Has your grocery spending gone up 10 percent in the past year, blowing your food shopping budget? Or 20 percent? Have you crossed some items off your shopping list and made other buying changes?
Many of us may be more concerned about gas prices than food prices, but both are connected, along with supply chain issues. Remember toilet paper? Meat (including chicken), eggs, dairy products, oils, and seafood have seen the biggest price increases, but I’ve also seen a jump in most packaged foods, from soup to nuts, crackers to ice cream.
It’s likely you’ve already found several ways to reduce your spending on food. Perhaps you’ve been a gardener and are growing more fresh produce this year, or you bought a CSA (community-supported agriculture) share with a local farm that offers several share sizes and payment options.
Tips to Help Your Food Shopping Budget
These may include some that are obvious to you and others that you’ve not considered:
(1) Join a food buying club sponsored by a local church, neighborhood group, or Facebook group. Unlike a co-op grocery store, a food buying club usually has no physical storefront but enables its members to buy a wide range of products, both fresh and packaged, on a regular schedule. Read about them here.
(2) Get familiar with the bulk section of your regular grocery store to save on items like grains, flours, dried beans, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, coffee and tea, and herbs and spices. Some co-op grocery stores also carry bulk refrigerated items like tofu, salsa, pesto, miso, nut butters, grated cheese, and more.
(3) For efficiency, always shop with a list. Plan meals so that fresh ingredients get used more frequently each week and don’t go to waste or get lost or forgotten in the back of your fridge.
(4) Purchase fruits and veggies when they’re in season—and thus less expensive. Also, consider buying extra while they’re cheaper, and canning, drying, pickling, and freezing this abundance—you’ll be glad in the winter months when prices are higher and produce selection is limited. And don’t forget to stock up on frozen produce when it’s on sale. Buy local at farmers’ markets, and find out if there are any neighborhood farm stands in your area. Then be sure to properly prep your fresh produce when you get home from shopping to extend freshness (we offer a terrific downloadable terrific downloadable ebook that covers exactly this!).
(5) If you eat meat and seafood, stretch your food shopping budget and precious dollars and reduce environmental impact by cooking with smaller portions. Think stir-fry and pasta dishes (or spaghetti squash itself as a pasta stand-in) with a mix of vegetables, and recipes where animal protein is used more as a flavorful accent rather than the main event.
(6) Choose inexpensive, plant-based protein sources like tofu, lentils, and beans as healthy alternatives to chicken and beef. Stock up on your favorite frozen veggie burgers and canned beans when they’re on sale. And if you don’t want to take the time to soak and cook dried beans, consider dried lentils, which require no soaking, cook quickly, and are a nutritious, filling foundation of many great soups and Indian dishes.
(7) Reduce the amount of vegetable scraps that you toss out or compost; for example, use chopped stems of broccoli, kale, and chard in stir-fry dishes, frittatas, salads, and soups and stocks.
(8) A discount grocery store might not stock the quality of fresh produce or other food products you regularly buy, but it might provide savings on paper goods, laundry products, and frozen foods. And don’t forget that Asian, Indian, and Hispanic grocery stores also sell many staples like beans, rice, and spices at affordable prices.
(9) Save soft drinks and bottled water for special occasions. Many are loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners, and chemicals. Instead, add fruit (like frozen melon cubes and berries), herbs (such as a few sprigs of lightly crushed fresh mint), and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice in a pitcher of filtered tap water and chill for a few hours.
(10) When it comes to yogurt, just say no to the dizzying flavor options, excess sugar, and the rising cost of single-serve portions (not to mention having to dispose of the environmentally unfriendly containers). Instead, buy quarts of plain yogurt and flavor each serving as you like, with fresh or thawed frozen fruit; applesauce, maple syrup, or jam; a sprinkle of your favorite granola; or a scoop of homemade fruit crisp.
(11) With eggs in your fridge, you’re always only minutes away from a satisfying meal—and not just for breakfast! Scramble or fry an egg alongside veggies in your skillet. Keep a few hard-boiled eggs in the fridge for salads or to slice and place on top of avocado on toast. If organic or free-range eggs are available, pay a little more for better flavor, advises Leann Brown, author of Good and Cheap (more info below).
Resources for Budget Recipes and Cooking
If you’re frustrated by your rising grocery bills and feeling tired of your same old recipes after two-plus years of a pandemic, now might be a good time to go looking for some new recipes that are easy on your food shopping budget. Two good resources are Minimalist Baker, which is, despite its name, not all about baking, and Budget Bytes.
I also recommend picking up a copy of Leann Brown’s Good and Cheap, mentioned above. Subtitled Eat Well on $4/Day, this 2015 cookbook became a New York Times bestseller. Brown wrote it for anyone on a tight budget, including Americans with a food stamp benefit of around four dollars per person per day. It offers helpful shopping and meal planning strategies, a seasonal produce guide, and more than 100 uncomplicated recipes, each with a color photo and a per-serving cost (which might be slightly higher today but is still right on point). It should be easy to find a used, inexpensive copy.
Reducing Food Waste with Scrapcooking
Scrapbooking is a hobby familiar to many people, but scrapcooking? Not so much. One way to reduce food waste (and presumably food spending) is by making better use of kitchen scraps. With that in mind, IKEA Canada enlisted ten North American chefs to contribute recipes that make the most of wilting greens, chicken bones, radish tops, kale stems, and much more for a downloadable free cookbook.
The Scraps Book: A Waste-less Cookbook (2021) offers fifty creative recipes, including soups, salads, main dishes, breakfasts, and desserts, many with delightful names like Sweet & Scrappy Meatballs, Don’t Throw-Out-a-Thing Dumpling Soup, and Bruised Apple Butter Cake.
What are your best tips for coping with rising food costs? Share them with us—we’d love to hear from you!
About the author: Martha Wagner is a Corvallis, Oregon-based writer, editor, and a fervent supporter of organic agriculture, sustainable family farms, and eating what’s in season.
Photo credits: Featured photo by pcess609 on iStock; vegetable garden photo by YolaW; other stock photos by rbuchber, Kristina Blokhin, Ildi, and fahrwasser on Adobe Stock; and remaining photos courtesy of Minimalist Baker, Budget Bytes, Leanne Brown, and IKEA.
Martha Wagner gives many excellent suggestions as to how to save money when food shopping.