With food prices skyrocketing we are all struggling to stay on budget. Here are some proven tips from the Mothering community to help keep your grocery bill under control.
1. Make it Yourself: More often than not, baking or cooking foods from scratch is the most nutritional and cost effective method of feeding your family. You might be surprised how easy and quick it is to make many items you are paying a premium for in your own kitchen: including breads and treats, spice packets, sauces and even butter and yogurt. Try assigning one day a week or month or cooking items that can be frozen or otherwise stored. You’ll find tons of recipes in the Mothering Recipes Section and in our forums. Also check out our recent article, $10 Meal Ideas.
2. Keep it Specific and Simple: Make a list of inexpensive healthy foods that fit your family’s nutritional style and devise meals from these foods. Avoid packaged and processed foods whenever you can. Simple and whole foods taste better, have higher levels of nutritional value and will cost you less in the long run. Check out Cookus Interruptus for ideas and video recipes for cooking with simple foods.
3. Shop Around: Have one grocery store or market you always visit? You might be missing some awesome deals. Many communities have discount outlet stores where you can buy many items at reduced rates and, of course, each store has its own weekly deals and coupons. You might also be surprised that the regular price of many items can vary widely from shop to shop in the same town. Plan to scope out prices at many venues and visit several stores during your weekly shopping trip.
4. Make Less Trips: This may seem like a simple concept, but cutting down your shopping trips to once a week or less can save you a bundle. Utilize meal planning (see tips below) to form a clear list of what you need and make a single trip for everything. If you need to run to the store in-between to grab missing items, or refresh things like bread and eggs, make sure you make a list and only grab what you need.
5. Buy in Bulk: Think of the items you use most during the month, such as flour, noodles, potatoes, rice or peanut butter and look for opportunities to buy these foods in bulk in your community or online. Some communities have bulk stores and others have co-ops for getting together with other families for this purpose.
6. Go Local: If you live in an area with farmer markets and roadside food stands, take advantage of them. Your savings on fresh produce will often be surprisingly large and the food, if grown locally and/or organically, is often of much higher quality. Check out your local Community Supported Agriculture programs and join a farm share if your community offers one.
7. Use Your Slow Cooker: Slow cooker meals are often simple and cost effective. Stews, soups, rice dishes, whole chickens and more can be made easily and leftovers can be stored in the freezer or eaten for lunch the next day. A great selection of slow cooker meals can be found on Eating Well.
8. Meal Plan: Meal Planning is a wonderful way to stay on budget. If you know exactly what you’re going to buy — and for what reason — you are far less likely to purchase unneeded foods. A simple meal plan can be done on a piece of paper, on your computer or tablet, or with a free online service like Food on the Table. Discuss your meal planning options in the community.
For a super simple meal plan:
- Identify your budget: is it $100 dollars a week or $500? Nail down a number and stick to it.
- Grab a piece of paper or open a notepad on your computer and write out each meal you will be preparing during the week: including breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
- Write out each ingredient and the estimated price of each item on your list — accounting for any coupons you have.
- Add up all of the prices and make adjustments to your list based on your budget.
- Once you have a list that fits your goal, bring it along with you on your shopping trip and stick to to it no matter what. Visit many stores to find the best price and avoid impulse buys at all costs. Make it a challenge and have fun with it.
Updated Feb 2016, originally published Jan 2013