Many more folks ate at home last year because of the pandemic. This has fuelled the largest yearly rise in food-at-home prices in nine years.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports prices in 2020 increased by 3.9% from 2019. Prices for the food-at-home category rose at the same 3.9% rate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts an increase of 2% to 3% for food served by restaurants and other services this year. The forecast for food-at-home prices is they will climb 1% to 2%.
Diane McCrohan, associate professor in the College of Business at Johnson & Wales University, estimates the year-to-year increase was 6%.
“There were several reasons for the price increases: the rapid increase of eating at home; supply chain issues; and enhanced safety precautions,” she says.
No matter what the experts say, Americans are feeling the pinch in their pockets.
Here are 10 things you can do to eat healthy on a tight budget.
#1 Plan your meals
If you plan your meals a week ahead, your grocery list should only include what you need.
Make your list a day or two before your weekly trip to the grocery store. Check your fridge and cabinets to see what you already have. You’ll kick yourself for buying what you didn’t need—especially fresh produce you may end up throwing away.
To add a variety of tastes to your home-cooked meals, always make sure you have a variety of herbs and spices in stock and only buy when they’re running low.
#2 Stick to your grocery list
It’s difficult at first, but discipline is the key to saving money.. Once you’ve planned your meals and made your list, it’s very tempting to get sidetracked at the grocery store and spend more than you budgeted.
The best way to avoid this is to budget for a few treats on your list—a chocolate bar or a packet of cookies.
And remember to eat before you head out because the worst time to shop is when you’re hungry.
#3 Cook at home
It’s cheaper and healthier than eating out and you can have a nutritious meal ready in maximum 90 minutes if you include preparation time like peeling, slicing or chopping. Enlist other members of your household to help!
You can feed an entire family of 4 for the same price as buying food for one or two people at a restaurant.
Some people like to cook for the entire week on the weekends and store in the freezer while others cook one meal at a time. You can cook enough for two sittings, meaning you’re not starting from scratch every day.
By cooking at home, you know exactly what’s in your food and can create a balanced meal of protein and healthy veggies.
#4 Buy generic brands
Most stores offer generic brands of the same quality as more expensive national brands.
All food manufacturers have to follow standards to provide safe food, but read the ingredients list to make sure you’re not getting a product of lower quality than you’re used to.
#5 Stop Buying Junk Food
It would surprise you to see how much you may pay for soda, crackers, cookies, prepackaged meals and processed foods. Apart from offering very little nutrition, they contain unhealthy ingredients, especially sugar, and are also very expensive.
By skipping these, you can spend more of your budget on higher quality, healthy foods.
#6 Buy in bulk when products are on sale
Canned goods and grains such as rice, millet, barley and oats, as well as beans, lentils, some nuts, and dried fruits will keep well, as will pasta, as they will keep for a long time in airtight containers.
You can create a variety of healthy, inexpensive dishes with these staples.
# Buy Cheaper Cuts of Meat
Fresh meat and fish can be expensive.
However, you can get many cuts of meat that cost way less.
For example, the cheaper cuts of beef are great to use in casseroles, soups and stews. You could buy in bulk and split to use in several meals during the week. You can freeze the leftovers for another meal.
#8 Use other sources of protein
Eating less meat is a good way to save money—and save the planet.
Plan one or two days where you use other protein sources, such as legumes, eggs or canned fish.
These are all very inexpensive, nutritious and easy to prepare.
#9 Shop for Produce That Is in Season
Support your local farmers by buying fresh produce that is in season. It’s cheaper and you’ll be consuming when at its peak in both nutrients and flavor.
Why buy produce out of season which has often travelled halfway around the world to get to your store? Not good for the environment or your budget.
It’s usually a lot cheaper to buy produce by the bag than by the piece. However, you may end of throwing some away if you don’t consume it while still fresh, and this will cost you more in the long run.
Not all fresh produce freezes well, so stick with fresh. Frozen peas are fine, but this writer had an unpleasant experience with carrots that had a consistency of rubber when she defrosted them.
#10 Grow Your Own
If you can, grow your own veggies.
Seeds are cheap—all you need is a few containers, some compost, sunshine and love.
Cultivate your own herbs, sprouts, capsicum and baby lettuce, which take up very little room but offer good nutrition. If you have a garden, tomatoes are easy to grow, as are leafy greens such as kale (a super food—member of the cabbage family), spinach and swiss chard.
Home-grown produce tastes a lot better than store-bought. Nothing can beat the delight you’ll feel preparing a meal with fresh ingredients you have grown yourself and picked fresh from your garden.
If you plan your meals, cook at home, make smart choices at the grocery store, and it’s possible to grow your own herbs and veg, you can eat healthy without breaking the bank.