One of my main goals when I'm working with clients is to help bring the joy back into eating. And as a dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, I'm understandably asked a variety of questions about food - some of which pertain to grocery shopping. Given that many families spend a good amount of their income on food, today I'm sharing the following strategies to help your dollar stretch farther when you purchase groceries!
Set a budget.
Review your grocery receipts/online grocery bills from the past 2-3 months and add up the total. Then calculate an average weekly estimate for your grocery budget for you and your household. With time, you can analyze if you're coming in under or over your weekly/monthly budget - making changes as needed to try to support a realistic budget that enables you and your household to feel well nourished and satisfied by the foods that you're eating.
Understand what the expiration dates mean on food labels.
Some of the typical phrases that are listed on food packaging are "use by," "sell by," and "best by." Understanding what these definitions truly mean makes it easier to identify by when you need to use a food that you're storing in your house - versus discarding it prematurely. Plus you're promoting food safety, which is always a win. Click on the following link to understand the difference between these categories of expiration dates.
Evaluate your food inventory for the week.
Explore which items you have on hand in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer prior to purchasing your groceries. This enables you to know which foods would be helpful to use up before they go bad - and avoid purchasing foods that you already have on hand (Understanding the differences between the expiration date categories helps with this process - which is why it's listed above this tip). Am I the only one who has purchased one too many bottles of Sriracha?!
Compare different stores' sales on your favorite foods - and think through some delicious meals that contain those ingredients AND your food inventory.
I get it. You're super busy, so you may or may not want to run with this suggestion. And that's fine! But if you are open to shopping at more than one store for your favorite items that are on sale, this strategy can save you money! By finding deals on foods that make your taste buds smile, in addition to using ingredients that you already have at home, you are stretching your dollar farther without sacrificing flavor. So have fun thinking of some scrumptious meals that you can prepare at home for the week! My husband and I NEED to consume a variety of meals at our house each week. Otherwise we'll quickly grow tired of a delicious meal and write it off for life - just because we consumed it too frequently. So you might want to mix it up as you honor your hunger and taste buds!
Create a grocery list.
Before purchasing your groceries, create a grocery list. As mentioned in the previous tip, coming up with a few meal ideas ahead of time can be helpful for incorporating items that are on sale - and ingredients that you currently have on hand in your home - increasing your chances of staying within your grocery budget.
Join your grocery store's loyalty or rewards program.
By joining this type of free program, you can take advantage of the discounts, promotional items, and rewards points that are only available to customers who sign up for the loyalty/rewards program.
Compare the unit prices of food items.
The unit price for a food is frequently featured as the cost per ounce, pound, etc. on in-store shelf price labels. This is a great tool for comparing similar products. If you're not looking at the unit price and see that one brand is priced less than another brand for the same product, it could be easy to assume that the lower priced item is the better deal. But after analyzing the unit price of both items, you might find that this isn't the case. So always check the unit price to be sure that you're getting more bang for your buck.
Explore the store brands.
After you've compared the unit price of the grocery items, if you determine that the generic brand offers the lowest price, buy it. The generic brand frequently tastes just as good as the name brand products - and sometimes better.
Use coupons and phone apps for foods that you would actually enjoy eating.
We all know that we can find coupons in newspapers and online (Coupons.com, your grocery's website, etc.). If for some reason you don't find coupons for foods that you enjoy eating, consider using coupons for things other than food that you could purchase at the grocery store - like toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, etc. It all adds up in the end! If you're not into coupons, while I haven't tried the Ibotta phone app - which can be used on iOS and Android - I do know that it's a free phone app for getting cash back for your purchases (This is NOT a sponsored post). To learn more about the Ibotta phone app, you can watch this video on how it works.
Buy seasonal produce.
If you're buying fresh produce, you can frequently save money buying seasonal produce. Not to mention that seasonal produce tastes its best. You will most likely find that certain locally grown fruits and vegetables will be less expensive at the Farmers' Market, while certain types of produce will be more affordable at the grocery store. I personally prefer to utilize both options versus all or nothing, but everyone is different. Here is a list of seasonal produce and a resource for finding a Farmers' Market in your area.
Buy frozen produce.
In certain cases, frozen vegetables and fruits can be less expensive than fresh, and can help reduce food waste by giving you a longer time frame to use up the produce. Not to mention that you can remove a little at a time from a bag of frozen produce and return the remainder of the bag to the freezer for future use. Since the produce is flash-frozen at its peak of ripeness, in many cases it's just as nutrient dense as the fresh produce - and sometimes more. Frozen produce also decreases the amount of minutes that you need to dedicate to preparing a meal. You can thaw your frozen fruit and add it to things like cereal, smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, and muffins. Frozen vegetables can be used to prepare soups, lasagna, sauces, casseroles, side dishes, etc.
Buy grains and spices in bulk.
These items frequently provide more of a savings than other bulk items. But again, double check the unit price to be sure that you're obtaining a good deal.
Add some beans, tofu, nut butter, and other affordable plant proteins to one or more of your meals.
Let's say you want to make a burger or a pot of chili that contains ground meat, but you want to save some money on the protein portion of your grocery receipt. One way to save money and stretch your meat further would be to cook dry beans and add them to the burger (1/2 ground meat and 1/2 cooked beans for the burger) - or add an extra large amount of beans to the chili while using a smaller portion of meat. You could also look for deals on canned beans to save yourself some time in the kitchen (I realize that many of you are pressed for time). As as a total carnivore, I will share that my family and I also really enjoy eating my budget-friendly black bean burgers and my stir fry with spicy dry-rubbed tofu.
Use that freezer.
A variety of foods freeze well. To save money, in addition to freezing meat when it's on sale and purchasing frozen produce, try cooking a big batch of dry beans or rice and freezing it for future meals. If you find that you can't get through your loaf of bread in time, freeze the loaf and toast individual slices when needed (I can thank my mother-in-law for this tip). Preparing freezer-friendly meals for future use is another great way to use us up food that you have on hand, and take advantage of foods that are on sale that you can buy in bulk. As is freezing leftovers from a dish that you prepared, but are done eating for the week (Leftover lasagna, soup, shredded chicken, etc.).
Use as much of each ingredient as possible.
If you're cooking with meats and produce, reserve the bones and vegetable peelings to make an amazing stock! If you're preparing a meal that contains Parmesan cheese, save the Parmesan rind for a terrific sauce. Click here to obtain more ideas on how to use your ingredients to the fullest. Why not get more bang for your buck?!
I hope that some of you who are reading this have found these tips to be helpful! If you use additional strategies for saving money when you grocery shop, I'd love to know what they are in the comment section below! And if you would like to work towards making peace with food and your body, click here to learn more about my private one-on-one sessions. Happy grocery shopping, cooking, and eating!