I once saw a meme that stated something to the effect of “Don’t talk to me about obesity until you can tell me why a salad costs $7 and a burger and fries costs $3.” This is true. It’s a real problem. And it becomes even more real once you decide to commit to actually making dishes rather than buying pre-packaged ones. There are solutions out there and over the past couple years, I’ve watched my food budget actually shrink when I decided to buy my food along the edges of the grocery store.
Get a Costco Membership if you spend more than $100 per week on food and toiletries
When I first considered Costco a couple years ago, I wasn’t sure if the price of the membership would be worth the amount saved. Joining Costco was probably one of the smartest things I have done in terms of grocery shopping. Here’s why…
- Better sourced meats at better prices – If you are concerned about Organic meats, Costco has them and they are better priced than traditional grocery stores. For example, in my area, 4 pounds of organic ground beef (90/10) is $19.99. Organic boneless chicken thighs are 3.99/pound. If you are concerned about the bulk sizes, don’t be. They package them in separate perforated sections which means you can freeze them and use them one at a time.
- Cheaper produce in some cases – I pick up most of my fruits and vegetables from places other than Costco BUT in some cases such as romain lettuce, you can save a couple bucks. Once again, it is in bulk (currently I get 4-5 heads at a time) but the bulk price is actually cheaper than the grocery. Same thing applies to spinach.
- Cheaper Milk, cheese, butter and eggs – 2 dozen organic free range eggs from a local farm is $8. Kerry Gold butter (grass-fed) in a three pack is $7. A full gallon of milk is $2 and change. Costco Brand coffee is great as well. Need I go on?
- Toiletries, paper products and dog food – Not only are the majority of these cheaper but you will spend less time getting them. What used to be a weekly trip to the grocery for detergent has turned into once every month to month and half.
Not everything is cheaper and the rabbit hole you could go down is pretty deep but if you stay focused on the essentials, you can come out ahead. There are a couple memberships to consider. The cheapest one is $50 but if you spend over a $100 a week, go for the executive membership. This option gives you 2% on your purchases which means that once a year you will get a check to cover the next year.
Buy Spices from Specialty Groceries
You can find things like Paprika, Cumin and other spices much cheaper at Indian and Asian grocery outlets than you can at places like your local Kroger. In some cases, the cost can be a fifth of the cost of your big box grocery store.
Choose Cheaper Sourced Meats
In the grand scale of things, chicken breast is more expensive than chicken thighs and salmon is more expensive than cod or tilapia. However, in most cases, they are interchangeable. And in some cases, they can taste even better (I’m looking at you, chicken thighs.) Also, the way you cook your meat can allow for cheaper cuts. For example, a slow cooker can turn an otherwise tough piece of meat into something you can cut with a fork.
When Choosing Fruits or Vegetables, Always Choose the Ones in Season
Sounds like a no brainer but there is no reason to pay $4 for a pineapple when a couple months down the road, it is $1. Same thing goes for grapes and tomatoes. Respect the seasons and buy when they are in season.
Buy frozen vegetables that are rich in fat-soluble vitamins
I always have frozen spinach on hand for sauteeing. Occasionally, when I’m in a pinch for time, I will buy a bag of California vegetables for a dollar and pair it with a protein. Research shows that in some cases frozen is not only as good as fresh but may actually be better.
Process your own food
….meaning any fresh vegetables you buy should always be processed on your cutting board with a knife. Listen, I understand that that shredded lettuce that you bought for $1.99 is nice and uniform but it is no better than buying a whole head of iceberg and chopping it yourself for less than a dollar. If you buy a lot of pineapple, maybe consider investing in a pineapple de-corer. It’s cheap and in the long run will cost you less.
Start Building a Staples List
Your ‘staples list’ is what will build the flavor profile of your dishes….
Perhaps one of the smartest things you can do is build a staples list of the things you most likely use. Think coconut milk. Think flour (if you use flour). Think spices like paprika and cumin and chili powder. Think oils like sesame oil (if you do a lot of asian food) or avacado oil. Think vinegars. Think sugar (if you use sugar). A good staples list will give you more choices when it comes to choosing what recipes to make. Plus, a good staples list can shrink the weekly bill because you aren’t buying these things spur of the moment.
Plan Your Meals
Perhaps the biggest problem that most face when they are trying to eat on a budget is how to stretch their dollar with food they bought for the week. And the simplest way to do this is to plan. For example, A rotisserie chicken is a great meal but can be stretched even further when the leftovers are pulled from the bone and put in a container for salads for lunch. If you are using chick peas for a falafal, you can take the rest and turn it into hummus which can be eaten on vegetables as a snack.