Being prepared before heading to the store is the best way to make sure you stick to your grocery shopping budget. But there are also some strategies to keep in mind and ingredients to keep an eye out for at the store. Here are some of our favorite ways to save while shopping.
Sure, bagged salad mixes are convenient. And anything that makes it easier to eat your veggies is a good thing. But they’re also expensive and can quickly go from perky to wilted to downright slimy. So try buying heads of lettuce (which often last longer in your crisper) and make your own mixes. Try mixing up romaine, radicchio, red leaf and/or escarole.
Related Link: 9 Great Greens to Add to Your Salad Bowl »
Another option for salad greens is to grow your own—they don’t take up much space and they grow quickly. For about the cost of a bag of salad greens ($3) you can buy a packet of seeds for mixed salad greens. The packets have 500 seeds and will plant a 30-foot long row of greens. (We’re not sure exactly how many salads that translates into, but it’s safe to say you’ll be swimming in salads for weeks.)
Related Link: Container Gardening With Salad Greens »
Spices are one of the keys to keeping food both healthy and delicious, because when you use bold flavors you don’t need as much fat. Look for a store that carries spices in bulk—the price per ounce is often less expensive. Plus you can buy a smaller amount, which helps you save in two ways: The up-front price is less. But perhaps more important, spices have a shelf life. After a year or two in your cupboard they just don’t have as much flavor. So when you buy smaller amounts, you’re less likely to have old spices sitting around that are ready for the trash can—a serious waste of money.
Compare the price per weight for other bulk items (besides spices) to those in packages before you assume that the bulk section is always a better deal. Sometimes the bulk section wins, sometimes not. In Vermont, grains like oats, whole-wheat flour and brown rice are often cheaper in boxes as opposed to bulk. And pumpkins seeds and pistachios are cheaper in bulk while other nuts are more expensive.
Related Link: How to Cook Whole Grains »
Stock up on staples, such as olive oil, nuts, pasta and canned beans, when they’re on sale.
Related Link: Guide to Stocking Your Pantry »
Russet potatoes, which are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C, are a great nutritional bang for your buck—they only cost about 30¢ apiece. And these babies are truly versatile. Try baking them, then stuffing them with beans, vegetables and salsa; mash them; slice and roast them; or turn them into hash browns for breakfast.
Related Link: Low Calorie Potato Recipes »
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are super-convenient and practically fat-free, but they’re usually the most expensive way to buy chicken. Buy breasts when they’re on sale or, to save money, buy a whole chicken and roast or grill it. Use leftovers in soups, salads or sandwiches. Whole legs, drumsticks and thighs are also good bets if you don’t have time to cut up a chicken.
Fresh herbs are pricy. But as with spices, we would never say to skip them—they’re key to making healthy food taste great. Look for combination packages of fresh herbs; they may be labeled “poultry mix” and typically contain a couple of different herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and marjoram. That way you get a bit of a few different herbs and you’ll likely have less waste. Growing your own is another great option. In many areas you can grow hearty herbs like rosemary outdoors all year long. Though the flavors will be slightly different, you can replace fresh herbs in a recipe with dried. The rule of thumb is to follow a three-to-one fresh-to-dried ratio. So if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon (i.e., 3 teaspoons) of fresh thyme, use 1 teaspoon of dried. Rosemary, oregano, sage and thyme are good bets when going from fresh to dry. Avoid making swaps with cilantro, parsley or chives as the dried herbs don’t have much flavor.
Related Link: Add Flavor—Hold The Fat—With My 5 Favorite Fresh Herbs »
At about 50¢ or less for a ½-cup serving of canned beans, you just can’t go wrong. They’re packed with fiber and protein. We always keep cans in the cupboard and whip them out to toss with salads, pasta, stir-fries, in soups or for an easy dip. Dried beans are even less expensive than canned. Cook a big batch then freeze extras for when you’re ready to use them in a recipe.
Barley, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta are economical whole-grain choices. Shop around to find the best price on more expensive whole grains, such as quinoa and wild rice.
Related Link: How to Cook Whole Grains »
Saving money is all about meatloaf. Just kidding. But really, meatloaf’s reputation as a budget-friendly food is deserved because its main ingredient, ground beef, is inexpensive. And when you buy a lean grind, it’s also healthy. Meatloaf is not the only inexpensive meal to make with ground beef. Some of our favorite ways to use it include Taco Salad and Portobello & Beef Patty Melt (pictured).
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Studies show that eating seafood twice a week can reduce your risk of heart disease. So make seafood a part of your diet. We always swing by the fish counter to look for specials. Also keep in mind that your best bet may be to buy frozen fish. It’s often less expensive, and you can defrost it when you’re ready to use it so you know it’s fresh.
Just like their fresh counterparts, canned salmon and tuna provide omega-3 fats, which help keep your heart healthy by lowering triglycerides and blood pressure. The difference is that they’re usually significantly cheaper. But think beyond mayo and celery. Try giving tuna an Asian twist with Sesame Tuna Salad (or combine canned salmon with shredded potatoes for a quick Salmon Rösti.)
Related Link: Delicious Canned Wild Salmon Recipes »
We always keep frozen vegetables on hand for dinners when the produce drawer is looking a little bare. Frozen vegetables are nutritious because they’re picked at the peak of ripeness and then frozen to seal in their nutrients. And a bonus: most of them don’t have added sodium like canned vegetables often do. Plus they’re relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with their “fresh” counterparts out of season.
Related Link: How to Freeze 16 Fruits and Vegetables »
Not only is your freezer great for frozen vegetables, it’s also great because it lets you take advantage of low prices when you find them. Stock up on the meats you like when you find them on sale. Also buy extra fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season and less expensive, then freeze them for later.
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