Meat accounts for the most expense at grocery store visits, so make one or two vegetarian dinners a week to cut costs. Dishes based on pantry staples like rice, whole grains, beans, and legumes are protein-rich, filling, and inexpensive; add seasonal produce for crunch, freshness, and color. A bonus: Research shows eating more plant-based foods may lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
This strategy may be the most challenging to consistently employ but can make the biggest dent in your budget. Sit down once a week and plan all the meals for that week, and then shop only for the items you need to prepare those meals. Allow for leftovers in your meal plan, and be realistic about how many nights you might eat out or be too busy to cook. Not only does this strategy cut down on the amount of food you buy at the grocery store, but it also decreases the amount of food you waste. Learn more about menu planning with our Six Steps to Successful Menu Planning.
For maximum savings, skip convenience products, as you pay a premium for the work that’s done for you. For just a few extra minutes, you can save by chopping your own produce, for example. On the weekends when you have extra time, or some nights after putting the kids to bed, do a little work that puts you ahead for the next day, like making a making a pizza dough that sits in the fridge overnight.
Instead of making protein the center of the plate, use it sparingly for flavor and texture―almost as if it’s a condiment. Extend beef by tossing a conservative amount in a vegetable-rich stir-fry, for example, or combine a small quantity of shrimp with pasta. Pizzas, calzones, pasta bakes, and casseroles are easy dishes that use this strategy to great effect.
Out-of-season produce is costly and lacks flavor. Skip it; instead choose fruits and vegetables that are in season. When produce is at its peak, there’s an abundance of it―and you can find it for a bargain. In the summer, enjoy tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, bell peppers, and more. During fall and winter, look to winter squashes; dark, leafy greens; citrus; and sweet potatoes. And in spring, try berries, asparagus, artichokes, and fresh peas.