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20 Strategies for Cutting Food Costs During the Crazy Days of Inflation

Plus a Delicious Recipe that Serves 6 for $2.36 Per Person

It is all over the news—the cost of gas and food are going through the roof. Are you struggling with increasing prices at the supermarket?

My friends with teen-age sons claim their grocery budgets have doubled since last year. The price of beef is up 16 percent; milk and chicken are up more than 13 percent; and the cost of fresh seafood is up 12 percent. Even the price of items once considered a low-cost source of protein like dried beans and lentils are up more than 10 percent. The good news is the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has only risen 6 percent.

When I was a little girl, my mother, who grew up during the Great Depression, often said, “Waste not. Want not.” These words resonate with today’s inflating food costs. Following are some strategies to help reduce our food budget. Some are no-brainers. Changing our shopping and cooking habits, however, may be difficult for some of us. They are in my house. We are chipping away at these suggestions one or two at a time, so we are not overwhelmed.

Pay attention to prices. This is particularly hard for me as I am a brand-name shopper and always want to purchase the best quality products. Now, I am looking at prices and comparing prices not only between brands but between stores. Plan meals in advance and make a shopping list of what is needed. Planning meals in advance, making a list of what is required for each recipe and meal, and shopping from the list helps us resist those impulse items that we do not need but are tempted to put into our cart. My husband struggles with this, always coming home from the store with something he couldn’t resist that is not on the “list”. If this is also hard for you, consider limiting your splurge items to one or two each shopping trip.

Keep the pantry organized. Keeping our pantry organized helps prevent canned and package goods from expiring. I check expiration dates and rotate newer items to the back, using older dated items first. Before I head to the grocery store, I check my shopping list. If chicken broth is on the list, I make sure a can of chicken broth isn’t hidden away somewhere in my pantry. I keep my refrigerator tidy. I take a regular inventory of the fresh, perishable foods in my refrigerator and attempt to use them before they pass their prime. Don’t throw out leftovers. Find inventive ways to use leftovers. When I have left over mashed potatoes, I love making potato pancakes and serving them with fried eggs for breakfast. Topping a baked potato with leftover chili creates a whole new meal. Soft strawberries can go into your morning smoothie, and ripe bananas are perfect for banana bread. As my mother said, “Waste not. Want not.” Get creative with what you have. My husband loves scoping out what’s in the fridge and creating a unique, delicious breakfast from what he can throw together. Don’t get too tied to following recipes. Eat what you have and enjoy experimenting.

Shop the ads. Most supermarkets come out with their weekly ads on Wednesdays. Many of them post their ads several days in advance. I suggest reading the ads and planning your meals around what is on sale. If something you use frequently is on special, stock up if you have the extra cash. I noticed this week that King Soopers has Red Bird® boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale. This is my favorite brand of chicken, so I plan to purchase several packages and freeze them.

Buy the store brands as they are normally cheaper. I grew up in the grocery business. My father would often bring home different brands of the same product, like corn. He laid out samples of each brand, and we evaluated the differences. We always had a favorite brand. If you are a brand-name shopper, like I am, it can be painful to substitute. I personally struggle with giving up my favorite brands. My husband, on the other hand, always buys what is cheapest.

Avoid pre-cut fruits and veggies in the Produce Department. In the past, I often purchased pre-cut fruits and veggies as a time saver. Pre-cut apple slices can cost three times more than apples you slice yourself. In checking prices at King Soopers today, I found loose broccoli cost $1.49 a pound, where pre-package broccoli florets cost $4.99 for 32 ounces, or almost 50 cents more per pound. To save money, avoid pre-cut, pre-washed produce.

Save money the old-fashioned way—use coupons, both paper and digital. When I first started working in my father’s grocery store, shoppers would come in with stacks of coupons. Checkers had to pair each coupon with an item in the cart. I must admit I hated dealing with coupons. Today, however, most coupons are digital. Check your supermarket’s website for digital coupons. These days using coupons is super simple.

Buy in bulk. Consider a Cosco or Sam’s membership for items you consume on large scale. For example, if your children love Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, Cosco sells a 48-count (1.2-ounce) package for $17.49 or 36 cents per bar. Sam’s sells a 36-count package for $11.28 or 31 cents per bar. King Soopers sells a 12-count (1.2-ounce) package for $5.49 or 45 cents per bar. You save buying this item in bulk.

