Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Ever wonder what it would be like to have a Registered Dietitian (RD) help you make better choices at the grocery store? Lucky for you, we caught up with Becca Scofield, an in-store dietician at a Philadelphia supermarket chain, to discuss how to save money on groceries.
By Rebecca Scofield
If you’ve ever been shopping with me, you know I love a bargain. That doesn’t just apply to gym clothes or shoes; I’m also a professional deal-finder at the grocery store! If you’re looking to eat healthy but think it’s too expensive, here are some ways to get the best bang for your buck at the supermarket.
Seriously, make A shopping list
First, make a list! I know it sounds like cliché advice, but it really does help. Think about what you want to have on hand during the week: Is it fruit and yogurt for breakfast? The fixings for salads or sandwiches for lunch? How about dinners- maybe you’re planning for Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday. If you go to the store with a list (and stick to it), you can shop the sales and make sure your fridge and pantry are stocked. If you don’t make a list, you may find yourself short a few ingredients, and have to go to the store more often during the week. When this happens, you could be paying higher prices at convenience or local stores, and will find more opportunities for impulse buys (Trader Joe’s pickle popcorn, anyone?).
So you may be thinking: what should I put on this list? I have some basics that I always get at the store. Here’s how I break it down, by department:
- Bagged salad greens can get pricey. Buy a big head (or a multi pack, if you’ll use it) of romaine lettuce or large bunches of kale or spinach by the pound.
- Apples are usually affordable and a great crunchy snack. Or, make an easy “baked” apple in the microwave with some cinnamon for a tasty dessert.
- Bananas are the most portable snack there is! If you buy too many to eat while they’re ripe, peel and cut them into thirds, put in a Ziploc bag and freeze for smoothies.
- Big bags of potatoes and onions, to the rescue! Always cheap, and super easy to prepare (so many options!).
- Baby carrots, celery, radishes, and cucumbers are full of fiber and water to keep you full, and low on the cost scale. Use as savory snacks with dip or hummus, or in your salads.
- Tofu is a very inexpensive and versatile protein, usually found in the refrigerated produce section. Check out an easy recipe below!
- Hummus, hummus, hummus. Just do it. You know you want it. An even thriftier idea is to make your own hummus with dried or canned chickpeas. A powerhouse of protein, fiber, healthy fat, and carbohydrates, hummus is an inexpensive staple in my house. I would make hummus its own food group if I could (#basic).
- Bulk yogurt of your choice. The bigger the container, the less it costs per ounce/cup/etc… In general, this is a rule I follow (unless you won’t use it- there’s nothing sadder to me than food waste!). Greek yogurt, Skyr, and Quark give you a bigger protein punch for your dollar. Use yogurt fo breakfast, as a snack, or in your smoothies for post-workout recovery.
- Eggs are another inexpensive protein that is easy to prepare. You can hard-boil a bunch for the week, scramble them, or make your own breakfast sandwiches for far fewer calories and fat than Wawa or McDonalds.
MEAT & SEAFOOD:
- Groceries stores usually send out weekly ads or circulars that include promotions and markdowns. Find out what meat and seafood products are on sale then plan your meals around the deals.
- Dry beans are probably the most nutritious food you can find for the money! They require a little bit of time, but are worth it. Go for a variety: kidney beans, garbanzos, lentils, etc.
- Along those lines, canned beans are a shortcut to that same nutrition powerhouse. I throw them in chili, salads, tacos, and on the side of my plate when I’m just too tired to think of anything else.
- Brown rice can serve as a base for so many meals: stir fry, taco/Mexican night, even homemade sushi! I like to cook a whole bunch at the beginning of the week to portion out for lunches.
- Oatmeal- another whole grain that’s easy to prepare and can actually be used in both sweet AND savory dishes. Try steel cut oats for a higher fiber and protein content, plus the added bonus of extended satiety (feeling fuller longer).
- Like fish but find that the seafood department is a little out of your budget? You can find canned tuna and salmon for less, and these work great for easy lunches.
