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 North Carolina State University.

We won’t see those price increases until next year; that’s 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 5-10 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.

Here’s 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 week’s worth of meals and a shopping list.

• Don’t let leftovers go to waste. Eat them for lunch, or turn them into another meal.

• Join the Meatless Monday movement ( 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 d’Arabian, 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.”

Melissa d’Arabian

Do not waste food. “The most expensive ingredient in your house is the one you throw away,” d’Arabian says. That’s what prompted her to develop the recipe for Crisper Drawer Pasta to use up 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 d’Arabian’s tradition of serving proteins other than meat one night a week, such as black beans, lentils or eggs.

Helen Chen

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 that the Chinese traditionally have multicourse meals where a clear soup and a dish with meat are paired with many vegetable or tofu dishes.

Phil Lempert

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 Hunt’s 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.

Centsible Saver’s Top 5 Tips

Amy Dunn, our frugal shopper extraordinaire, shares her top five ways to save money at the grocery store:

1. Keep track of grocery sales cycles and stock up when the prices are lowest — typically every four to six weeks. Instead of buying one jar of peanut butter or one package of chicken breasts, for example, purchase enough to last your family until the next time that item is heavily discounted.

2. Don’t be afraid to use store-brand products. For items that don’t regularly have coupons, try the store brand or try shopping at a no-frills store such as Aldi, where nearly every product is a house brand. What have you got to lose? Absolutely nothing. If you don’t like it, most stores will refund your money, and many will replace it with the name brand free of charge.

3. Plan your meals around the food you already have stocked in your pantry and freezer. Then add the few remaining ingredients to your shopping list. If you have chicken and ground beef in the freezer, for example, plan to cook with those two proteins and hold off on a pork, lamb or seafood dish until the next sale.

4. Avoid food waste. Turn your leftover roast chicken and veggies into a soup. Make muffins or bread with zucchini or bananas that are past their prime. Not sure what to do with a half container of sour cream, a couple of carrots and a lone chicken breast? Look for inspiration on online recipe sites that allow you to search by ingredients. Try or Also, turn last night’s meal into tomorrow’s lunch. Don’t want to eat the same thing several days in a row? Freeze individual portions for later.

5. Know your store coupon policy and use it to your advantage. For instance, a 75-cent coupon is worth $1.50 off at Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods. At Kroger and Food Lion, that same coupon is worth just 75 cents. Also, did you know most stores allow you to use two coupons with a BOGO sale?

Kan Shao Green Beans with Pork

Yield: 4 servings

Kan shao, which means “dry cook,” is a Sichuan style of cooking in which the ingredients are stir-fried over high heat until the liquid has completely reduced. The result is a truly rich and savory dish because the ingredients absorb all of the flavors. Fermented black beans can be found at Asian grocery stores or the international aisle of some grocery stores.

1 pound green or wax beans, ends snapped off and strings removed

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 teaspoon cornstarch

4 ounces ground pork, about ½ cup

3 tablespoons fermented black beans, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

3 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons canola oil

Snap the beans into 2-inch lengths. Rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly. Whisk together wine and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add pork and mix well. Stir together black beans, ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sugar and ½ cup water. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wok or stir-fry pan. Add black bean mixture and stir a few minutes until aromatic. Stir up the pork mixture and add it to the pan. Turn heat to high and cook, stirring, until the pork is no longer pink and separates, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and soy sauce mixture. Stir a few times and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and raise the heat to high. Stir constantly until the liquid is almost gone, about 5 minutes more. Serve immediately.

From “Easy Chinese Stir-Fries” by Helen Chen (Wiley, 2009)

Crisper Drawer Pasta

Yield: 4 servings

You can use any vegetables you have in the house by following the guidelines in the fact boxes and the instructions in the recipe.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small red or yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon dried herbs, such as basil, marjoram, oregano, thyme or herbes de Provence

2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press

1-2 cups soft vegetables or leafy greens (see below)

Kosher salt

Squeeze of lemon juice

14.5-ounce box pasta

1-2 cups cut-up hard vegetables (see below)

2 tablespoons sour cream

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

1 tablespoon finely chopped aromatics or fresh herbs (see below)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the dried herbs, lemon juice and the garlic. Cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds, and then stir in the soft vegetables or leafy greens and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the greens are wilted, 30 seconds to 4 minutes, stirring often. Turn off heat and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook for 3 minutes. Add the hard vegetables and continue to cook according to the package instructions until the pasta is al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and vegetables and return them to the pot. Stir the sour cream and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt into the pasta, then add ½ cup of the Parmesan, the aromatics, and ¼ cup of the pasta water. Stir to combine, add the cooked soft vegetables or leafy greens, and add more pasta water if needed. Serve with more Parmesan on the side.

From “Ten Dollar Dinners: 140 Recipes and Tips to Elevate Simple, Fresh Meals Any Night of the Week,” by Melissa d’Arabian (Clarkson Potter, 2012).

Mexican Pizza with Refried Beans and Cheddar

Yield: 6 servings

1 pound fresh or frozen bread dough or pizza dough, thawed according to package directions

1 cup prepared refried beans, regular or fat-free

½ cup prepared salsa

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, mild or sharp

½ cup pitted black olives, sliced into thin rounds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll the dough out to a large circle or rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan or baking sheet. Spread the refried beans all over the crust to within ½ inch of the edges. Top with the salsa, cheese and olives. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.

From “Robin Takes 5” by Robin Miller (Andrews McNeel, 2011)

Hard vegetables

Beets, chopped

Broccoli, cut into small florets

Carrots, chopped

Cauliflower, cut into small florets

Celery, chopped

Green beans, chopped

Zucchini, chopped

Soft vegetables

Bell peppers, thinly sliced


Eggplant, chopped and salted

Mushrooms, thinly sliced


Spinach, chopped if using large leaves




Crushed red pepper flakes


Flat-leaf parsley

Lemon zest



From “Ten Dollar Dinners: 140 Recipes and Tips to Elevate Simple, Fresh Meals Any Night of the Week,” by Melissa d’Arabian (Clarkson Potter, 2012).

© 2012 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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