Good old-fashioned home cooking might not be so old-fashioned anymore. People are waking up to the sometimes staggering cost of restaurant checks -- and the somewhat scary health effects of cheaper fast food.

Good old-fashioned home cooking might not be so old-fashioned anymore. People are waking up to the sometimes staggering cost of restaurant checks - and the somewhat scary health effects of cheaper fast food.

Although food prices are going up everywhere, retreating to the kitchen can benefit your pocketbook. The following tips will help stretch your grocery dollars. The discount you can score is proportionate to the time you're able to spend planning, and the extra thought can only make your old-fashioned home cooking taste that much better.

Guru of the grocery

Nutritionists and expert shoppers will tell you to shop a grocery store's perimeter, where the produce, cold cuts and dairy are stored. Although some prepackaged, processed foods might mean a cheaper grocery bill, they're usually not as filling, which leaves you back where you started. Who doesn't want to eat both cheap and healthy?

Other things to keep in mind:

* Pre-made and packaged meals may save time, but they cost more money than cooking yourself.

* Stick to your list, and never shop on an empty stomach.

* Buy in bulk, but think about how long the food will stay fresh.

Cheap foods (with health benefits!):

* bananas

* eggs

* beans

* rice

* oatmeal

* peanut butter

* canned tuna

* potatoes

Save it for later

So you've gone to the effort to make a meal. Here's the last step usually left off the recipe card: Leftovers can last three or four days in the fridge. You'll also want to pay attention to the life left in the ingredients.

Tip: If you're (annoyingly) left with ingredients like tomato paste and chicken broth, try freezing them in an ice cube tray for easy thawing later.

Here's how long you can keep other leftovers:

Uncooked meats, frozen: nine months

Flour, cake mixes: one year

Sugar: two years

Herbs, spices: six to 12 months

Pasta, noodles, rice, beans: two years

Frozen fruits: one year

Frozen vegetables: eight months

Opened mayonnaise, refrigerated: two months

Opened pasta sauce, refrigerated: five days

Clip & save

Entire online communities revolve around coupons and the best ways to maximize savings. Here are the basics:

* Printable grocery coupons are available on the web by zip code. Online services like The Grocery Game charge a membership fee to comparison-shop around town for you.

* Don't use a coupon if you won't end up eating the food, or if another brand is still cheaper.

* Maximize your savings by using a coupon when something's on sale. Keep a price log with the cost of staples you always buy.

* Individual items usually come up at their sale price even if they're marked "2 for $5."

Sources: cbsnews.com, chowhound.com, grocerysavingtips.com, realsimple.com, thegrocerygame.com

For recipes, nutrition news and more grocery store adventures, click to the Undercooked blog at ColumbusAlive.com