Want to eat out less? Need tips on how to make pre-made meals? Here are five tips to getting your money's worth out of your groceries.

1. Plan meals

Planning meals helps you avoid the "What's for dinner?" panic that so often hits in the evenings. Less panic means less eating out and fewer last-minute runs to the grocery store. With a set meal plan, you can make organized grocery lists and avoid impulse buys, as well as use leftovers to their full potential. Plan meals that have ingredients in common. Having baked chicken one night? Bake an extra portion and shred it for tacos the next night-now you've saved time, too!

2. Take advantage of your freezer!

When you find great deals on meat, fruit, vegetables, or even dairy products, stock up and freeze what you won't use right away. Freeze meats in individual-sized portions for quick grab-and-go measuring for meals. You can cook and season ground beef, then freeze for easy throw-together meals on busy nights. Lay individual pieces of fruit and vegetables out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze until firm, then store in zip-top freezer bags - great for smoothies or stir-fry add-ins!

3. Make the most of your food

Save chicken bones and boil them with vegetables to make stock. Plan for leftovers. Plain rice can turn into fried rice (which can also use leftover meat, veggies, and even eggs). Leftover meat can be added to sandwiches or pasta, and nearly anything can be added to soup. Use all the juice and zest of citrus fruits, and then use the rind to:

  • Clean your sink

  • Remove hard-water spots

  • Deodorize your garbage disposal

  • Add to a compost heap

4. Learn when to substitute

You don't always have to use exactly what a recipe calls for, especially in savory cooking (baking is harder to substitute as freely with and still get good results). Does your recipe call for summer squash, but you don't have any? Use zucchini. Fresh out of shallots? Chop up some onions instead. Chicken can easily be substituted for turkey, ground turkey for ground beef, and tilapia for halibut. Plain yogurt can often be used in place of sour cream or buttermilk. Don't have (or don't want to use) wine for that sauce? Apple or grape juice is often a good substitute. The possibilities are endless, so don't feel tied down by an ingredient list-make it your own and use what you have on hand.

5. Don't buy packaged, prepared foods

Packaged foods - including frozen meals, snack foods, and "just add water" foods - are packed with preservatives, chemical additives, and all sorts of things your body wouldn't normally take in. They're also expensive and can often be made at home (usually with much better results). You'll be amazed at how much your grocery bill drops by buying fewer snack foods and prepared meals and making them at home, instead.

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