Check unit prices. Sometimes we are fooled into thinking larger package sizes are cheaper per ounce, but that’s not always the case. Looking at unit prices will help find the real deals on the shelf.

Buy from local farmers and producers. Seek out farmers and producers that sell at your local farmers’ markets. Their costs may be lower due to lack of transportation costs and middlemen. Find a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group to join.

Cook with seasonal produce. Learn what produce is in season and cook seasonally. Produce that is in season is cheaper.

Don’t avoid the freezer aisle. I have always been a cook that prefers to put fresh food on my table; however, produce destined for the freezer section of the supermarket is ripened until it reaches its peak and then flash frozen. Frozen produce is cheaper than fresh but will also last longer.

Learn to properly freeze expensive foods like meat, cheese, and nuts. With proper freezing you can buy these foods in bulk, freeze them in small portions, and not worry about waste.

When you buy fresh, select the best. My father taught me my most important lesson about cooking, “Garbage in. Garbage out.” I am a real stickler on selecting only the freshest perishables. My cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market, and my upcoming book, Grocery Shopping Secrets, include grocery-insider wisdom on selecting the very best. The fresher the food you take home from the supermarket, the longer it will last.

Use products beyond the sell-by date. Don’t throw food out just because it has passed its “Sell-By” date. Supermarkets remove product from their shelves it if has passed the “Sell-By” date; however, these foods are safe to consume after that date. Eggs are good for three to five weeks after the “Sell-By” date; ground beef and poultry are good for 1 to 2 days; and beef is good for 3 to 5 days. If you have questions, you can find more information online about how long products are consumable after their “Sell-By” dates.

Cut back on meat, poultry, and seafood. Meat, poultry, dairy, and seafood are the foods most negatively impacted by inflation, and the price of fresh fruits and vegetables has only risen 6 percent. We can cut back on our consumption of these foods and eat vegetarian meals a couple of days a week. This will, no doubt, make our doctor happy as well.

Plant a garden. If you have the room in your yard to plant a vegetable garden, you will save money growing your own food. Even growing a few high-priced plants, like tomatoes, in containers near a sunny window can help reduce your grocery bill.

Learn to can and preserve food. Our grandparents canned and preserved what they grew. I remember with fondness my Grandmother Steele’s basement shelves stocked with food she had lovingly preserved. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can purchase items, like peaches and pickling cucumbers, in bulk from farmers’ markets and preserve them for future consumption.

Boursin Cheese, Cherry Tomatoes, and Spinach over Pasta Serves 6 My daughter, Alisa, found a version of this recipe on Pinterest. I added garlic for some pop and spinach for some greens.

My husband has purchased Boursin cheese at Cosco for $9 for a three pack; however, it is currently not in stock. It is also not in stock at Sam’s. Wal-Mart sells a package of Boursin for $5.26. I paid $1.79 for the pasta and $4.99 for the cherry tomatoes at Kings. Since I used only one-quarter of my red onion, I calculated that cost at 35 cents. I used two cups of fresh spinach at a cost of $1.75. Total cost of this recipe is $14.14 or $2.36 per serving.

1 container (16.5-ounces) cherry tomatoes ¼ red onion, sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch slices 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon minced garlic Crushed red pepper flakes to taste 1 package (5.2-ounces) Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs Gournay Cheese

1 package (16-ounces) farfalle pasta, or pasta of your choice 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves Salt to taste Large grind black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a baking dish, place tomatoes and sliced onion. Drizzle with olive oil, add minced garlic, and season to taste with crushed red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.

Place Boursin cheese in the middle of the baking dish. Bake tomatoes and cheese for 25 minutes at 400 degrees F, or until tomatoes are wilted. When done, stir tomatoes, onions, and cheese until well combined.

While the cheese is baking, cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Place spinach in a large bowl. Drain pasta into a colander and shake colander to remove excess water. Pour warm, drained pasta onto spinach and stir to wilt spinach. Add pasta and spinach to the tomato/cheese mixture and stir until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carol Ann

Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at and explore her website,

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