9 Smart Strategies to Cut Down on Your Grocery Bill

According to research by Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters®, Americans still struggle with the economics of eating well.  In fact, low-income families claim that cost is the biggest barrier to eating healthy foods.

You don’t have to break the bank to eat well! To help shed some light on this subject matter, I am providing a three-part series this week as follows:

  • Today: “9 Smart Strategies to Cut Down Your Grocery Bill”
  • Wednesday: “Cheap, Healthy Foods”
  • Thursday: Guest Post with Penny Minding Mom, “Eating Healthy on a Budget”

To get you moving down the right track, here are nine smart strategies for cutting down your grocery bill.

Make your favorite takeout dish at home. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina, more kids are eating calorie packed takeout foods, thus fueling the obesity epidemic. A healthy and less expensive approach is to make those same takeout meals at home.

Whether you more frequently take out pizza or burgers, the pleasure comes with a hefty price tag in dollars and calories. Boise is loaded with great pizza joints, for example, but the average price for one of favorite large pizzas is $19.30 (without tax). At home, we make delicious pizza with our high quality ingredients (e.g., chicken pesto pizza with capers, caramelized onions and fresh mozzarella cheese) for less than half that cost – about $8-9 at most. And we’ll cut out calories, too, by limiting how much cheese we use.

Buy food that’s in season. Not only are vegetable and fruits in-season less costly than the alternative, they taste much better, too. In fact, since fresh produce and even fish are more flavorful, you don’t need fancy preparation techniques or lots of added ingredients to make them taste good. When olive oil, salt and pepper are all you need to spice up a dish, that means less money spent on the meal in its entirety.

And when summer arrives and selections like berries are plentiful, stock up! If purchased in large quantities, you can wash and freeze them, yielding a low-cost and tasty freezer-full of berries for winter.

Buy frozen. If you find yourself throwing costly produce away, you might check out the freezer section. Though I still think fresh broccoli, asparagus and spinach taste far superior when fresh – and are more versatile to prepare, too – frozen veggies give you more leeway to eat as you go, saving money and reducing waste in the process.

In some cases, frozen vegetables may actually contain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts which may have been stored for weeks and months.

Buy in bulk. If eat chicken and/or meat, these are great products to buy in bulk and freeze. The cost of beef tenderloin can be as low as $8.99 per pound at Costco (compared to $15.99/pound at Albertson’s and as much as $25.99/pound at my local organic market). You simply have to use a little elbow grease to trim the beef yourself.  The cash outlay for an entire tenderloin is nothing to scoff at, but the filets freeze well and last for a long time.

Another product I buy in bulk is cheese. We love fresh mozzarella and goat cheese in our family, and they are far less expensive at Costco. They usually come in double rolls, so I use one package and freeze the other. After thawing in the refrigerator, it tastes as good as new.

Ditch the soft drinks. Soft drinks are high are sugar and calories, and low on nutritional value. And though diet beverages won’t cause any weight gain, there is debate about the safety of various artificial sweeteners. Though the average price of soda varies according to where you live, it’s not arguable that drinking soda costs much more than not drinking it. Treat yourself with the occasional Coca Cola, but otherwise, ‘just say no.’

Plan ahead. One of the best things you can do to save money is plan ahead. If you know what you are going to prepare for lunches and dinner ahead of time, you can buy the exact quantities of what you will need in the upcoming week or two. No last minute trips to an expensive store to pick up a needed item, and more importantly you, you won’t be throwing away food you didn’t need in the first place.

Visit multiple stores. When your time is limited, shopping at multiple stores simply may not be an option. But if you plan accordingly and are familiar with what bargains can be found at which markets, you can save all kinds of money. Just ask all those Trader Joe’s addicts!

Shop local. Can you purchase meats, cheeses and even diary products from local farmers? Not only will you support the local economy, but you may save some money in the process. And even better, there’s a good chance you’ll be eating higher quality and more sustainable products.

Use coupons. I wrote a post about saving money with coupons a long time ago, and one of my biggest objections from readers was that coupons can’t be used for healthy, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. While true, pretty much everyone needs items like paper towels, toilet paper, clothes detergent and even cereal. If you use coupons on paper products and other packaged goods your family likes to eat, that’s more money leftover to save or use on something else that might be over your budget.

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Melinda Hinson