How to Eat Well for Less

Buy the best when it makes a difference, and fill the rest of your grocery cart with values.

from Reader's Digest Magazine | September 2012
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Save on: Wine

Here's why: Consumers and wine experts liked inexpensive bottles—think Barefoot, Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw, Black Box—just as much as their pricey counterparts in a large-scale blind tasting.

Splurge on: Pasta

Here's why: Generic and bargain-basement pastas often end up as a mushy mess. You don’t have to spend much more to get chefs’ picks like Barilla or DeCecco, which are used in top restaurants.

Save by buying: Everyday oil

Here's why: When oil is going to be cooked, you can usually substitute vegetable or regular olive oil (even if the recipe calls for extra-virgin). High heat destroys much of the taste.

Splurge on: Extra-virgin olive oil

Here's why: Fifty percent of the olive oil sold in the United States may be adulterated with cheap filler oils. Ideally, taste before you buy, and check for a regional seal of certification on the bottle.

Save by skipping: Bottled water

Here's why: That idyllic blue stream on the label likely has nothing to do with your drink: 49 percent of bottled water in the United States comes straight from purified municipal tap water. Instead, use a simple home filter.

Splurge on: Honey

Here's why: You don’t need to go for a wildflower artisanal blend, but carefully check the label. Often the cheap “honey” in a bear squeeze jar is mixed with corn syrup.

Save by skipping: Hamburgers

Here's why: Preformed frozen burgers cost more than plain ground beef—and you can make patties yourself in less than ten seconds each! Plus, E. coli might be more prevalent in the frozen patties.

Splurge on: Coffee

Here's why: Consumer Reports’ two best supermarket coffees (Gloria Jean’s and Newman’s Own) cost about $13.50 a pound but scored significantly better on taste than $8-a-pound brands.

Save by buying: Frozen produce

Here's why: It’s cheaper than out-of-season fresh produce and is also often higher in nutrients and better tasting because it’s frozen right after picking.

Splurge on: Chocolate

Here's why: One-dollar bars combine 20-plus ingredients to create a bar-shaped amalgam of brown chemicals. For $2 more, you could get real dark chocolate.

Save by skipping: Specialty baking mixes

Here's why: Consumer Reports’ taste tests prove that Duncan Hines brownies are just as showstopping as ones made from pricier gourmet mixes.

Splurge on: Vanilla extract

Here's why: “Never use the artificial stuff!” says Susan Reid, editor of The Baking Sheet. “It has one chemical flavor note trying to make up for over 200 flavor notes found in true vanilla.”

Save on: Cheese

Here's why: If you’re melting or mixing the cheese with other ingredients, go cheap! Save the $20-per-pound artisanal triple-crèmes for a special cheese plate.

Save by skipping: Light juices and light coconut milk

Here's why: To make reduced-calorie versions of these products, companies simply add water (and maybe artificial sweetener or thickener). Buy the regular version and water it down yourself.

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