Do you feel the pinch at the grocery store? Recent consumer research by the Bellevue-based Hartman Group found that rising prices are changing the way people shop, with some low-income people buying less food overall, and others turning to lower-cost items, including store brands. Here are some proven tips for maximizing your grocery budget.
Eat less in restaurants and cook more at home
There’s no denying that home-prepared meals are generally less expensive (and often more nutritious) than restaurant meals. If you’ve enjoyed dining with friends again, consider getting together for barbecues, picnics or potlucks.
Eat more meatless meals
Beans are an inexpensive and nutritious powerhouse – packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals – whether you prepare them from scratch by soaking and cooking dried beans or opting for canned beans. Dried lentils are also an option that does not require soaking and has a shorter cooking time. When eating meat, poultry, and fish, try adding small amounts to salads, stir-fries, soups, or pasta sauces.
Ignore food dogma
Many fad diets demonize perfectly nutritious and inexpensive foods such as potatoes, pasta, rice, and frozen and canned goods – too bad, because combining leftover vegetables and meat or poultry with a casserole of pasta or rice can make a quick and inexpensive dinner. Even beans are thrown under the bus with extremely low carb diets. While you can certainly find research studies supporting low fat diets, low carb diets and everything in between, the most compelling evidence comes from research showing that the quality of our food matters more for nutrition and health. than any specific ratio of carbs, protein, and fat.
Reduce food waste
When you have to throw away food you’ve spent a lot of money on, guilt often comes along with the ride, regardless of your food budget. If you’re used to buying “convenience items” like pre-washed green salads and pre-sliced fruits and vegetables, consider that these ready-to-eat items generally cost more and spoil faster than whole produce. If you need convenience and shelf life, canned and frozen foods are options. They generally cost less and require less preparation than fresh produce, and they are just as nutritious, sometimes even After nutritious because they are frozen or canned immediately after harvest.
have a plan
Making a weekly meal plan – at least loosely – and creating a flexible shopping list can help you take advantage of sales and use up leftovers. This reduces food waste and saves money. Your list should cover what you need without locking in specific brands or varieties. For example, if you need to buy fruit, put it on your list and then buy what’s on sale (as long as it’s something you like). Having a plan and a list can also prevent overbuying. This is important because if you buy more than you can use, that “good buy” turns into food waste.
To make it easier to use fresh fruits and vegetables, take the time to wash and prepare produce when you get home from the store. Still have vegetables from your previous shopping spree that look a little tired? Incorporate them into a stir-fry or a pot of soup or chili.
Need a resource for tasty, nutritious and economical recipes? I often recommend Leanne Brown’s “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” cookbook, which is available as a free downloadable PDF.