COVINGTON, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - If you are lower-income, the ability to feed your family three, balanced meals a day is challenging. But in a recent study, the USDA shows that it's possible if you shop the right way.
To see how to make it work, the USDA, which determines the eligibility of food benefits, tried to create menus to feed a family of four who makes less than $35,000 a year.
The food had to meet guidelines: low on processed foods, not too fat, not too much sodium, and a variety of selections. And of course, plenty of fruits and vegetables. Well, the US Department of Agriculture proved it's doable if you learn how to use bins, buy in bulk, and discount shop.
That sounds good in theory. But how do you really do that weekly? I went grocery shopping and bought foods I'd normally buy. And ya know what? I cut my bill down by 66 percent. You heard me right. Let me show you.
We traveled to Bell's Discount Grocery in Covington. It's not around the corner for most of us, but we wondered if the prices would be good enough to maybe make a monthly trip here.
One of the first things I saw was an Old El Paso taco dinner kit for $1. And those non-GMO, gluten-free chocolate brownie Larabars are two boxes of six bars for $1.
What's the catch? The expiration dates. Both items are just beyond their "use by" dates. According to the USDA, it's the last date the product is at peak quality. It's not a safety date, but rather makers want them off of regular grocery aisles by then.
And I saw boxes Cheerios. Rows and rows of cereal. They're also $1 a box. I'll get three. The boxes are dented, crushed and some are taped back together.
"It's $1 because it's ugly," store manager April Overby tells me. "That's pretty typical of our store. A regular grocery store cannot sell a dented can or a box that's been crushed."
There's no law against it, but manufacturers like damaged packages pulled when they're caught. And when they are, these crushed boxes and out-of-date groceries mean customer savings at discount stores.
I ran into regular FOX 5 viewer and Covington resident Nedra Gilstrap shopping. "Oh my God, probably $50 to $60 a week is what I save coming here. Their meats are wonderful."
Ok, that was the question for me. How do you sell discounted meats and produce? I found a six-pound frozen chicken. It's only $3.
"This probably was at a regular grocery store fresh. When we got it was probably ready to be close-dated or pulled, and we freeze it immediately. The product is still good," store manager April Overby says.
You have to get it home and keep it frozen. As soon as you thaw it, you need to eat it. The produce comes from a farmer's market. Everything is ripe and ready to eat. If you can't eat your discounted strawberries soon, you freeze them for later.
We compared the allergy spray Flonase for $7.99 to major retailers that sell this exact same product. Elsewhere it's $5 more. The Bell's product was not dented and not out of date. Just likely overstock somewhere else.
Chicken thighs here at Bell's Discount Grocery are $2.84. At a leading retailer, the same product is $8.58. Name brand organics like a box of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese is .79 compared to $1.59.
At checkout is where it all hit home. Discount shopping, I paid just more than $100 for groceries. I did some checking, and comparable groceries at a variety of retailers would have cost nearly $300. In the end, I got a savings of 66 percent.
But we can do more to help you get low-cost, but balanced meals, to your family. Kroger showed us how to save money in their bins aisle. Make that pricey peanut butter here. And, the granola bins mixed with nuts and dried berries - healthy kid snacks - are cheaper here than pre-packaged.
Back at Bell's, Kim Reed the customer service manager, says you can even catch cheaper deals if you follow them on Facebook. That's where they advertise. For free. She knows some families need expensive, gluten-free products, so she makes sure new shipments are announced here.
"For some people," she said, "it's the difference between being able to pay the light bill that month. For someone else, it's a nice vacation."