Everyone needs to eat. Because food is a necessity, groceries take a huge chunk of your family budget. But if you do some digging, you will find it possible to eat healthy on a tight budget.
In fact, it’s quite a lot. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends more than $7,700 per year on food. For most families, this is the biggest line item in their budget.
You can be smart about your grocery spending, at the same time eat healthy on a tight budget; trim your waistline, and help the environment.
Preparing meals at home will save you money and help you eat healthier. But how do you know what to put on your grocery list? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Buy items in season – Find out which fruits and vegetables are in season in your area, then plan your meals around these items. By purchasing in-season produce, you’ll get the best prices.
Shop sales – You can also save by planning your meals around sale items. Look for items with a long shelf life, such as canned goods, dry foods, and pasta. When you spot a good sale, stock up.
Don’t be afraid to buy generic – Big brands do a great job of marketing their products to consumers. At first glance, you might think they offer a superior item. However, the packaging is usually the only difference.
Purchase cheaper meat cuts – You don’t need to buy the priciest meat cut to prepare a good meal. In many cases, more affordable cuts offer the same — or even better — quality.
For example, ground turkey is much less expensive than ground beef. It’s also much healthier. By using ground turkey for hamburgers, you’ll save money and calories.
Planning a food budget will help you stick to your meal plans, as well as stop you from making impulse purchases in the grocery store. Here are four tips to get you started.
Before you shop each week, set a hard limit for your food expenses. First, look at your total income and your total expenses. As a general rule of thumb, expect to spend around 10 percent of your income on food.
- Make sure your grocery list stays within this range. Make adjustments as necessary by swapping out ingredients or changing up your meals.
If you have food in the freezer, considering preparing a meal out of ingredients you already have on hand.
- It’s much easier to make a grocery list if you know what meals you plan to make for the week. If you’re new to food budgeting, it might help to stick to simple, easy-to-prepare meals with basic ingredients.
Once you have the hang of budgeting and meal planning, you can branch out and try more complicated dishes.
- Just because you’re using a food budget doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an occasional restaurant meal or pizza night.
However, it’s important to make sure you plan these outings or carry-out meals in advance. If your weekly food budget is too tight to accommodate dinner on the town, you might need to bump it to another week.
- Pick up your grocery store’s weekly sales flyer and look for deals. You can also find dozens of websites that offer coupons on everything from produce and cereal to diapers and household cleaners.
For example, coupons.com offers free, printable coupons, as well as an app you can download on your phone.
Planning your family’s meals in advance offers a number of benefits. Here are five that will make you want to get planning (and start saving) right away.
- Over the last 20 years, portion sizes in American restaurants have doubled and sometimes tripled. Whereas a burger two decades ago was probably around 4.5 ounces, today’s burgers weigh in at a hefty 8 ounces. Sodas used to be 6.5 ounces.
Today, they tip the scales at 20 ounces. By planning your meals in advance, you exercise total control over your portion sizes.
- Planning your own meals also helps you eat healthier. When you’re the one doing the cooking, you know exactly which ingredients go into your meal.
When you’re hungry at dinnertime, it’s easy to reach for fast food. If you’ve planned ahead, however, you’re less likely to grab a burger or pizza.
- Cooking at home is much friendlier on your budget than dining out. According to Forbes, it costs five times as much to dine out than it does to prepare a meal at home.
- Planning your meals in advance also helps you avoid buying ingredients or items you don’t need. When you know exactly what you’re making that week, every purchase has a purpose.
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Bulk shopping can be a great way to save money. However, not everyone item is worth purchasing in bulk.
When it comes to food items, the following are known to have a long shelf life:
- Frozen produce
- Frozen fruits
- Dried beans
- Certain frozen meats – For example, frozen steak will keep for up to 12 months
- Dried fruits
- Whole grains
- Peanut butter
You can find these items at a variety of bulk stores, including Costco and Sam’s Club. It’s also worth checking out online offerings like Boxed.com.
The site offers free shipping on orders over $19.99 for your first visit, and there are no membership fees. As a bonus, you can also snag free samples, so you can try before you buy.
Many kids can be picky eaters, which makes it tough when you’re trying to stick to a budget.
However, there are still ways to save while satisfying even the most discerning palates. Consider these four tips.
- Biscuits, rolls, and various other breads are hearty and filling, and they pair nicely with a variety of meals.
