Rising grocery costs are hitting American wallets hard. Here’s what you can do to cut costs and still eat well.
Has that supermarket bill felt a little heftier lately? It has for many people.
London broil used to be the cut of meat I bought when money was tight. For a couple of dollars, I could bring home enough to feed four and have leftovers. And it never felt like cheap meat. Marinated, cooked to medium and sliced thinly, it was tender and divine.
It’s not inexpensive anymore.
This week, the cheapest cuts of London broil are selling for a sale price of about $9 per pound at a grocery store near me. Considering that London broil is typically sold in two- to three-pound cuts — so what used to cost me only $3 to $4 total is, at best, almost $18.
The same price increase can be seen in boneless chicken breasts, ground turkey, whole chickens and fish — the proteins we eat most often.
Across the board, the average cost of groceries per month is rising.
From fruits, vegetables, bread, cereal and frozen foods like french fries to dried beans, it feels like the increased costs are everywhere. In the oil aisle, it can be a shock to see how vegetable and canola oils — once a cheap option for cooking — are rivaling olive oil.
Meanwhile, restaurant prices — subject to cost increases too — are also on the rise, so there’s no relief in eating out either.
In the end, cooking at home is still the most frugal option. But how can you do that without seeing your grocery bill skyrocket?
I asked experts to weigh in. Here’s what they told me, with some advice from my own experience thrown in.
Shop with a List
Are you accustomed to meal planning? If the answer is no, now is the time to start.
“My number one tip for the home consumer looking to keep the grocery bill from totally skyrocketing is NEVER go to the store without a list. Without a list, it’s too easy to impulse buy and drive your total grocery bill higher,” said Lisa Kiersky Schreiber, a former economist and current certified nutrition/health coach who is the author of The Meal Deal – Blaze Your Own Trail to a Healthier Eating Lifestyle. “By planning ahead and buying only items you’ll need to cook at home, you’re more likely to have success keeping that bill down.”
Here’s how to get started. First, plan what you’ll serve for dinner each night of the week. Don’t forget veggies and other side dishes. Start your list based on those plans. Then add in the things you always need like milk, eggs and fruit. Finally, add anything you need for lunches — deli meat and bread, for instance — and snacks.
Then shop only for what’s on the list.
Here are some easy dinner ideas to get you started.
Cut Down on Meat and Dairy
Are you a meat and potatoes household? Big consumers of cheese? Sounds familiar. But those foods could be making your average cost of groceries accelerate even more.
“Cut meat and dairy as much as possible. While it can be hard to get around these purchases, especially if you have kids, they also tend to be the two most expensive categories of food on a per calorie basis,” said Ann Martin, Director of Operations of CreditDonkey. “This doesn’t have to mean eliminating all meat. Opting for chicken instead of beef is a great start, as is working in more vegetarian options like beans and tofu while still eating smaller meat portions.”
Small changes can make a big difference — and give you more meal options too. The key is the ensure that even if you cut meat, your family is still getting protein from other forms.
“Replace or reduce your protein entrees (meat, poultry, seafood) and replace with legumes — beans, lentils, peas, and nuts. Legumes are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to help you stay satisfied and optimize your health. And they’re cheap and versatile,” said Registered Dietician Johna Burdeos.
Check out my recent post on Vegetarian Sheet Pan Dinners for some inspiration.
Consider Portion Sizes
Don’t cringe. This is really good advice and could help you both combat costs and eat a little healthier.
“One tip for combating the rising cost of groceries is to be mindful of portion size. Americans tend to over-eat, which can lead to unnecessary spending on groceries,” said Emir Bacic, Co-founder of Pricelisto. “Try to be mindful of how much you are putting on your plate, and try to leave food on your plate if you are full. This will help you reduce your grocery bill while still enjoying your meals.”
This advice mirrors what is often said about meals in Europe, where people are said to savor good food more than we do in the United States. Take smaller portions, chew more, linger longer and you will begin to feel fuller faster.
Another way to look at this is to plate smaller amounts of meats and carbs and more veggies. Since vegetables tend to be less expensive, this will also trim the amount per meal you are spending.
Check Store Brands
A few years back, my favorite pasta brand began increasing in price (it’s now doubled!). That’s when I first started buying store-brand pasta and discovered that it appears to be the same brand.
From cereal to frozen veggies, canned beans to seltzer, store brands can be a good alternative to name brands. And if your grocery store is anything like mine, they might not have been hit with rising costs just yet. On a recent grocery trip, I saved at least $1 on cereal, $3 on coffee pods and $0.50 on veggies by going with the store brand.
My store brand pasta has increased by 25% in the last year, but it remains $0.75 less than the name brand.
Those savings will add up fast.
Stock Up on Sales
The experts tell me that the rising grocery costs aren’t expected to disappear anytime soon. So it’s also key to think about the long game — that means stocking up when you can.
“Know what you foods you consume a lot of and stock up on those when there is a sale — even during these inflationary times, you can get some good deals from time to time,” said Z, editor and recipe author for www.greedygirlgourmet.com.
Z was clear on this point though: make sure anything you buy is something you’ll consume.
“If you just buy foods on sale without checking your consumption history, you may end up with a lot of food waste as you end up not using those items,” Z said. “For canned food (e.g. canned tomatoes), there is obviously no storage problem. For fresh foods, you can always process and freeze them.”
Grow Your Own
Likewise, with the growing season approaching for much of the country, it’s a good time to consider a kitchen garden. Growing your own food can be another solid way to cut grocery costs. But, the key is to only grow what you can consume or trade.