It’s no surprise the healthiest foods at the supermarket usually are not the cheapest foods at the market….But with some smart planning and culinary creativity, you can eat well and save some dough. Here are some tips & tricks to help you maximize your grocery budget:
- Plan ahead: Use a list when grocery shopping to prevent impulse purchases and to ensure you buy enough food for several meals.
- Consider purchasing a case of pantry staples like canned tomatoes, beans, pasta or soups to get a case discount (many stores offer a 10% discount on cases).
- Don’t shop when you are hungry. Research confirms hungry people spend more money and purchase less healthy foods. New research from Cornell University finds that eating an apple right before shopping leads to healthier food purchases.
AT THE STORE
- Buy in bulk, not in boxes. Bulk foods usually cost 25 to 50% less than equivalent packaged products. Bulk also allows you to buy smaller amounts for specific recipes: for example, if a recipe calls for turmeric, you can buy as little as a tablespoon in bulk (25 cents), rather than buying a whole container ($5).
- Consider the 3-pound bag of potatoes, onions, carrots and apples. These staple items are about 25% cheaper per pound when pre-bagged, and last for weeks. (Use unit prices to make sure you are getting the best value)
- Buy frozen produce. It’s usually cheaper and has a much longer shelf life. Bonus: it’s also prepped, washed and ready to go! (again, use unit prices to make sure you are getting the best value)
- Look for value packs of meat (larger packages) for the best price per pound. Whole chicken is a better value than other cuts. Thighs are cheaper than breasts (see chart below)
- Cook from scratch whenever possible and always make enough for leftovers.
- Keep your fridge organized: label/date leftovers and place them at eye level so you’ll grab them first, rather than something new/fresher.
- Turn leftovers into something new. Last night’s rice can become tonight’s fried rice, roasted chicken makes great chicken tacos, mashed potatoes can become potato pancakes, and sautéed kale goes into a veggie frittata.
- Stretch your meat with grains or veggies. Add mushrooms to chicken and beef dishes and grains to your meaty stews. A little meat can go a long way.
- Get flavor from bulk herbs and spices rather than pre-made sauces.
ECONOMICAL ALTERNATIVES FOR POPULAR FOODS
These easy food swaps save money without losing the nutritional benefits. Amaranth has as much protein as quinoa, and cabbage is just as nutritious as kale.
|Popular Food||Lower Cost Alternative||Price Savings|
|Grilled chicken (salad topper)||Hard boiled egg||75%|
|Salmon fillet||Canned Salmon||55%|
|Canned beans||Dry beans||55%|
|Boxed lettuce/salad greens||Head lettuce||38%|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil||EVOO in bulk food section||35%|
|Yogurt (6oz carton) x5||Yogurt 32oz carton||35%|
|Fresh berries||Frozen berries||30%|
|Chicken breast||Chicken thighs||18%|
*All prices are for organic items (except salmon), matched based on weight or serving size.
Stock the Freezer
Frozen vegetables and fruits are usually an excellent “budget-friendly” option, as they are very often on sale. Frozen veggies (and fruits) are convenient to use, and are generally equivalent to fresh produce in terms of nutritional content. Most nutrients are completely resistant to freezing, such as fiber, minerals, and protein. Vitamins and antioxidants are less stable when veggies get heated and processed, so there is some potential for nutrient loss, but overall this loss is not significant for your health.
In some cases, frozen can actually be higher in certain nutrients, because some vitamins/antioxidants deteriorate as “fresh” produce is shipped across the country and sits on the shelf at the supermarket, while freezing prevents this type of nutrient loss. There is much more nutritional loss that occurs with home-cooking, than with freezing. The NY-Times summarized several recent studies looking into the impact of freezing on nutrient levels in produce, and reported that:
“Nutrient level differences between fresh and frozen produce are so minor they aren’t likely to impact overall health. Vitamin content occasionally was higher in some frozen foods but researchers found no consistent differences between fresh and frozen. Frozen broccoli, for example, had more riboflavin than fresh broccoli. But frozen peas had less riboflavin than fresh peas. Frozen corn, green beans and blueberries had more vitamin C than fresh.”
This confirms previous research from the Produce for Better Health foundation finding that frozen fruits and vegetables have almost the exact same content of vitamin C, beta carotene, and folate, when compared with fresh.
Frozen vegetables can be an excellent option to maximize nutritional content. Bonus points for being pre-washed, chopped, and always ready to go!
What did I miss? If you have any strategies that help you eat well, and save some dough -I’d love to hear them!