Weeknight meals can sometimes be hectic, especially if you’re juggling multiple schedules and cooking for more than one. It may be hard to believe, but you can throw together a tasty and simple weeknight meal fairly easily — it just requires some preparation! If you’re looking to make meals on a budget, it all starts at the grocery store. Here are a few expert tips to make your regular grocery shopping trip a bit easier and more budget-friendly.
Planning is one of the best ways to grocery shop on a budget. Before you head to the store, know exactly how much you can spend. Bring coupons, and if the store you are visiting has an app, research in advance which deals to take advantage of to reduce your grocery bill.
However, don’t purchase something simply because it’s on sale. It can be a waste of your budget (and resources) to buy something that you won’t end up eating.
Besides planning your budget, write down exactly what you need to buy. Studies have shown that people who shop with a grocery list spend less money. Planning can also make you less likely to purchase impulse buys that are not on your list — though we won’t fault you for purchasing the occasional bag of chips that snuck its way into your cart.
Before you head to the grocery store, have a meal beforehand. Shopping while hungry can lead to overbuying and going over budget. If your stomach is full, you’re less likely to put items that aren’t on your list in the cart. So, if you typically hit the grocery store after the gym, be sure to grab a post-workout snack first!
Buying in bulk is a smart way to grocery shop while on a budget. Focus on purchasing healthy bulk items like:
Nutrient-dense carbs, like whole grain pasta
Canned meats (like tuna)
Frozen fruits and vegetables
If you are a meat-eater, buy discounted cuts of meat in bulk to freeze now and prepare later. Remember, only purchase what you know you will use to avoid wasting money and food.
Keep in mind that not all bulk items are made equal. Spices, for example, can be purchased in bulk but tend to lose their flavor over time, so you’re better off purchasing them in smaller quantities.
The American Heart Association recommends adults eat four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables per day, whether it’s fresh, frozen, or canned. Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh produce, and often more affordable. In fact, a recent study found that frozen fruits and veggies contained higher levels of antioxidants than fresh produce.
Since you can get your daily serving from fresh, frozen, or canned produce, it’s possible to make smart, budget-friendly choices and still meet your daily required nutrition. Keep in mind, a half cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and veggies counts as one serving.
Eating the same fruits and veggies throughout the week can sometimes be dull (even if it is good for your body and your budget!), so plan for a variety of ways you can prepare the produce you’re purchasing. Check out these easy vegan recipes for tasty, veggie-packed meals!
Many store brands contain similar ingredients to national brands and might be cheaper — but still healthy — options. So if you’re conscious of reading food labels as you shop, compare store brand items to their more expensive counterparts. Look for nutrient-rich foods that contain protein, potassium, fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals. Try to avoid foods with high levels of sodium, sugar, and saturated fats, or items with corn syrup, artificial flavors, and colors listed in the ingredients.
Instead of only shopping at your local grocery store, consider visiting your local farmer’s market instead. Purchasing in-season fruits and vegetables, like those found at a farmer’s market, can help you eat well on a budget, and food localism is the most eco-friendly and sustainable way to buy groceries. Many of the farmers selling at these local markets often have deeper discounts than what you may find at the grocery store. Plus, you’ll find fewer processed food choices and higher-quality produce.
About the author
Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, Sky Island Journal, and The Voices Project. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with family, watching movies, and reading books. Say hi on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.