Sometimes people assume that the only affordable food options are unhealthy ones, but the truth is that you can grocery shop on a budget and still be able to keep nutritious food in your fridge. It simply requires some consumer savviness and food education, so today we’re sharing five tips for grocery shopping on a small budget.
Make a shopping list
Meal planning can make all the difference in making the most of your food budget. Before you go grocery shopping, create a list of meals you plan to make and the ingredients you’ll need in order to do so.
If you go grocery shopping once a week, we recommend planning out your dinners for the entire week. This way, you’ll know what you need and won’t spend money on items that may go to waste. This will also help you avoid buying unhealthy foods that aren’t in your meal plan. And if you know what you’ll be making that week, you can also designate a specific time (for example, every Sunday evening) for meal prepping in advance.
Cook once, eat twice
One way to maximize your groceries is to follow the guideline of cooking once, eating twice. This means that you’ll be purchasing more of a particular item or certain ingredients, and buying in bulk tends to be cheaper. It also simplifies meal planning and cooking.
This rule of thumb doesn’t necessarily equate to eating the same exact dinner twice in a given week—rather, it could mean using the same couple of ingredients for different meals. For example, you could purchase a bag of brown rice along with some veggies, such as peppers, zucchini, and onions. Then, you could cook the rice and sauté the veggies, and use them as the base of your dinner two nights that week. Perhaps one night you’ll combine the rice and veggies with beans, cheese, and salsa to make Mexican bowls, and another night you’ll stuff tortillas with the rice and veggies plus your protein of choice for easy burritos.
Look for sales and coupons
Make sure that you’re a member at the grocery store you shop at so that you can take advantage of current promotions and sales. If your store sends out weekly circulars, plan on looking through them before you do your meal planning so that you can incorporate sale items into your upcoming meals. If you receive coupons at checkout, put any that you’re interested in using up on your refrigerator so that you remember to use them on your next grocery trip.
If you know that your household uses certain nonperishable items regularly, save money by stocking up and purchasing those items in bulk when they're on sale.
Keep staple affordable, healthy foods in mind
When it comes to buying healthy options on a small budget, food education is key. One rule of thumb is to fill up the majority of your cart with whole foods—which are fruit, veggies, whole grains, and legumes. Some of the least expensive fresh fruits tend to be bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, and apples. The cheapest veggies are often dried beans, including lentils and black, navy, and pinto beans. Carrots, cabbage, and iceberg lettuce are often low-cost fresh veggie options.
Because the cost of animal proteins can quickly add up, look to purchase less expensive cuts of meat—such as ground beef or pork ribs. You can also save money by purchasing a whole chicken and avoiding precut pieces, such as prepared, skinless, boneless chicken.
Make use of healthy canned goods
Another way to incorporate healthy items that are still within your price range into your grocery shopping is to purchase canned goods such as beans, tomatoes, and string beans. Canned goods such as these are easy to incorporate into meals to boost their nutrition content, and don’t cost a lot of money. For example, instead of making plain pasta with butter for dinner, you could use a large can of peeled whole tomatoes to cook up an easy tomato sauce to toss your pasta in—amping up the vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidant content of your meal.
Here at Feeding Westchester, we tackle hunger from all angles, and part of that is offering resources and education that promote a lifetime of healthy eating. Learn more about how we teach people to shop, cook, and eat on a budget through our food education initiatives.