The typical strategies for stretching a dollar in the grocery store become all the more important during inflation, but a coupon doesn’t do you any good when there is nothing on the shelf to use it on.
Walking into the grocery store the past years has been akin to being in a war zone. Shelves and refrigerator cases with indents of where things used to be now empty or containing significantly marked up products that are limited in supply. Shoppers roam aimlessly in a shell shocked state mumbling concern over how they will cover the cost or do without. It is a situation I never thought I would experience in my adult life. The worry, concern and stress over how to feed your family making long shadows in the aisles of the grocery store.
Growing up poor I was used to doing without. We ate a lot of foods from our own backyard that we grew from seed, preserving and freezing what we could, saving seeds for next year. This was supplemented with what we could get from food banks, local food programs and charities. Meals were often creative concoctions using what we had. Sometimes it was good and sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes there wasn’t much at all and we learned not to be picky. I worked hard as an adult to not have that feeling again in my life. The feeling of not being able to get food, choose what I wanted to eat and not having enough. Walking in the grocery store since 2020 brought a lot of those memories back for me.
There has always been this concern about why healthier foods cost more than “regular” food. It is one of the health disparities for food access rampant in our world, not just the United States. The better quality food, even fruit and vegetables, always costing more than other things. It is why when you are struggling to cover the grocery bill, people often turn to foods that contain more harmful ingredients like extra sugars, preservatives and fillers. It is better than nothing at all, right? In some cases and for many families, yes. We do with what we have and get real about things quickly in those situations.
Aside from the typical strategies of shopping sales, using coupons and store savings cards, there are other ways a family can navigate these challenges. Preserving our health during times of high stress, of which inflation and shortages trigger, is important. This means ensuring we get as high of nutrition as possible to protect our immune system. Tips to help include:
Understand what your family likes and will eat and what is out. There’s no point making something that is going to be wasted when you’re trying to save money. This is a time to get creative but if there is something your family clearly doesn’t like then you could be just wasting money
Invest in a suitable freezer for your family. I chose an upright freezer that we keep in our garage. This style of freezer helps me keep things organized and clearly identifiable when I’m looking for something
Use freezer quality bags. Wrapping meats, breads and other items in their original packaging or with the label into a freezer bag helps them last longer
Use a black Sharpie to mark the contents of freezer meals and items in your freezer
Milk, butter and most cheeses can be frozen and thawed before use. This even works for special milks like oat milk and almond milk
Buy dry beans, rice, and foods that are not processed. These items are consistently low in price
Look for in season fruits and vegetables and consider using them in freezer meals or drying them for extended storage
Avoid foods that go bad quickly
Visit local farmers for eggs, produce and meats that are often fresher and lower in cost
Research local co-ops that deliver or offer a rotational pick up of meats and and produce
Setup an ingredient and product list that tracks your stores sales cycles, typically running every 6-8 weeks. This will help in building shopping lists and knowing what to stock up on when
Make freezer meals that use up pantry and freezer items to prevent items from going past the expiration and recommended storage times. This is a great way to ensure you’re not having extra condiments and canned goods going unused. Freezer bags are your friend in this activity
Use recipes that make things from scratch, not only healthier but often very economical compared to pre-made versions of the same dish
Soups, stews, casseroles and crockpot meals are very budget friendly and make more than one meal for most families. They can also be made healthy with extra veggies, lower salt and sugar and individualized for preferences
Look at frozen veggies compared to fresh. Frozen is often much less expensive and can be stocked up on
Avoid pre-packaged snacks, including gummies, fruit snacks, pre-made cracker snacks, chips, and other snacks of this type. Most can be made from scratch at pennies compared to the pre-made versions. Did you know you can make your own Pop-Tarts and fruit snacks? Seriously, it’s easy to spread peanut butter on club crackers too!
Breads, biscuits, corn breads and muffins and other bread items are easy to make and much more nutritious for you! These items can also be frozen as needed so make a bunch to keep on hand
Pre-make on the go items like breakfast sandwiches and lunch items that can be quickly tossed in the microwave. Using individual sandwich bags that are then put in larger gallon sized freezer bags keeps items longer and are quick and easy to grab, warm up and go
Have a leftover night or two each weeknight. In our home, Monday night is clean out the fridge night of all leftovers. That’s because our garbage day is Tuesday. We make it fun to create your own plate with the variety of things left over from the last few days
Skip the food delivery and take-out lines and eat leftovers for lunch. Hot soups and a PBJ sandwich are a simple yet budget friendly meal
Enjoy simple. Having soup and sandwiches for a meal, breakfast for dinner and lots of other simple meals is not only economical but it makes food appreciated
Skip the soda, juices, box drinks, sports drinks and other packaged drinks. Water is not only good for you but inexpensive. Add in flavors like fruits, veggies or essential oils for added benefits. To that end don’t buy bottled water either if you live in an area with good tap water
Cereals, I know is a big one for a lot of families. We used the need to cut our grocery bill to swap cereals to simple non-sugary ones. We also turned to oats to make granola, oatmeal and of course non-bake cookies.
Invest in cook baking and cookware. A non-toxic set of cookware is key when you are doing more cooking as it will keep your family healthier and help with preventing bad tasting foods
Skip the herbs, spices and salt laden flavorings. Instead invest in quality essential oils that are pennies compared to dried and fresh herbs and spices. They also add tremendous flavor that is rich and intense while providing increased health benefits
For produce that goes bad quickly, like bananas, consider making them into breads, cookies or dessert items. Making them into smaller items like muffins also allows for ease of use in lunchboxes and keeping some frozen if not needed right away
Visit local you pick farms for in season fruits and veggies that you can in turn freeze or prepare items then freeze while still enjoying fresh items now
Consider stocking up on staples like flour, sugar and items you use. Buying larger quantities of these and freezing until needed is easy
Keep an inventory of your pantry and freezer to know what meals you have ready to toss in a crockpot, what the family likes and what ingredients you are running low on
Make it a family activity to plan meals, do the shopping, cook and clean-up. This keeps everyone engaged in the process of saving money and helps everyone appreciate the food you are making and eating. Our son likes to look up recipes and offer suggestions for what we can make next
Dehydrate! This is a great way to use up fruits and veggies before they go bad if you didn't quite use them. Bananas, grapes, peppers and more are easily dehydrated and can be stored for longer shelf life. You can even create your own teas, fruit snacks, jerky and more through this handy kitchen tool.
Say a prayer before eating and eat as a family. This is powerful. It not only brings your family together but it really and truly gives you strength in times of challenge
While not always time savers, the cost differences are significant. It also creates space to be with your loved ones when things get challenging. Instead of turning inward to struggle alone in the worry, we open up to our family and find ways to move through it together. Too often we try to protect them from it but it is in these moments it can also be impactful to our relationships and confidence we will survive hard times.
What I have found is the ability to stand strong in these times by following these tips in our family’s home. Drawing on my childhood of hard times has shown me I was always strong enough, but as an adult I can also keep it healthy for my own family. Most importantly is realizing our health is based on a whole person of mind-body-spirit. Nourishing our body with what we have and doing our best physically also requires we take care of our need for love, connection and belonging. These elements of health are crucial when times get tough and often make the difference on how well we navigate those challenges and emerge from them.
For more on living naturally well and within your family budget, follow me on social media @dragonspitapothecary (Instagram & Facebook)