The dollar ain’t what it used to be—that’s especially true at the grocery store.
Inflation has caused significant increases in global food prices over the past year. In the United States, meats, poultry, fish, and eggs increased nearly 15% over the same period, while fruits and vegetables increased nearly 8%.
But just because prices in store aisles are high doesn’t mean you should stop putting healthy choices in your cart. For example, by buying in bulk or purchasing in-season produce, you can pinch a penny (or dollar) without sacrificing your health and wellness.
As a registered dietitian at MyFitnessPal, I want to make sure that people, no matter their budget, can have a balanced, healthy diet. So, for members looking to continue eating healthy while trimming their grocery store bills, here are 10 tips for keeping costs low at the grocery store.
In the United States, an estimated 30 to 40% of the food supply becomes food waste. With the average household spending nearly $5,000 annually on groceries, that means that about $2,000 is going right into the waste bin.
When you go to the grocery store, have a plan. If you shop on a weekly basis, know what meals and snacks you’ll eat for the week ahead and the ingredients you’ll need to make them.
Don’t deviate! Fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains are a must, so ensure those top your grocery list every time you go. Once you’ve secured the must-haves, fill the remainder of your list with nice-to-have items — because sometimes we all deserve a little chocolate treat.
MEAL PREP IS A MUST
By batch prepping your meals for the week, you’ll ensure that food doesn’t sit in the fridge or pantry unprepared (then get thrown out). Food not wasted = money not wasted.
For smoothies, place ingredients in a freezer-safe container so they are ready to blend (looking at you, bananas and berries). Sandwiches, wraps, and burritos can be frozen and thawed for easy eating. And cooking a whole grain at the beginning of the week and adding it to your salads, soups, or grain bowls is cost-effective and saves time.
DON’T HOLD BACK ON COUPONS AND REWARD PROGRAMS
Grocery stores love having you as a customer. So much so that they incentivize you to come back through rewards programs and memberships that provide discounts and savings for things you already shop for. Make sure you’ve signed up for these!
And here’s a tip that’s an oldie but a goodie: look to your grocery store’s weekly flyer for weekly discounts. In-season produce and holiday-themed foods (like grillable foods during the July 4 holiday) are often on sale to ensure excess inventory is bought.
Want to keep things digital? There are plenty of apps that can help you earn cashback and savings at the grocery store.
Store brands often have the same ingredients and nutritional value as their brand-name counterparts. Perhaps most importantly, they save you money at checkout.
At the time of writing, a can of generic garbanzo beans bought in suburban Chicago (without tax) is ¼ of the price of its brand-name counterpart. In this case, going generic means you could buy twice as much and still have some change left over.
Try swapping out name-brand sauces, beans, pastas, and oils. You probably won’t notice the difference!
DON’T STRESS ABOUT ORGANIC
When budget is one of your priorities, focus on your diet more holistically. Are you getting enough fruits, vegetables, and protein each and every day? Answering this question with a resounding “yes,” even if it’s with conventionally-grown produce and meats, is better for you than going without them.
If you’re making the switch to conventional produce, make sure to wash and scrub under running water to lessen pesticide residue that may be around, and consider cutting the exterior leaves of leafy vegetables to cut down on contaminants.
LOOK TO THE FREEZER AISLE FOR LOWER PRICES
Frozen fruits and vegetables often come with a lower price tag, especially for produce that’s out of season (especially helpful during the winter months).
Since it’s picked and frozen at peak ripeness, frozen produce can also hang onto its nutritional benefits longer. Plus, it won’t end up forgotten and rotten.
And though I can’t say what it is, something about frozen fruits just hits different in a smoothie, yogurt, or cobbler.
TURN TO TUNA FOR ESSENTIAL OMEGA-3
The benefits of omega-3 are significant—getting enough of the fatty acid helps keep your arteries clear and may lower blood pressure and your risk of dementia.
The most direct and effective way to get omega-3s is from fish, and canned tuna is a budget-friendly way to get this essential fatty acid into your diet. And it’s got a long shelf life, too, meaning that on days where meal prep goes out the window, canned tuna can be used in a pinch.
Here’s a quick guide on how to navigate the many canned tuna options in the store.
PICK COST-EFFICIENT PROTEINS
Meat and poultry has been a relatively inexpensive way to get protein into your diet. But with costs of these items soaring around the globe, they’re no longer as easy to justify during a weekly grocery order.
To ensure you’re still getting enough protein in your diet, try adding some bean and lentil dishes to the mix. Peanut butter, yogurt and milk are also excellent sources (and are an easy-add to any protein-packed smoothie).
Here are some other protein-rich recipes to try (along with the amount of protein in each dish):
- Lentil Burgers With Tzatziki Sauce (27g)
- Quick Black Bean Chili Over Lime Couscous (21g)
- Sheet Pan Tofu and Veggies in Sesame Sauce (18g)
- Peanut Butter & Fruit Overnight Oats (16.2g)
- Tomato and White Bean Ragout With Toast (16g)
- White Bean Barley Bowl (12g)
SPICE THINGS UP WITH SOME FLAVOR STAPLES
New recipes can call for unique spices and ingredients, but in an effort to pare back costs, look to the essentials for your seasoning needs.
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika go a long way on chicken and fish. Chili powder and paprika are great in chilis and stews, and garlic and ginger powders brighten homemade curries. And don’t forget lemons and limes—these vivid fruits are inexpensive and are the perfect finisher for salads, meats, poultry, fish, and more.
GET CREATIVE WITH LEFTOVERS
Even with careful meal planning, you might find yourself with leftovers. But don’t discard those bits! Those odds and ends — a variety of vegetables here, a portion of a protein there — can be repurposed for another meal.
Vegetable ends and skins, as well as bones from meat, can be frozen and eventually boiled down into a broth. Extra grains, proteins, or vegetables on your plate at the end of the meal can help you make a grain bowl, stir fry, or sandwich. Or, as we’ve said before, put an egg on it.
Originally published June 2022, updated August 2023