New budgeters are often shocked by how much of their hard-earned cash they’re spending on grocery shopping in a single month. Even after making initial cuts to the food budget, it can be hard to really scale back the amount you’re spending on every grocery trip—not to mention the challenge of juggling food expenses, meal prepping, and making sure you’re not letting the food go to waste.
According to Consumer Reports, a typical American family wastes about $1,500 worth of food each year.(1) Yikes! We want you to be able to cook at home and know what to cook so you’re not wasting any groceries. To help, we asked three top Nashville chefs to share some budget-friendly tips on eating great for less.
Here are 20 smart ways you can trim the fat from your food budget:
Chef Karl Worley, Biscuit Love—Nashville, TN
Chef Karl hails from the southern Appalachian Mountains, and it was there he learned cooking expertise from his grandfather. His interest in crafting memorable dishes led him to get his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University. Over his career, Karl has kept southern influences and farm-to-table techniques in his dishes. This laid the ground work for his breakfast and lunch joint Biscuit Love (the third Nashville area location opens later this fall in Historic Downtown Franklin).
1. Breakfast for Dinner
Cooking breakfast food for dinner is a great way to make your groceries stretch. Karl points out breakfast is typically an inexpensive meal to prepare. "The meats are relatively rich and you need very little of them," he says. Eggs are inexpensive and you can whip them up into many different dishes like omelets, frittatas and quiches.
2. Stay on the Outside Perimeter of the Store
The inside aisles of the grocery store are mostly made up of processed food that can derail your budget. Instead, shop the outer edges of the store for fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and beans. Look for nutrient-dense items and fresh, seasonal food.
3. Shop the Farmers Market at the End of the Day
By the end of the day, most farmers don’t want to take their food home with them. It’s to their advantage to part with the items, even if it means they barely break even. Walk around your local farmers market toward closing time and see what kind of deals you can score. Make a reasonable offer for the box of produce they have left. Chances are, you’ll get a great deal on delicious, fresh veggies!
4. Buy Grains in Bulk
One of the best things to stock up on is dry grains. They are versatile for all sorts of recipes. Mix it up and purchase a variety like quinoa, barley, rice, and even grits. These ingredients can really help fill out a dish.
5. Add on Grains to Make a Dish Stretch
And since you’ve bulked up on the grains, mix them into your dishes to make your leftovers stretch. Take that leftover chicken fillet and add some rice to it, and you’ve got yourself a healthy, quick casserole dish. Plan to serve leftovers over grains or salad to help make them stretch throughout the week.
6. Buy a Vacuum Sealer
You can save yourself time and effort this way. Plan a day where you make big batches of sauces like curry, tomato, cheese, etc. Vacuum seal it and freeze it for when you want all the comfort of a flavorful sauce with minimal effort. All you need is some simmering water or a slow cooker to revive the sauce. Bon appétit!
7. Have a Good Cookbook on Hand
Sure, finding a recipe on the internet is handy, but when it comes to really learning how to prepare a specific item, it’s worth it to have a cookbook. Be on the lookout for a cookbook that teaches you how to prepare specific vegetables or budget-friendly grains. Learn how to expertly prepare those items you use most often in your meal prep.
Chef Andrew Little, Josephine—Nashville, TN
As a waiter in college, Chef Andrew was fascinated by life in the kitchen as the chefs prepared meals for the diners. He began his venture into the kitchen and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. At Josephine, Andrew creates American farmhouse cuisine for his patrons. It’s no surprise Josephine was named the best restaurant in Nashville in 2016.(2)
8. Waste Not
Don’t throw anything away. Take a whole chicken, for example: You can roast the chicken whole and cut it up for one meal. Save the leftover meat and make a chicken salad for another meal. Then simmer the remaining portions in water for two to three hours to make a broth. With a single chicken, you've created (or at least started) three meals!
9. Buy Seasonally
Another tip is to buy vegetables while they’re in season. They’re at peak flavor and a better price since the market is flooded with that particular item.
10. Preserve Everything
This plays off the previous tip, but can be crucial to the bottom line of your grocery budget. When ingredients are overflowing at the farmers market, buy in bulk and preserve them for the winter. Yes, it may seem like you’re spending more during the summer buying so much and getting canning jars. But think of each one of those jars of tomato sauce or pickles as an investment. You can buy a box of pasta for a couple of bucks and pull a container of your homemade "summer in a jar" tomato sauce off the shelf in the winter. Not only have you created an affordable dinner, but also think how gratifying it will be to eat sauce you made!
Chef Max Knoepfel, Music City Center—Nashville, TN
Chef Max’s impressive résumé includes working at the Pentagon and Washington, D.C. convention center, and a culinary diploma earned in Geneva, Switzerland. He’s called the Music City Center kitchen home for nearly five years. This is where he oversees a staff capable of preparing more than 20,000 meals a day.
11. Plan, Plan, Plan
Before you shop for groceries, make a list, compare store prices, and look for deals. And never go grocery shopping while hungry! You’ll end up buying way more than you need.
12. Grow Herbs
A store-bought pack of rosemary, mint or chives can get pricey. So even if you don’t have a ton of space to garden, it’s worth it to plant a few fresh herbs indoors or on your patio to save money. And if you can’t use your harvest right away, puree and place it into ice cube trays to freeze.
13. Skip the Packaging
A pre-packaged bag of lettuce with a dressing packet and fixings will cost double what a head of lettuce with some simple, homemade dressing would. Go for the unpackaged fruits and veggies whenever you can. They’re cheaper and usually healthier.
14. Look Below
Big brands ensure their stuff is stocked at eye level so you’ll see it. Train your eyes to look at the bottom shelves for similar items at cheaper prices. When you’re comparing, look at labels and ingredients to make sure the quality is the same.
15. Don’t Overbuy
Before you buy something, ask yourself how long it will be sitting in your pantry. Discount clubs don’t always have the best prices, especially if you aren’t going to use half of what you buy! Be sure it’s something you buy frequently, and that it’s a deal based on price per ounce.
16. Use What You Buy
Save money by purchasing only what you’ll use and freezing any extras for another week’s meal plan—just don’t forget about it under all the ice cream and frozen peas! Make sure you label all frozen meals so you know what’s in them and when they were frozen.
17. Store Food Properly
Wrap your lettuce in a damp paper towel to keep it crisp. Seal leftovers well before you freeze them. Don’t wash fruit until you’re ready to eat it. And put ripe avocados in the fridge so they don’t spoil. When you store food properly, you can seriously stretch its shelf life.
18. Cook Simply
Consider eating less expensive dinners once (or twice) a week, like a rice and bean casserole or a simple one-pot stew. Make enough to eat on for a couple days (and maybe change up the side dishes) to make meal planning easier on yourself.
19. Go for Cheaper Cuts of Meat
Meat can get expensive. Buy a cheaper cut like pork chops, shoulder roast or chicken. They’ll be a third of the price of steaks, and can taste just as delicious with the right seasoning.
20. Try New Recipes
Look at all those lingering bags of beans, rice and canned artichokes you have in your pantry. Then search the web for recipes that incorporate them into a single dish. You’ll enjoy something new and save money.
Try implementing some of these tips the next time you shop for groceries. You might just be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is to stick to your grocery shopping budget. If you need to adjust next month, that’s fine. It will likely take a bit of trial and error to find out what works best for you. As long as you’re saving money, you’re doing great!
For more ways to save money on groceries, check out our brand-newComplete Guide to Grocery Savings from our EveryDollar budgeting app! It’s FREE and could save you hundreds of dollars a year on your food budget!