibles like huckleberries and morel mushrooms are free for the taking if you know what you're doing. For those who don't, parks departments offer foraging classes, and author Steve Brill created a Wild Edibles smartphone app. Newbie mushroom hunters should connect with a club (find one via the North American Mycological Association.

You may also like: 3 healthy pasta sauces.

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