Though gas prices are the lowest now than they’ve been in months, inflation continues to send the price of groceries higher than it’s been in 43 years, making it a bit more difficult for many Americans to afford the food they need.
The food-at-home index rose by 13.5% since last year, according to Consumer Price Index’s most recent data.
Here’s a snapshot of how much the prices of some essential food items have increased over the last 12 months:
- cereals and cereal products (17.4%)
- dairy and related products (16.2%)
- fruits and vegetables (9.4%).
Purchasing groceries, especially those that are rich in nutrients, is harder than it’s been since 1979, but there are still ways to get the healthy foods you need if you’re on a tighter budget.
Typically, when shopping on a budget, the common advice is to use coupons, says Felicia Porrazza, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Pennsylvania.
While coupons can be useful, sometimes using them can encourage people to buy things they don’t need or won’t use, she says.
“I usually suggest using coupons for things you typically buy, and not for things that you’re like ‘Oh, I have a coupon for it,’ which can also add to the grocery bill,” Porrazza says.
And though methods like shopping in season and buying groceries locally are effective, they’re not the only ways to save money.
1. Meal prep
Shop with intention by thinking up the meals that you plan to cook throughout the week before you even walk into the grocery store, says Porrazza.
“It can get pretty sticky when people purchase produce that’s fresh and they don’t have a plan for it, so it sits in the fridge and ends up sadly dying off without being utilized,” Porrazza notes. “It’s money that’s essentially being wasted.”
When meal planning, you should also look in your pantry to see what shelf-stable foods you already have and take inventory of everything in the fridge and freezer, she says.
2. Buy frozen and canned foods
Consider purchasing frozen or canned foods in place of some of the fresh foods you’d typically buy, says Porrazza. Those foods tend to cost less and will last longer than fresh ones, she says.
“There’s a lot of variety there in terms of everything from green beans to chickpeas, and those are nutrient-dense foods,” Porrazza says. “The only thing to really look out for with canned items is the aspect of sodium.”
For vegetables, look for options that say “no salt added” or low sodium while you are shopping, she says. You can also drain and rinse canned vegetables to lower the sodium content.
For canned fruits, the concern is sugar content. You should aim for choices with no sugar added or ones canned in 100% juice or water, Porrazza notes.
3. Try protein alternatives
Meat and fish are pricier than most foods these days, and even if you’re not on a plant-based diet, using different protein sources as the main base of one or two meals throughout the week could lower the price of your groceries, Porrazza says.
Some alternatives she suggests are:
- Bean-based recipes like chili
- Textured vegetable protein
“Just vary that source of protein. You’re still getting in a protein source, but not necessarily driving up the cost,” says Porrazza.
You may need to narrow your shopping list down to save money. In those instances, these top 10 food items should always live on your grocery list, according to Porrazza:
- Protein (two items)
- Grains/Carbohydrates (two items)
- Fruits (two items)
- Vegetables (one starchy, one non-starchy)
- Add-ins (two items)
You can put together your own, personalized grocery list with nutritious value by using the graphic below:
Nutrient rich foods to prioritize, even when you’re on a budget
Try to get two different items from each category. For vegetables, get one starchy and one non-starchy.
• Textured vegetable protein (soy meat)
Fish (high in Omega-3s like salmon or rainbow trout)
Chicken (no skin)
Lamb (roast or leg)
Beef with little fat* (98% lean or sirloin)
🍚 Grains + carbs
• Legumes (beans)
• Sweet potatoes
• Peanut butter
• Flax seeds
• Other fun additions