7 ways to save money at the grocery store

Meal planning, coupon clipping, and going meatless are just a few ways to stretch your dollars

Save money at the grocery store

The rising cost of food is taking a big bite out of many families’ budgets. Although the high cost of food is not expected to come down anytime soon, there are some strategies that can be used to make food dollars stretch further without giving up on healthy eating or being deprived of taste and quality.


According to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2020, food-at-home prices increased 3.5 percent and food-away-from-home prices 3.4 percent. Consumer Reports says more than 80 percent of those shopping for groceries say prices have gone up, with 53 percent reporting “large” increases.


Healthy eating can be an unfortunate casualty of rising food costs. But before skipping over healthy fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, check out these tips from registered dietitian Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D. She offers tips to make sure healthy eating isn’t sacrificed as food prices rise.


“Hard economic times don’t mean that you have to eat less healthy foods,” says Pivonka, former president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), the nonprofit entity behind the Fruits & Veggies – More Matters® health initiative. “Get as much nutritional bang for your buck as possible by choosing nutrient-dense foods. This means avoiding or limiting the purchase of foods that have few vitamins and minerals per calorie, such as chips, cookies and soda, and buying more foods that offer higher vitamin, mineral and fiber content per calorie like healthy fruits and vegetables and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.”


She debunks the myth that produce is too expensive, saying, “While food prices have gone up, produce prices haven’t risen as much as other food groups so fruits and vegetables are still a good bargain, comparatively. Take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Buying fresh produce in-season ensures that price is the lowest you’ll find all year and peak season taste and quality can't be beat.”

READ MORE: Save a ton on groceries with this one simple step


She adds, “If the produce you want isn’t in-season, canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables can be less expensive and are just as nutritious as fresh because they are processed quickly after harvest, capturing all of nature’s goodness.”


Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D. offers seven more tips for saving money at the grocery store without sacrificing taste or nutrition:


1. Plan out meals ahead of time. Make a menu for the week and plan for recipes that can use leftovers from the previous day's meals. Find out what is on sale by looking at local food retailers' ad circulars and websites and use that information to help plan the menu too.


2. Make a grocery list – and stick to it. Sticking to a grocery budget is easier when shopping from a list. Having a menu plan makes writing up a shopping list quick and easy. Simply write down all the ingredients needed to prepare the menu items, then look in the pantry and refrigerator and cross off items you already have. Make sure to only buy items specifically written on the list. Avoid the temptation of the cookie and chip aisle altogether by skipping it.


3. Clip those coupons. Supermarket industry experts predict 400 billion coupons will be distributed this year. Look for coupons in multiple sources, in newspaper circulars and magazines as well as on food manufacturers' and grocery websites. However, use coupons only for things on the shopping list; don't buy something just to use a coupon. Coupons don’t offer savings if the items won’t be used. Watch the scanner at the checkout counter to make sure that discounts from coupons and frequent-shopper programs ring up correctly.


4. Stock up when family favorites are on sale. When a shelf-stable pantry item is on sale it just makes sense to pick up a few extra, but only if it’s something that will definitely be eaten. Just like with coupons, a bargain isn’t a bargain if it sits uneaten on the shelf. Don’t forget about healthy frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice! Since they last longer than fresh produce, you can stock up when these go on sale too.


5. Cook at home instead of going out to eat. With a little prep work, many meals can be cooked at home in about the time it would take to have food delivered or grab take-out. Prep vegetables and meats the night before for weekday dinners so that cooking can begin as soon as the cook gets home. Dust off that crockpot! Crockpot cooking adds convenience by making sure the meal is ready as soon as the family arrives home in the evening. It also allows for the purchase of less expensive cuts of meat due to the longer cooking process. If pre-cut, pre-packaged fruits and veggies are becoming too expensive don’t give up on fresh produce altogether, buy your favorites whole then wash and cut them up and put them into portion sized plastic containers in the refrigerator so that they are easily accessible.


6. Brown bag it. Pack your own lunch at least three or four days each week. Give yourself one day a week to go out for lunch as a treat and add the saved money to the grocery budget. When a restaurant serves large portions, have them wrap-up half the meal right when they serve it and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.


7. Serve more healthy fruits & veggies instead of higher priced meat. Go meatless for one meal per week and your grocery bill can be lower. On other days serve smaller portions of meat and add an extra fruit or vegetable side dish to fill up space on the plate and cut costs even further. Add healthy fruits and vegetables to soup, stew and casserole recipes as meal extenders even if the recipe doesn’t call for them. Just toss in a handful of fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables to stretch the dish out so it serves an extra person or makes leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. This works well when opening a can of soup or stew too!


Try using only half the meat called for on the instructions for “box-dinners” and make up the volume by tossing in some frozen peas, broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower. Keep bags of frozen veggies on hand for this purpose. Skip the bakery aisle and serve fruit for dessert! Fresh, frozen or dried, fruit makes a satisfying, sweet end to any meal. It will add vitamins, minerals and fiber that aren’t found in cakes or candy.


Working some small changes into your grocery shopping habits will not only save money, but will help keep your family healthy, happy and satisfied. The One Green Planet website offers tips, recipes, and meal planning advice that help add more fruits and vegetables to meals and snacks.

Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) consumer education foundation whose purpose is to motivate more people to eat more fruits and vegetables to improve public health. To learn more, visit their website and One Green Planet's 
Weekly Meal Plan: Fruit and Vegetable-Rich Plant-Based Meals.