A single can of biscuits can cost nearly $3, but you can make your own at home for less than a dollar. And you can’t beat the taste of fresh-baked bread
- Beans and rice are very filling. They’re also heart healthy foods that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Even better, they’re extremely affordable — especially when you buy in bulk and store for later use.
- Packaged, processed snacks like toaster pastries and gummy fruits are filled with preservatives. Moreover, you’ll pay a premium for the convenience of pre-portioned packaging.
You can save by making your own healthy snacks ahead of time. Try portioning out small storage bags with carrot sticks, apple slices, orange wedges, and dried fruits or nuts.
Once your kids get used to natural fruit flavors, they’ll lose their taste for refined sugar.
- Pizza from a carry-out place or delivery service might seem like a cheap and easy dinner, but the average pie can cost you around $15 to $20, plus any tip for the delivery driver.
- To save, you can buy your own dough, cheese, sauce, and toppings for a fraction of the cost. As a bonus, the kids will love assembling their own pizzas with their favorite toppings.
Many grocery store chains are regional, so it’s not always easy to find a wide selection of good prices. The good news, though, is that today’s consumers seem to value both healthy choices and competitive prices.
This trend has caused many discount grocery stores to expand. According to Consumer Reports, national chain Aldi takes the top prize when it comes to unbeatable prices.
Bulk discounter Costco came in first runner-up, with customers praising its store-brand offerings, as well as its impressive selection of meats and poultry.
With stores in 26 states, Save-A-Lot has a growing presence. According to the company, it keeps prices down by having smaller stores and a limited selection of items.
Consumers also report excellent prices at Fareway Stores in the midwest, and at Lidl, which has stores on the East coast.
If your budget is stretched thin on any given week, there are ways to adjust your grocery list to make sure you can still put a healthy, filling meal on the table.
Here are 25 items to include in your meal plans the next time you’re low on grocery money. Each item can typically be purchased for under $2.
- Tomato sauce
- Powdered milk
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen fruit
- Canned tuna
- Whole wheat bread
- Peanut butter
There are several easy, simple meals you can prepare with a selection of these ingredients. You might have to get a little creative, but it’s definitely possible to eat well even if you’re temporarily low on funds.
In recent years, a number of stores have started offering online shopping for food items. Sites like Amazon and Boxed will even ship cold items in special packaging designed to keep perishable foods cool.
However, the convenience of online shopping can come at a cost. According to a survey analyzed by Money.com, online grocery prices were about 24 percent higher on average compared to brick and mortar stores.
However, this is just an average. When the survey broke down prices by store, online retailers like Amazon beat the competition by 18 percent.
To find out if buying groceries online makes good financial sense for you, don’t be afraid to do a little comparison shopping. Check prices at your local grocery store against online offerings.
This will help you determine if your local retailer’s prices stack up.
If you’re a busy parent, grocery shopping can be a time-consuming chore. This is where online shopping can be a huge convenience.
In recent years, retailers like Walmart have started offering online ordering and curbside pickup for groceries and other purchases.
According to Walmart’s website, online ordering is totally free for purchases over $30. Just place your order, and a personal shopper will retrieve your groceries and bag them.
You simply schedule a pickup time, then go to Walmart, where an employee will load them into your vehicle.
Aldi’s online ordering system is easy to use, which clear instructions and tips for what to expect. You simply browse the site, selecting which items you’d like to purchase.
When you click an item, the site adds it to your virtual cart. When you’re ready to checkout, simply pay online.
Your groceries will be delivered to the address of your choice by Instacart . Check the Aldi website to see whether delivery is available in your area.
One of the nice things about Walmart’s online shopping system on the other hand lets you select a pickup time that fits you best, allowing you to schedule up to three weeks in advance — something that can really help with meal planning.
Walmart just unveiled their Delivery Unlimited service. It is just like the regular Walmart Grocery delivery order. The only difference is instead of per delivery fee, you get to choose between monthly or annual delivery fee.
Walmart has a 15 day trial plan, you can cancel anytime through your account if it is not for you.
Do You Tip for Grocery Pick Up?
Every store has its own policies regarding tips for their employees. While it’s customary to offer a 15 percent gratuity to service workers, be sure to check your store’s rules before you tip. In some cases, workers are prohibited from accepting tips.
Share with us in the comment section about how your family eats health food while keeping the food budget in check.