Cooking on a Budget
Saving time and money is important to everyone. Check out our short video for tips on how to budget, shop for, and store your food to make meal time easier and less expensive.
Plan meals to save money
The first step to cooking on a budget is to plan your meals in advance. An easy way to do this is to create a menu for one week at a time. First, determine how many meals you’ll need to cook and if you already have ingredients you can use. Then, put those grocery ads you get in the mail each week to use by planning recipes around what’s on sale. Be sure to keep your leftovers as well. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that a family of four in the United States throws away nearly $1,500 of food each year.1) In fact, if you make a big batch of something, you can have multiple meals ready to go, saving time and money.
Having staple items on hand means you’ll only need to shop for a few key ingredients each week. Potatoes, frozen chicken, and balsamic vinegar are great items to keep stocked in your pantry and freezer. There are hundreds of free and low-cost apps that offer meal suggestions–some will even match you with recipes based on items you already have at home! (Try Allrecipes (iPhone/Android), Big Oven (iPhone/Android), or Cookpad (iPhone/Android).)
Save money at the grocery store
Once you’ve decided on your meals, you should head to the grocery store with a plan. Bringing a list and sticking to it can help you “save up to 41% on your grocery bill,” according to curbly.com2. Write down everything you’ll need before heading out, and resist making impulse purchases. (Make sure you eat before you shop!) If you see something at the store that looks good, put it on your list for the following week.
In-season produce is cheaper, so plan your list accordingly. Epicurious lets you search for seasonal fruits and veggies by month and state.
Coupons can be your best friend, but create your grocery list first, so you don’t end up buying things you don’t need just to get a discount. When you get home, check out a rebate app like Ibotta (iPhone/Android) to earn money for all kinds of purchases.
Shopping at club stores means you can buy staples like olive oil and yogurt in bulk or bigger packages. If making food for only one or two people, shop with a friend and share the items. You can also freeze things like cheese, bread, and berries if you won’t use them before they go bad.
Generic and store-brand foods are usually the same quality as expensive name brand items. In fact, many companies make both the cheaper and costlier products. So, shop the bottom shelves and don’t be afraid to swap something out in a recipe.
Farmers markets and co-ops are also a great option, as they provide local, flavorful food, and directly support your community.
Sticking to budget-friendly foods can also help save you hundreds of dollars a year. Bone-in chicken is cheaper than boneless, skinless chicken breasts (but stock up and freeze when those go on sale). Eggs can be used for any meal of the day and are a great source of protein. Pasta is a versatile food full of protein and fiber, and it can be used as a side or a meal. Beans and peanut butter will last in your pantry for a year. While fresh fruits and veggies have more nutrients than frozen, they can also be expensive if you’re not careful about what and when you buy. Consider freezing fruit or purchasing only when in season.
The chart below shows the best way to store fruits and vegetables, which can help you keep your food at its peak freshness for as long as possible.
Spending a little bit of time to plan your meals can help you save big – at the store and at home.
Have a way to save that’s not listed here? Please share your ideas with us. Happy cooking!
- Office of Communications (September 16, 2015). “USDA and EPA Join with Private Sector, Charitable Organizations to Set Nation’s First Food Waste Reduction Goals“. USDA.gov. U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- Moser, JoAnn. (May 1, 2017). “Top 20 Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store.” Curbly.com. DIY Maven.