Saving money on the food budget involves making dozens of small changes in the way we shop for food, the ways we store it and the ways we prepare it.
Here are some specific things to do:
*Meat is one of the most expensive items on our shopping lists, according to Jeanne-Marie Holly, a home economist with the Baltimore County office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service. "Look for less tender cuts of meat, anything you would use for stewing -- blade roast, chuck roast, shank, some cuts from the round. But consider cost per serving rather than cost per pound. You can get four servings per pound with boneless meat as opposed to about two servings per pound for bone-in meat."
Recipes that call for expensive meats like veal can be made with chicken or turkey instead, explains Ansela Dopkin of the Classic Catering People. "Chicken is still very well priced," she says.
Many types of fish are expensive, she adds, but recipes that call for salmon and other expensive types of fish can be used for the cheaper cod or halibut.
*Use beans, lentils and other vegetable proteins. "There's a trend toward vegetarian food," Mrs. Dopkin says. "Good creative cuisine with vegetables is very inexpensive. You can cook a pound of pasta, add a sauce, maybe some smoked turkey; anything works well with pasta. And you have a wonderful meal for six."
*Buy seasonal vegetables. "Buying tomatoes in November is silly," Mrs. Dopkin adds.
Look for the traditional autumn vegetables: winter squashes, broccoli, potatoes, onions, kale and carrots.
*Shop at farmers' markets for good prices. According to Harold Kanarek, of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, "some of the markets are open until December and there's a wide variety in what they offer."
The best-known one, the downtown market at the corner of Holiday and Saratoga streets, will be open on Sundays until Dec. 22. The hours are 8 a.m. to noon each Sunday morning.
You can also find a number of pick-your-own farms and orchards locally. The Department of Agriculture offers free pamphlets listing the local farmers' markets and the local pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms. Call 841-5770 to obtain the pamphlets.
*Buying in bulk is usually a way to get better prices. In addition to buying direct from the farmer in bulk, you can also find a number of local supermarkets that offer discounts for certain large items.
Make sure you can store perishables properly. Even if you get good prices on bulk items, you'll lose that saving if part of your food goes bad. Look for "Stocking Up" (Fireside, paperback, $17.95), by Carol Hupping and the staff of the Rodale Food Center; "Keeping the Harvest" (Storey, paperback, $10.95), by Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead, revised by Linda Thompson; and "Root Cellaring" (Storey, $29.95 hardcover, $12.95 paperback), by Mike and Nancy Bubel. The last two can be ordered by calling (800) 827-8673.
All of these books give tips on how to store fruits, vegetables, grains and meats inexpensively.
*When shopping, stick to a list, says Ms. Holly. "Keep shopping ** trips to a minimum, Shop alone if possible. And purchase non-food items at a discount store."
Look for money-saving coupons, she adds, but only for those for foods you normally use.
*Breads can be bought in bulk at bakery outlets and frozen, Ms. Holly recommends.
*You can stretch meats by adding breads and other forms of grains, Ms. Holly adds. "Add oatmeal to tuna to get an extra sandwich out of a can. And add bread crumbs to hamburger to get an extra pattie."
*Buying convenience and prepared foods is more expensive than buying the raw ingredients. You can create your own convenience foods by cooking ahead of time and using your freezer and refrigerator. You can cook a whole turkey during the weekend and cut it up into portions. Use some right away, freeze other portions for use later in the week. Soups can be made ahead of time and frozen.
Do some of the preparation for dinners the night before. Meats can be marinated overnight and vegetables can be chopped for the next day's meal. Mix together dry ingredients for quick breads ahead of time.