Like most of us, Mary Lewis, a mom of four in Jordan, Minn., watches her budget when she writes out her grocery shopping list. Lewis does her homework before she even sets foot in the store.
“We watch for loss leaders [major discounts] in our store flyers and stock up,” Lewis says. “For example, our local grocery store was selling a gallon of orange juice for $1.99 [it’s usually $4.50.] We bought four gallons, knowing our kids would drink all of it within a week.”
Grocery Shopping on a Budget: 9 Ways to Shop Healthy and Save Money
- Plan, plan, plan. “If a family or head of household can take an hour to plan a week’s worth of meals and make a grocery shopping list and another hour to grocery shop, then the family can be good for a week,” says Shelley A. Rael, RD, a registered dietitian and health education consultant at the University of New Mexico’s Employee Health Promotion Program in Albuquerque. This is a win-win situation as food prepared at home is generally healthy and less expensive.
- Buy in bulk. Whether it’s choosing a “family size” pack of skinless chicken breasts and freezing what you don’t use right away or one large container of nonfat yogurt instead of individual servings, buying big can equal big savings.
- Cut those coupons. “Clipping coupons and shopping sales will never go out of style, especially when there are many mouths to feed,” says Amy Berns, RD, a registered dietitian with Medical Network One’s Michigan Institute for Health Enhancement in Trenton. Coupons are everywhere these days, from local flyers to the Internet. Check individual food companies’ Web sites for discounts, rebates, and coupons you can print yourself.
Shop the perimeter of the store. Most stores are
organized with packaged foods in the middle. As much as possible, stick
to the outer areas where you can find the healthier fruits and
vegetables, meat, and dairy. Also, while these foods may seem expensive,
be sure to consider actual serving sizes and how many meals you can get
from one purchase. “Produce may appear expensive at the outset,” says
Rael, “but it can be part of a meal or a snack. Many people see ‘$3.99
per pound,’ but don’t think about how that pound could potentially be
spread across several meals or people.”
Curious about buying organic produce? Find out if these foods are worth the cost.
- Try some substitutions. Instead of expensive and less healthy beef, buy more chicken and pork. Beans are another good source of protein and are usually much cheaper than meat. Fish can be bought frozen or canned to cut down on cost as well.
- Try the “IKEA” style of eating. That means “some assembly required,” says Ashley Koff, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in Los Angeles. “Rather than buying the salad already made, buy the pieces and assemble it yourself. Instead of the ready-to-eat pasta dish, buy the sauce, the cheese, the meatballs, and some organic frozen vegetables.” Not only is it less expensive to purchase items individually, but you will also be avoiding the preservatives used to increase a packaged food’s shelf life.
- Skip the snack foods. Products like chips, cookies, and soda are unhealthy and represent an unnecessary expense for shoppers looking to save money. Popcorn, dried fruits, and nuts are good, nutritious substitutions for chips.
- Go local and buy in-season. “Look for fresh local and in-season produce as this is usually more affordable than choosing imported produce,” says Erin Palinski, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in northern New Jersey. “If fresh produce seems too expensive, try choosing frozen or canned. It is more affordable and has a longer shelf life. To cut down on the sodium content of canned vegetables, try rinsing them before cooking and serving.”
- Be creative. Whether it’s trying a new recipe with ingredients bought using coupons or putting a new twist on an old favorite, shopping and preparing different foods can be fun.