Have you gone food shopping lately and felt sticker shock over the price? A recent Consumer Price Index report showed food prices have risen by 11.2% in a year. The good news is, there are ways to bring your grocery bill down and still feed your family healthy meals.
Licensed dietician and nutritionist Sara Falk, RD, was recently charged with designing a five-day menu of healthy budget dinners for a family of four. The cost at the register? $108.21.
“I think we hit that price because we bought mostly whole foods that were on sale. We shopped at a very cost-effective grocery store and we had their app to help us find deals,” said Falk, client engagement coordinator for Baptist Health’s employer wellness solution, PATH (Personalized Approach to Health).
If you want to try this yourself, here are some strategies.
Best nutrition bang for your buck
One mistake people make is heading to convenience stores instead of grocery stores when they’re busy. Or, they choose the fast-food dollar menu or pick up pre-processed meals at the grocery store. These options may be cheap and convenient, Falk said, but they’re also probably unhealthy.
“As much as you can, you’ll want to buy whole foods that you cook yourself,” she said. “You’ll have more control over nutrition and cost.”
Try these hacks:
- Pay attention to the cost of protein, because it’s likely to be your biggest expense. Beans are one way to go a little cheaper. They’re high in protein and fiber, have great nutrients and are very filling, Falk said.
- Purchase frozen fruits and vegetables to save some cash. In a pinch, even canned will do, but beware of added salt and sugar.
- Try farmers' markets for other affordable produce options.
Plan the week’s meals
It takes a little extra time to plan the week’s meals, but you’ll eat better and won’t overspend as much on impulse buys.
- Go for recipes with versatile ingredients so you can use them on multiple days of the week. Basic vegetables like romaine lettuce, carrots and cucumbers can be used one night for salad and another night for a vegetable dip. Panko breadcrumbs can be used for turkey meatballs and also as a topping for tuna casserole. “Stay away from recipes with ingredients that are hard to find. They’ll get used once, and then sit in the pantry,” Falk cautioned.
- Include a few meals that are easy to prep and clean up. That way, you’re less likely to grab something from a restaurant or fast-food drive-through after a busy day at work. Sheet pan, crockpot and single-pot meals are easy choices.
Five days of dinners for a family of four
- Tuna casserole
- Turkey meatballs with whole wheat spaghetti and side salad
- Turkey burgers with whole wheat burger buns; baby carrots and cucumber with ranch dressing
- Chili with lean ground beef and brown rice
- Sheet pan chicken thighs with Italian seasoning, carrots and potatoes
A meal plan like this is affordable, easy to cook and nutritious. But to keep the price down, Falk paired it with a few savings strategies:
- Shop at regular or discount supermarkets rather than premium grocery stores. Though the high-end shops may have more specialty food items, the prices are higher overall.
- Choose store-brand foods rather than premium-brand, when available. They’re cheaper and often taste just as good.
- Look for coupons and sales before you make your list. Many stores restart their weekly sales on Wednesday, so that’s a good time to check. For extra convenience, check out your grocery store’s website or app. “It can help you find what’s on sale, pretty much at your fingertips,” Falk said.
It takes time to meal plan, check for sales and prep a dinner, Falk admitted. But in the long run, it saves money and helps your family to live healthier.
“I don’t ever want to mislead anyone about the effort. But just know, the more you do it, the easier it gets over time,” Falk said.
If you have questions about healthy eating, Baptist Centers for Healthy Living provide health coaching at locations throughout the community. You can learn more or request a free health screening online.