When trying to eat healthfully, hefty grocery bills can certainly come as an unpleasant surprise and be a significant source of stress if finances are tight. If it seems like food prices are getting more and more expensive, you are not mistaken; according to a recent report by the USDA, food prices rose almost 10 percent in 2022 and are continuing to increase. High food costs do not have to be a complete barrier to eating healthy to prevent or manage conditions like prediabetes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or for weight control. With a little creativity and planning, you can shrink your grocery bill while sticking to your meal plan at the same time.
Create a grocery budget
The best way to shop smart is to figure out how much you can comfortably spend in the first place. This will set the stage for planning and keeping your spending in check. Decide what amount per month is realistic for you within the scope of your finances. Divide your monthly total by 4 and that is what you should allow per week.
Plan your meals
After you create your grocery budget, the next step is to plan your meals each week. This way you will have meal ideas ready to go which will help guide your grocery list. If you take the time to plan healthy meals each week, this will help you stay on track, as well as avoid impulse buying or succumbing to expensive take out. If you enjoy cooking, take the time to explore recipes that are focused around healthy eating on a budget. There are even meal plan apps that can help streamline the process for you.
Make a grocery list
Taking some time to prepare before shopping can help control spending and ensure better outcomes at the grocery store. Look at your meal plan and make a list of what you will buy accordingly and stick to it. Some meal planning apps will create a grocery list for you based on meals chosen for the week.
Take inventory before you go
To avoid overbuying and keep costs low, take a look at what you already have on hand, especially in your pantry. See if there are any foods you can carry over into the week before buying more. It’s practically impossible to memorize everything you have at home, so you will be surprised about what foods, namely bulk items like grains and canned goods, that you may forget about. Taking inventory can also help guide your meal planning as well. If you have foods that are nearing expiration, try to create meals using up those ingredients first.
Eat in Season and take advantage of sales
Buying foods, especially fruits and vegetables, that are in season can help to reduce costs, as well as ensure variety in your diet. Fruits and veggies in season tend to be most plentiful, taste the best and are often on sale. Look at store ads weekly to see what is on sale to help guide your meal plan and help incorporate fresh tasty ingredients.
Buy some items in bulk
While overbuying can lead to overspending, there are some instances where buying in bulk can reduce costs. For items that keep well and that you use frequently, buying in bulk, namely when on sale, can help keep your weekly costs low. Pantry staples like brown rice, pasta, cereals, spices, canned goods, nuts, nut butters, and flour have a good shelf life and can be a significant part of several meals for week after and week. Resist the urge to buy single servings and snack packs, which tend to be higher in cost per item. Buy in bulk and pre-portion yourself instead.
Sign up for store rewards and use coupons
Most grocery stores have free discount cards where you can rack up significant points and rewards when shopping, this can add up to significant savings weekly. In addition, clipping manufacturers coupons or online coupons can offer additional savings as well.
Store food properly and minimize waste
One way money can literally go down the drain is by food waste. Planning meals which use up most food weekly and avoiding over buying, namely perishable items, can help minimize waste. Freezing excess food can help. Storing food properly will also extend shelf life as well as help decrease the chance of foodborne illness. This FDA guide provides helpful information on ways to store all foods correctly and safely. In addition, scanning your pantry and fridge for items that are going to be soon past their prime, and using them up promptly is a good way to avoid waste and prevent unsightly spoiled food surprises. Check out some more tips to decrease food waste on one of our previous posts too!
Another way to minimize waste and stretch your food dollars is to use up leftovers. Make meals that can be eaten several times over the week for lunch or dinner. Repurpose parts of meals to create others. For example, using extra roast chicken or grilled fish from dinner on a salad, tacos or sandwich the next day.
Re-evaluate, make changes when needed and utilize your resources
Think of food budgeting, meal planning and grocery shopping as an evolving process. Realize that changes do not happen overnight and that you may need to adjust after looking at successes and failures, as well as if/when your income stream and number of members in your household changes. If things get tough, there are resources to help, such as food pantries and government benefits. Findhelp.org is a useful site that offers various assistance options according to your location and needs.