If you’ve ever gone through the checkout at your local supermarket, watched the cashier move your purchases over the scanner, and wondered how in the world you spent so much money buying so few items, you’re not alone.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, grocery store food items are getting more expensive. Plus, many foods that are staples of healthy eating (poultry, eggs, fish, and fresh vegetables specifically) have increased dramatically in price during recent months.
So how do you feed yourself or your family wholesome and filling meals on a budget? The first step is knowing what to buy at the supermarket.
There are a few tricks that every budget shopper should know at the supermarket. If you’re trying to stick to a budget at the grocery store, start by stocking up on wholesome and filling ingredients that are shelf-stable and easily adaptable to any meal.
Foods like brown rice, quinoa, lentils, and beans cost very little compared with other types of foods, and can easily be used as the base of any meal. They will last for a long time in your pantry; that means you can cut more costs by purchasing them in bulk and you won’t have to worry about losing money because they'll have gone bad before you have a chance to use them.
Another trick that budget shoppers know is to avoid prepared items at the supermarket. If you have the choice between a whole chicken or trimmed and individually-wrapped chicken breasts, go with the whole chicken; you’ll get more for your money. In the case of the individually-wrapped chicken breasts, you’ll end up paying extra because of the labor costs associated with preparing the chicken (the manufacturer has to pay the person that cleaned your chicken). If you choose the whole chicken you’ll also get more than just chicken breast; you can cook and eat the meat, render and save the fat (and use it instead of butter for cooking), and simmer the bones with leftover veggies to make homemade chicken stock.
Ready to start saving money at the supermarket? Here are a few things you should put in your shopping cart:
Save money by skipping boxed pancake mixes, tortillas, and some breads and try making these things from scratch instead. Bread, for example, can be made with just flour, water, yeast, and salt. If you have a busy schedule, start by making a loaf of bread or two on weekends to use during the week. You can also make up your own pancake mix (blend all the dry ingredients in advance and store them in an airtight container) so that it’s ready to go on weekend mornings.
One of the cheapest fruits available, bananas are packed with nutrients your body needs. While they’re great for snacking, they’re also easy to incorporate into meals; try adding them to nut-butter sandwiches, mashing them into sweet potatoes, or freezing peeled bananas (with plastic wrap pressed against their surface) to use in smoothies.
Whether they’re fried, sautéed, or caramelized, onions provide a great flavor base for a number of dishes. They costs very little and, as an added bonus, the root ends of your onions (which you might normally throw away) can be planted and used to grow more onions indoors, even if you live in a small space.
As long as you have eggs in your refrigerator you have a meal; top everything from rice and beans to pasta with an over-easy egg for a quick and filling dinner. Or, make boiled eggs as a quick way to fill sandwiches and top salads. Even though the cost of eggs has risen recently, they still remain an economical source of protein; they average less than $2 per dozen in most U.S. cities.
There is a common misconception that white potatoes are less nutritious than sweet potatoes. The truth is both types of potatoes provide you with important vitamins and nutrients. Stock up on potatoes of any kind; they’ll last a long time in your pantry, can be cooked in a number of ways, and cost very little compared to other types of food.
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