7 Money-Saving Grocery Hacks (That Don’t Mean Eating Less Well)
Published on January 14, 2022
By Barbara Lewis and Jess Novak
Grocery shopping can feel like a never-ending compromise for those of us who like to eat well, live healthily, and also stick to a budget. But with a little prep work, you can save money and still make delicious meals in a reasonable amount of time. Consider these ways to keep money in your pocket while still feeling indulgent at the dinner table.
1. Stock your fridge with herbal bouquets
You can extend the life of some produce by saving it in a glass of water covered by a plastic bag. There are plastic herb savers on the market, but you really don’t need them. If you buy a large bunch of cilantro, simply wash it, slice a bit off the bottom of the stems, and place it in a glass with water, just like cut flowers. Put it in your fridge toward the front of a shelf with a plastic food storage bag over it held tight to the glass with a rubber band, which traps the humidity. This will make your cilantro last up to three weeks — and this trick also works with parsley, dill, and mint.
2. Get every last bit out of the bottom of the jar (the fun way)
When you’re getting to the end of a container of a sauce or spread, it’s easy to just toss it in the recycling. But consider using up that last bit and getting another meal out of it. There’s always plenty of mustard stuck to the sides of your mustard jar, even after it’s been scraped. Make a simple vinaigrette by tossing some chopped shallot, olive oil, salt, and pepper in and shaking it up. Using a simmer sauce? Throw a little coconut milk in the bottom of the jar, close it tight, then shake it up before pouring it back into the pan. The same is true for the remainder of your peanut butter: throw in some sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, and you have the basis for a great Thai-inspired peanut sauce.
3. Choose ingredients that you can use every single part of
As you head to the grocery store with a list for a recipe, think to yourself, what else can I make with what I’m buying for this recipe? Can I use all the parts, like our grandparents did?
Take a lemon, for example. While you could buy a bottle of lemon juice and store it in the fridge, a bag of lemons doesn’t cost much more, tastes way better, and in addition to the juice, you also get lemon zest that you can freeze for later. It’s an instant, powerful seasoning you can add to a sauté pan on a busy weeknight when you need an easy meal: just toss the lemon zest with garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, cannellini beans, and some frozen baby spinach and zoodles. Delicious and healthy.
Relatedly, people often throw out the stems of broccoli — but they’re actually really nutritious. They can be spiralized for a zoodle-like texture (boodles, if you will), or simply sliced and roasted with olive oil and garlic for a great side dish. The same goes for carrot greens, which make a delicious carrot gremolata.
4. Freeze even small amounts of produce
Everyone knows about saving food scraps for making soup stock. But there’s more you can save to be budget-friendly and get an easy flavor boost when you’re pressed for time – like the lemon zest mentioned above.
Relatedly, if you’ve bought a ginger root for a recipe, don’t use a chunk and let the rest go bad in the fridge. Instead, mince it and toss it in the freezer — it defrosts extremely quickly, so you can toss it straight from the freezer into your sauté pan. If you bought an onion last week and it’s about to go bad, chop it up and toss it in the freezer. The same goes for greens, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, broccoli… just avoid freezing water-packed vegetables like cucumbers, celery, and lettuce; they’re just not going to return to their non-frozen state with grace.
5. Embrace coupons (no, for real)
Nobody wants to be that person holding up the line and handing the cashier a stack of paper coupons. But times have changed: you can now sign up for a shopper card and Google manufacturer coupons. There’s almost always significant savings for laundry detergent or household cleaners, and plenty of newer brands or old brands debuting new products want to give you $1 off to try them. Sites like the Krazy Coupon Lady and Grocery Coupon Network regularly have discounts on high-end, healthy products. At the time this article was written, we saw $1-off coupons for Chao plant-based meat, Nelly’s free range eggs, Four Sigmatic coffee, and Lightlife tempeh on both those sites.
6. Add some plant-based days to your schedule
Yes, you can still get extremely spendy on a plant-based diet if you opt for a lot of prepackaged vegan foods (we’re not opposed to them, but the reality is, they’re not low-cost). However, if you stick to the basics, a nutritious, balanced plant-based meal will set you back way less than eating meat and dairy. For instance, a 16-ounce bag of organic lentils du puy (those are the fancy-feeling French lentils) will set you back just $2.70 at Target, and that makes more than six cups of cooked lentils. Given that ½ cup is a standard serving size — and that it provides about 12 grams of protein — this is a heck of a deal, and that’s not even a great bulk-section price for them. One great way to make them is this easy recipe, which we have one edit to: just use one cup of lentils to three cups of water, and don’t change any of the other ingredients at all. High-protein legumes like lentils, black beans, and chickpeas are great for your health and your budget, as are ancient grains like bulgur and amaranth.
7. Use more eggs
Eggs are so nutritious, and they’re an excellent way to make your dollar stretch. We tend to think of eggs exclusively as a breakfast food — and an omelette is a killer way to kick off your day — but don’t limit your egg consumption to mornings. Eggs are vitamin- and protein-packed, and one of the most delicious ways to prepare them — poaching — is also one of the cheapest and healthiest, because it involves no added oil. A poached egg makes an elegant, healthful topping to a salad, and elevates the aforementioned lentils du puy. They’re the perfect topping to a quinoa bowl. Poaching may seem tricky, but here’s how we do it: Crack the eggs into a small bowl or ramekin. Bring a saucepan full of water to a simmer, then throw in a splash of vinegar and some salt. Create a little vortex in the water by stirring it clockwise with a spoon until there’s a little whirlpool going, then gently slide the eggs into the center of that vortex. Cover immediately and set a timer for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s it — take the lid off, and you’ll have perfectly poached eggs that are ready to elevate practically any dish you can name, from smoked salmon-avocado toast to breakfast tacos to a plate of steamed asparagus.