Eating on a budget doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the foods you love most. Use these tips to cut costs at the planning, shopping and cooking stages of meal preparation.
Map out your weekly menu and make a list of needed grocery items. Stick to your plan and avoid impulsive purchases (unplanned food items that make it into your grocery cart). These will raise your grocery bill!
Try to minimize prepared food items, such as TV dinners and frozen ‘just add meat’ entrees, as these are more expensive.
Freschetta Frozen Cheese Pizza
Fresh dough from the bakery: $1.69
Tomato paste: $0.75
Low Fat Mozzarella: $2.99 Total$5.43
Clip and save! Be a scavenger of coupons. Look in the newspaper weekly circular for store sales and manager specials; download coupons off the internet (https://www.couponmom.com/); take advantage of 2 for $1 and 10 for $10 sales and stock up on canned, boxed and frozen items. Sales cycles generally last about 3 months—cereal on sale this week will likely be on sale again in 3 months—so stock up accordingly.
Opt for Store Brands. Generic items have been tested for quality and taste and are often close mimics of the national brands, without the price tag!
Stock Up on Staples! Take advantage of sales for staple items such as pastas, rice, and other grains; canned beans, tomatoes and sauces, and low sodium veggies; canned fruits (natural juices) and frozen versions; frozen fish and chicken; cereals and oatmeal. These items are shelf-stable for a long time, so it’s wise to buy them at discounted rates.
Bulk Up! The loose bulk food section of the store allows you to purchase the amount you need, without spending more money than necessary. But beware of the packaged bulk items—they are not always cheaper! Make sure you need (or will use) the packaged quantity before you shell out the money.
Stick with the Season. Buy fresh and local seasonal produce—it’s almost always cheaper. Also, take advantage of produce on sale in the grocery store, and grab some ‘day old’ produce, especially if you plan to use it for baked goods or soups.
Scratch Cooking Saves. Remember, cooking from scratch almost always saves money. You pay for the convenience of having food manufacturers do the work for you!
Stretch Your Meals. Think about multiple uses for your leftovers such as these:
I can turn my leftovers into…
Chicken noodle soup; chicken pot pie; chicken sandwiches
Beef vegetable soup; Shepherd’s Pie; beef tacos or burritos
Pasta + Sauce
Pasta salad (olives, veggies, salad dressing); add pasta to canned soup; sauce up pizza or use as a dip for bread
Red Beans + Rice
Burritos or quesadillas
Salmon salad sandwiches
Double Up Recipes. Make twice as much so you can freeze for later, or have leftovers for tomorrow.
Use the Crock Pot. Cheaper meats tend to be tough, but the crock pot can tenderize tough meats naturally and save you money in the end.
Pressure Cook. Speed up the process of cooking inexpensive dried beans and lentils, cruciferous veggies and whole grains using the pressure cooker.
Freeze Seasonal Produce. Blanch veggies (boil for 1-2 minutes and quickly submerge in icy cold water to stop the cooking process) and freeze them for winter. Whole tomatoes can go straight into a freezer bag —just clean them first! Berries can be washed and frozen on a cookie sheet, then bagged up for the freezer.
Preserve the Summer Harvest with Canning. Purchase large quantities of seasonal fruits and vegetables and can them for use in winter; make jams and jellies using fresh summer fruits—try strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and peach jams/jellies and applesauce!
I remember when I realized that a can of beans costs $1.29 and a bag of beans costs $1.09–and the beans in the bag equal about 4 cans worth. That is $5.16 versus $1.29! With an onion, some celery, half a box of pasta, two carrots, some dried parsley, thyme, basil, salt and pepper, I’ve got a real meal that’s about as healthy as it gets. For around $6.00 in ingredients, I can make a soup that feeds my family for 2 nights—or my family and a friend’s.
The only trick is soaking the beans in advance to make the cook time manageable. Two strategies I use: 1) Every Sunday night I get my kids to empty a bag of beans in a bowl of water to soak for that week. It is fun for the kids to see the beans swell up and I can leave them on the counter until I’m ready to make the soup. (Sometimes they start to sprout, but that’s okay! It’s actually better for you.) 2) Use lentils: they cook through in about 30 minutes without soaking. –John S.