While road tripping through Washington and Oregon last month, I would find the health food stores in all the small towns we drove through. My husband commented on how they all smell the same as soon as you walk in. Have you noticed that?
The only downside of a health food store is it can be hard to stick to your budget, especially when raspberries are $7.
As someone who likes to spend money on food more than anything else, I'm going to tell you how to save money on food in 10 easy steps without sacrificing quality. And if you stick around till the end, I'm going to give you my all-time favorite book recommendation on this topic.
1) Eat what you buy
How often do you look in the fruit drawer only to find that the apples have collapsed into a brown lump?
I once heard the saying that Europeans buy food to eat it while Americans buy food to look at it. And with our fridges that are three times the size of fridges in other countries, it makes sense. Food gets lost in there, and by the time it's discovered, you definitely don't want to eat it.
So, to avoid this, plan out your meals. Only buy enough food for the week. If you go grocery shopping more often and only get what you need for a shorter period of time, you'll save money and avoid waste.
One additional tip: make a list and then only buy what's on it when you're at the grocery store. And if you have a hard time doing that, you could try opting for online grocery shopping so you aren't tempted walking down the aisles.
2) Batch cook to save money and time
I love Sundays. I buy veggies at the store, turn up the oven to 425 degrees, put Chef's Table on on the iPad on the counter, and batch-cook vegetables with my husband. By the time it's dark, I have three Tupperwares filled with roasted sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, and squash. I have another Tupperware with rice and another with beans. I also have a bag of all the veggie ends that I'll use to make a broth.
During the week for lunch, I'll make rice bowls with beans, veggies, and I'll modify the sauce on top based on how I'm feeling. I'm a big fan of Asian-style bowls with sesame oil, rice, vinegar, fish sauce, and hot chili sauce. Other days, I'll do olive oil and balsamic or peanut sauce and coconut oil.
It's an economical, healthy, and delicious way to save money on lunch. Instead of spending $15 a day at the deli, adding up to $75 a week, I spend less than $5 a day, and I feel better about what I'm eating.
Bonus tip: use those vegetable ends to make a broth that serves as a soup base for one of your dinners that week, and add an egg to any of the bowls to bring in extra protein.
3) Buy produce when it's in season and look for produce on sale
When produce is in season, it's not only way more nutritious and flavorful, it's also less expensive. So, buy produce that is in season.
If you can get it at the farmer's market, do that. Hint: if you go to the farmer's market at the end of the day, you might even be able to get a deal; they're trying to get rid of as much as they can.
You can also look for sales at the grocery store. When they have too much of something, they'll mark it down, so take advantage of those sales and incorporate that ingredient into your weekly meal plan.
4) Buy canned, frozen, or dried ingredients
For expensive items like berries or peas, consider buying them frozen. They're less expensive and equal in nutritional value. For beans, buy them dried and cook them yourself. It takes a bit more effort, but they're so delicious that you'll want to put them on everything.
As a huge plus, canned, frozen, and dried foods last longer than fresh, so you can use what you need, then store the rest and use them for whenever you want.
5) Raid your own fridge and pantry
When you're building out your meal plan for the week, be sure to look at your pantry and fridge and take stock of what you already have. Figure out how to use what's in your house and pantry so you don't waste anything.
6) Buy generic brands
Consumer Reports found that most store brands measure up to the name brands in taste and quality and they're usually 15-30% lower in price. The same report found that a family of five can save up to $3,000 a year just by making the switch to generic store brands.
I'll let you in on a little secret: even professional chefs buy generic, so no need to worry that the Walmart brand of pasta will wreck grandma's lasagna recipe.
7) Avoid pre-packaged foods
Whether it's pre-packaged fruits and vegetables that are cleaned and cut for you or chips and snacks, anything that's wrapped in a package is going to cost more.
So, embrace the sous chef role of cleaning and chopping your own veggies. Opt for fresh carrots as a snack instead of chips. They may even fill you up more than chips, and you may find you don't need to eat as much and therefore don't have to buy as much.
If carrots on their own sound too boring, consider making your own hummus for a delicious afternoon snack. And if avoiding pre-packaged foods sounds difficult, make it easier on yourself by avoiding those aisles altogether.
8) Buy meat when it's on sale
Meat is usually the most expensive item on your receipt.
Either find ways to reduce the amount of meat in your cooking or look for bulk deals. You can always stash extra meat in the freezer and then use it when you want.
If you need meat in your diet, keep an eye out for cheaper cuts, like chicken thighs instead of breasts or ground beef instead of sirloin.
9) Try alternative proteins
If you can't get a good deal on meat, consider getting your protein through other methods. Beans, eggs, tofu, and quinoa are all great sources of protein that won't break the bank.
Eating vegetarian at least once a week is healthy for you, good for the environment, and will help you save money — wins all around.
10) Optimize your grocery shopping times
First rule: don't go grocery shopping when you're hungry. You'll overbuy, and the food will likely go to waste.
Second rule: if your kids often beg to buy things that aren't on your list, try to shop at a time when you don't have to bring them along, maybe while they're at school or at a friend's house. Make it easier on yourself by shopping at a time that's going to help you stick to your list and budget.
My Favorite Cooking Book
As promised, I want to give you my favorite economical, no-waste cookbook recommendation: An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler.
If you don't love cooking right now, read this book and fall in love. Adler teaches you how to cook delicious beans, make the perfect soft-boiled egg, and be a brilliant host. I promise, it's fantastic.
Food is a necessary expense of life and a great one at that, but you don't have to overspend if you follow these 10 tips.