8 Ways to Make Your Favorite Meals Cost Less (Without Sacrificing Quality)

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
|
July 13, 2022
a photo of meal prep/batch cooking chicken breasts and vegetables

It feels like every time we blink, the price of groceries goes up. Food prices are higher by an average of 7.8% compared to this time last year, with some staples, like oats, jumping a whopping 58%. Not surprisingly, 80% of consumers polled noted that rising prices have impacted their grocery spending — which makes sense when basic foods are this expensive.  

Read next: 8 Easy, Healthy Dinners That Feed a Crowd for Less Than $3 a Person

While there’s no escaping the fact that food prices have soared, there are ways to shop and plan that can make the effects of inflation a little less painful for you. Here we have five ways to make your favorite meals cost less — without sacrificing food quality.

1. Look up and down

Typically, the most popular (and usually the most expensive) brands are placed at eye level. Brands pay a lot of money for this privilege because it results in high sales. Instead of picking the brand of food you see first, look up and down to see other brands. They’re often just as good, and they’re likely to be cheaper. They’re usually smaller brands that can’t afford the product placement, so in addition to saving you money, making that choice can help businesses that are smaller than the big corporations thrive.

2. Know that certain prepared foods can actually save you money

One piece of advice you hear endlessly is to avoid prepared foods if you want to cut costs on groceries. In a general sense, this is completely true, since that quinoa salad at the salad bar costs two to three times per pound what it would if you made it yourself — but there are numerous specific examples in which prepared foods can actually save you money. One key example is rotisserie chickens, which grocery stores cook and sell themselves so as to avoid food waste. These always cost far less than buying a raw chicken. Another example is a salad bar, where you can avoid overspending on ingredients you only need a tiny quantity of. If you’re making something with a lightweight vegetable, such as scallions, that you only need a fraction of a cup of, purchasing them already sliced from the bar will cost you less than buying a full bunch of them that will likely go to waste. 

3. Batch your cooking

It costs far less to make two casseroles at once than it does to make one casserole twice and have leftover ingredients each time. Utilize your freezer anytime you make a dish that can be frozen, and make two instead of one. It’ll cost slightly more that week, but will result in bigger savings on the week you thaw the dish. You can also use this method to keep single ingredients on hand for use in various meals. Grains, vegetables, proteins, and pulses can all be made in a larger batch to add to dishes you cook throughout the week, and will result in less food waste than buying new ingredients for every meal you want to cook. 

costco rotisserie chickens

Image credit: Shutterstock

4. Try lesser-known options

It’s easy to get stuck in our cooking habits, but these aren’t always the most healthy — and even when they are very healthy, they might not be terribly cost-effective. Take note of what alternatives are less expensive than your usual choices, and make a point of trying one per grocery trip. Often, these alternatives are more nutrient-dense than the foods we typically choose, and because they’re less popular, they tend to run on specials occasionally. Think of swapping in ground bison or lamb for beef or pork, utilizing ancient grains instead of brown or white rice, and trying out rutabagas or turnips instead of potatoes. When ingredients are higher in nutrients than those you normally eat, you might also find that it takes a smaller quantity for them to be filling, which can help offset costs as well.

5. Get rewarded

For most of us, the days of clipping paper coupons are long gone. Instead, virtual rewards programs have taken their place. This is ultra convenient because you can find out online before going to the store what items will get you even larger than standard percentage-back rewards. In addition to certain foods being less expensive when they’re on special, an assortment of credit cards offer money back on grocery purchases: You can even get a Whole Foods Chase credit card that gives you 5% back on your purchases. With one private chef client plus my own spending, I’ve personally earned $200 back so far this year on my grocery purchases. 

6. Think seasonally and locally

No matter where you live, some amount of food is grown there. Being in touch with what grows locally (and when) will lead you to spend less on those ingredients. For example, asparagus and berries can cost twice as much in their off seasons due to being schlepped in from other countries. Even in places where not much agriculture occurs, ingredients that come from elsewhere in the country are generally cheaper than those that have been hauled across the globe. Fuel prices have risen for commercial shipping just like they have for consumer vehicles, and those costs get transferred directly to us. The least expensive foods are usually those that have traveled less. 

7. Buy dry

If you’re used to popping open a can of beans, the idea of dealing with the unprocessed, dried version might be daunting. The truth is, though, that dealing with dry goods doesn’t take terribly much effort, and is a big money saver. If you can boil water, you can make beans, and doing that will save you money that adds up quickly. In addition to legumes, we suggest avoiding partially cooked grains, also known as “instant” or “minute,” in favor of the dry version. Think of it this way: any steps that have been taken to bring an ingredient from its dry, unprocessed state to one that is quicker to deal with is a step that you’ll be paying for. 

8. Work with your habits

No one knows your family habits better than you, and being honest about what you use can help you save money on grocery spending. If you go through a lot of sweet potatoes, onions, lemons, or other produce that’s available in a five pound bag, opt for that instead of individual pieces because they’re priced much better. On the other hand, avoid bulk purchasing for foods that you and yours don’t eat much of, because wasting food equals throwing money away. If you eat a lot of protein, get the 18 pack of eggs instead of buying a dozen at a time, or buy larger cuts of meat instead of smaller, individually-portioned pieces. Being realistic about what you eat regularly will enable you to save on bulk purchasing where it’s viable, and avoid waste where it isn’t. 

Read next: 3 No-Brainer Ways to Save Money at Whole Foods

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