- Air-popped popcorn is my favorite snack to recommend- it’s low calorie, and whole grain! You can find a whole jar or bag of popcorn kernels for just a couple bucks. Put 2-3 Tbsp kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, fold over the top a couple times, and microwave for 2-2 ½ minutes. Easy!
- Frozen veggies are incredible. You can get all kinds, even veggies that aren’t in season! Plus, they don’t go bad, so you don’t have to worry about wasting food. Make sure you look for the ones whose ingredients are veggies only (no sauces, “seasonings”, etc).
- Frozen fruit is the star of my smoothies. Again, you can’t always find good berries in the Northeast in the middle of the winter- but frozen fruit is always in season! This is another item you want to double check that there’s nothing added (like sugar, in this case).
- Frozen brown rice- yep, you heard me. I buy bags for $0.99, and they spread over at least 2-3 meals. A really convenient item if you don’t have time to prep your grains.
- Veggie burgers are another convenient food for a high-protein, satisfying meal. Look for ones that are made with whole grains, beans, soy, and/or veggies. You can serve them traditional burger-style on a bun, or even over a bed of rice with a side of those frozen vegetables!
Shopping list complete, now what?
Here are some other tips for saving a few bucks at the supermarket:
- Avoid shopping on an empty stomach. We’ve all been there. Not cute.
- Buy generic. If you’re not brand-loyal, you can really get some good deals on pantry staples like condiments, nut butters, nondairy milk, and more.
- Eat more vegetarian meals! Meatless Monday has become really popular, and including more plant-based meals in general can really slash your grocery bill in addition to providing more fiber, vitamins, and minerals in our diet (most of us can use a boost in our veggie intake!).
- Buy sale items. I always shop the sales and tend to pick up a few extra items if it’s a really good deal. This is probably the best trick to keeping under budget.
- Buy in bulk. Like I mentioned, the bigger the package, the less expensive the item tends to be per weight… but this isn’t always true! Make sure you look at the “unit price”- the price per pound/quart/ounce that is on the left hand side of that shelf sticker. You may never have paid attention to it before, but this is how you can find the best deal and compare brands/different size packing for price.
I’m going to sound like a mom for a second, but… use coupons. Whenever I go to the store, I end up coming out with about 4 of those coupons that are tailored to my shopping habits. If they usually end up at the bottom of your purse, start putting them aside next to your grocery list, so when you take that list to the store you grab the coupons too!
The bigger grocery store chains often double or triple them too- saving you even more money. I just paid $0.50 for a pack of sandwich thins because they were on sale for $2.00, and I had a $0.75 coupon that doubled to $1.50 off. You can’t beat that for 6 sandwiches worth of whole grains!
We all have our tips and tricks for grocery shopping. Some of us love it, some of us hate it. But if you start getting your grocery bills down while upping the healthy food that’s available in your home, you will start to feel proud, I promise!
Check out this recipe using a handful of inexpensive grocery items. It’s so good!
Tofu Lettuce Wraps:
- 2 teaspoons Olive Oil
- 1 package Firm Tofu, drained
- 1 1/2 Cups Frozen Corn Kernels
- 1/4 teaspoon Chili Powder (more To Taste)
- 1/4 cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
- Romaine Lettuce Hearts
- 1-2 Avocados, Sliced
- 1 teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar (optional but recommended!)
-Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Throw in the tofu, then break it up into very small pieces. Cook tofu for several minutes, until much of the liquid cooks off and tofu starts to turn golden.
-Put the corn in the pan with the tofu, cook until heated.
-Add chili powder and soy sauce, then cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. --Turn off heat and stir in balsamic if using.
-Spoon mixture into romaine hearts, then add sliced avocado. Enjoy!
Becca Scofield, MS, RDN, LDN is a supermarket and wellness Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in Philadelphia. You can usually find her on the Schuylkill River Trail training for her next marathon, or at a post-long run brunch with other City Fit Girls. Check out her Instagram @beccalee_rd to see what she’s eating next.