The Midwestern drought making headlines now will eventually hit consumers in the supermarket checkout line.
Those parched fields of corn, wheat and soybeans mean that anything made using them will be more expensive. That includes bread, cereal, pasta, beverages and the many items sweetened with corn syrup. Since corn, wheat and soybeans are used to feed cows, pigs and chickens, meat, poultry and dairy products also will cost more.
Prices will be higher for many items in the grocery store, says Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University.
We wont see those price increases until next year; thats when the results of the drought will be felt in the supply chain, economists predict. At first, meat prices should drop as farmers reduce their herds and flocks to what they can afford to feed.
After that, however, we could see a 5 to 10 percent increase in meat prices, says N.C. State economist Michael J. Roberts. Last month, the average price of a pound of ground beef was $3.45, according to federal statistics. That means a potential increase of 35 cents a pound.
Overall, food prices are expected to increase up to 4 percent. Week after week, those small increases will add up, stretching recession-weary household budgets. Changing shopping, cooking and eating habits now will help home cooks overcome these higher costs in the future.
Heres a refresher on the classic tips for saving money in the kitchen:
• Track your spending at the grocery store. You need to know your starting point to see savings or notice increases.
• Go to the grocery store with a plan: a weeks worth of meals and a shopping list.
• Dont let leftovers go to waste. Eat them for lunch or turn them into another meal.
• Join the Meatless Monday movement ( meatlessmonday.com) and give up meat one day a week.
• Buy fruits and vegetables in season when they are at their lowest prices.
• Look to Italian or Mexican cookbooks for recipes made with humble ingredients.
We also sought advice from three experts: Food Network personality and frugal mother of four Melissa dArabian, the star of Ten Dollar Dinners; cookbook author Helen Chen, an expert on Chinese cooking, a cuisine known for stretching small amounts of meat to feed many; and Phil Lempert, a retail analyst known as The Supermarket Guru. Here are tips from each:
• Do not waste food. The most expensive ingredient in your house is the one you throw away, dArabian says. Thats what prompted her to develop the recipe on page xD for Crisper Drawer Pasta to use up those vegetables that were likely to be pitched.
• Use what you have. Before you go shopping, see what ingredients are in your pantry and freezer. Use them to plan upcoming meals.
• Know a good price when you see it. Keep track of what you pay for the five to 10 items you always buy, such as milk, eggs or boneless chicken breasts. When you see a good price, especially on meat, stock up and freeze some.
• Do bean night. This is dArabians tradition of serving proteins other than meat one night a week, such as black beans, lentils or eggs.
• Let meat be an ingredient, not the main ingredient. In Chinese cooking, a 3- or 4-ounce piece of meat, about the size of a deck of cards, is combined with vegetables to feed four to six people. In comparison, American recipes often call for a half pound of meat per person.
• Stir-frying makes the most of a smaller amount of meat. Chen says quickly cooking small pieces of meat over high heat keeps the meat tasty and adds flavor to the dish. A trick to keep the meat juicy is to use a marinade with cornstarch dissolved in it. The cornstarch coats the meat and seals in juices.
• Make more vegetable dishes. Chen explains the Chinese traditionally have multicourse meals where a clear soup and a dish with meat are paired with many vegetable or tofu dishes.
• Buy frozen seafood instead of previously frozen offerings. Frozen seafood costs about 40 percent less.
• Buy products with whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta. You will feel fuller and eat less.
• Make your own pasta sauce. Lempert uses a can of Hunts crushed tomatoes, olive oil and spices. For $2, I have a fresher pasta sauce than one that is going to cost me $5 or $7 with sugar as the second ingredient, he says.