If you glanced into my pantry or refrigerator today, you'd see a lot of generic products. This probably won't surprise you, since I write the Frugal Foodie column store-brand food items can be a great way to cut costs and add variety and value to your diet.

Do you buy generics? While I encourage everyone to give store-brand items a try, they aren't a cure-all for overspending. So what makes some generics a good deal? Price, taste, and quality.

Try it, you'll like it

In our house, we have one rule about generic products try a store-brand item at least once. If we don't like it, we can always switch back to the more expensive brand.

I've had surprising success with this rule. My husband now requests the "cheap" pickles from our favorite discount store, saying that they taste the same as the expensive pickles but cost half the price. (In his mind, I think "half price" means he can eat twice as much! If only I had the metabolism of a 25-year-old man.)

Of course, we've found a few duds in our search for great store-brand products. I will never buy generic "thin bun" hamburger rolls again. They taste like cardboard, and the name-brand buns cost just 50 cents more. I will never tell a person to buy generics to save money if they don't enjoy a particular item because eventually you will tire of eating cardboard, and go on a spending binge.

If you discover that some store-brand products just aren't worth the savings, keep an eye open for sales. You can sometimes find name-brand items at the same price as generics if you wait for a great sale. Stock up on these items when the price drops.

Yes, name-brand items go on sale more often but don't use this as an excuse to only buy name-brand products. Store brands go on sale too, making them an even greater value.

Don't skimpon quality

When I made the decision to remove trans fats from our house, I knew that shopping would be a challenge. Trans fats are cheap and they make foods shelf stable so nearly every food company uses them. We're also trying to cut back on high-fructose corn syrup, a cheap alternative to sugar. I feared that our days of purchasing generics were gone, because only the most expensive, health-oriented brands focus on healthy ingredients.

Fortunately, I was wrong! American consumers are becoming more conscious of their food purchases, and companies have responded with a wide variety of healthier store-brand products. I've been able to find trans fat-free foods for nearly all of our favorite products. I even found trans fat-free popcorn at a great price.

If you are shopping for someone on a special diet, or just want to improve your eating habits, don't dismiss generic products. Educate yourself and then take a few minutes to compare store- and name-brand items. You might be surprised by what you find.

Next week, we'll talk about coupons. Are they a great value, or a waste of time? It all depends on your shopping style and eating habits.