There’s a big misconception out there that eating healthy means having a bigger food bill. But the truth is, eating healthier doesn’t have to cost more. In fact, it can cost the same or even less than what you might be paying right now. By following the simple strategies outlined below, you can keep your food costs down while enjoying a diet that nourishes your body and keeps your hunger (and your taste buds) more than satisfied.
Create a Weekly Meal Plan
Sitting down to create a meal plan for the week is helpful in several ways. First, it gives you an opportunity to think through what you’re going to eat during the upcoming week. By looking at the week as a whole, you can really consider your options, and that can lead to making healthier choices. Second, it helps you plan your grocery list and waste less food by helping you to use more of what you already have on hand. Your list will also help you stay on task at the grocery store so you’re not as tempted to buy the items that you know you should skip.
Comparing prices on the fly isn’t always easy. Generally, the price sticker on the grocery store shelf will include a unit price, or a cost per weight. But this isn’t always the case, and sometimes the units differ, making them more difficult to compare. Fortunately, you’re a savvy consumer, and you’ve got a calculator on your phone. Simply divide the price by the number of units you’re comparing.
Obviously, you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to do this on every item every time you shop. Start slowly with this one. Start by comparing the items you purchase more frequently. Record them in a notebook (or on a note on your phone), so you know what brand (at what store) is your go-to for that item.
Buy Store Brands
Store brands are oftentimes made by the same manufacturers of the big brands. Many store brands are just as good, and sometimes even better, but without the higher price of their premium counterparts. Replacing brands with these white label alternatives can save you a ton of money.
You don’t need to be an “extreme” shopper to save a bunch of money on your grocery bill. Taking some time to check the store fliers and watch for in-store deals can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.
Buy in Bulk
Purchasing items in bulk at the big club stores can save you a lot of money. But be careful not to over-buy. Be mindful of expiration dates and consider how you’ll store unused portions to prevent staleness or spoilage.
Buy In Season
Eat seasonally. Fresh produce is always a better bargain when it’s in season. Furthermore, don’t limit yourself to produce from the grocery store. You can usually find better deals at farmers’ markets and roadside stands.
Ingredients vs Convenience
Convenience foods like frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables, and instant rice cost more. So the more you make from scratch with raw ingredients, the more you’ll save. But as always, consider your circumstances and needs. If you simply must have the convenience, it’s better to pay more for pre-cut veggies than it is to pay less for whole veggies and not eat them. (But do stay away from those frozen dinners.)
Cut Back on Snacks
When you’re paying $4-5 for a bag of chips or a pack of TastyKakes, your bill can add up quickly. But your wallet isn’t the only thing paying the price. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite snacks, but be very aware of what you’re buying (and how you’ll enjoy them). Include snacks on your grocery list so you can see a full picture of what you’re buying and eating. Then, when you’re at the store, don’t add anything to your cart that isn’t already on that list. This will prevent you from making those impulse buys we all make from time to time.
Eat Out Less Often
Dining out will always cost you more than eating at home. If you’re looking for a quick, impactful way to reduce your food bill, start here. Set aside a budget for eating out and stick to it. Of course, things pop up and schedules get mangled. So what about those nights where you “must” order something? You can do a lot to avoid those situations by following the next two tips.
Prep Your Meals in Advance
Avoid the nightly dinner prep hustle by making it ahead of time! If you have a busy schedule during the week, making your meals in advance is a life-saver. Take some time on Saturday or Sunday to prepare several meals for the week. Store then in the freezer or refrigerator, and just heat them up when you’re ready.
Plan For & Savor Leftovers
When you’re planning your week of meals, consider including casseroles, crock-pot dinners, and other multi-serving meals. In addition to providing some delicious leftovers, dishes like these will help you stretch more costly ingredients like meat.
These strategies are a must for anyone looking to eat better without increasing their food budget. But here’s a final thought: Even if you ended up paying a little more to eat better and stay healthier, the cost of not doing so is likely to be significantly higher in the form of health issues and medical care. Your health is worth it. YOU are worth it.