If you’ve ever been surprised by how much a healthier diet costs, you’re not the only one. A meta-analysis of 27 studies found that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts costs about $1.50 more per day than a less healthy diet with refined grains and processed meats. For a family of four, that could mean an extra $2000 a year on groceries.
The annual cost of cardiometabolic diseases in the United States is almost $301 per person annually.
You don’t have to spend less money to have a healthy diet. You just need to be careful about what you buy and how you plan your meals.
We asked registered dietitians for their best tips on how to reduce grocery costs without compromising on nutrition.
- Reach for the store brand whenever possible
Alexia Lewis, MS, RDN, agrees, explaining that store brands often have more lenient quality-control standards. Although it may feel like you need to buy from well-known, trusted brands to eat more healthfully, that is not always the case. “The store brand is often made by the same manufacturer as the name brand competitors but at a lower price,” says Melissa Groves Azzaro, RDN, the founder of The Hormone Dietitian in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Alexia Lewis, MS, RDN, agrees, saying that store brands might have more lenient quality-control standards.
According to Groves, you can save a few cents to a few dollars by buying store brands instead of name brands. This advice applies to pantry staples like brown rice and whole-grain crackers, as well as dairy products and hummus.
- Look out for sales on pantry staples you know you’ll always need
Grocery stores have weekly sales and promotions on various items that you can take advantage of to save money on your grocery bill. The best way to find these sales and special offers is to look at the weekly store circular before you go shopping.
Stephanie Lee, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from Rockford, Illnois, says that you should plan your menu and grocery list around what is on sale that week. This information can be found in the store’s advertisement in the local paper, on the store’s website, or on the store’s app. She also recommends buying extra of items like meats, veggies, and fruits to freeze for later use.
- Shop the bulk bins if your grocery store has them
This text is discussing the benefits of bulk bins, which are containers typically filled with dry foods like grains, rice, beans, and nuts, as well as seasonings and spices. The advantage of these bins is that you can purchase only the amount you need and thus save money and reduce waste.
Noelle DeSantis, RDN of Buffalo Nutrition & Dietetics in Buffalo, New York, statest hat buying from the bulk bin is a cheaper and fresher option. When you buy in bulk, you eliminate the chance of winding up with a cupboard full of spices that will only be used a few times.
- Learn the sales cycles
If you want to start predicting sales, pay attention to when your favorite items go on sale and how much the price drops. Write it down in a small notebook or on your smartphone, and see if there’s a trend.
- Redefine dinner
An evening meal does not need to be an extravagant affair to be satisfying. If the thought of preparing a complicated meal stresses you out, aim for simpler fare a few nights per week. A meal of sandwiches, beans, eggs, or salad will suffice and your family will not go hungry.
You don’t have to be scared of making uncomplicated dishes or serving breakfast foods for dinner to get more out of your groceries. It can actually be fun for kids to have breakfast foods for dinner – so take advantage of that. Eggs are inexpensive, and you can make a lot of different things with them like frittatas and quiches if you’re feeling fancy. Or you could just keep it simple and have some egg salad sandwiches.
If you want to save money and time, think about changing the last meal of the day. You won’t have to feel guilty, and you’ll have more free time.
- Crunch some numbers while you shop
If you want to avoid any surprises at the checkout counter, keep a running tally of how much money is in your cart. You can use the calculator on your phone to keep track of all the items you’re putting in your cart. This might make you stop and ask yourself if you really need something that isn’t on sale.
- Round up your grocery cost estimates
This is a great way to save money on groceries. While you are shopping, use your calculator to round up the cost of each item. For example, if an item costs $1.49, round it up to $2.00. This way, you will know how much you are spending, but you will be surprised when you get to the checkout counter and find out that you have saved money.
- Raid your pantry.
If you want to save money on groceries, see what meals you can make with the ingredients you already have at home. Check your pantry and fridge for items like chicken, beans, and salsa to make a meal without having to buy more groceries.
- Think before you buy in bulk
Buying large quantities of an item can be great financially, but only if the store’s bulk price is actually cheaper than the item’s regular price. When trying to stick to a budget, it’s important to compare the price of an item per unit or ounce to get the best deal.
While it may be tempting to buy in bulk, it is important not to purchase more than you need – especially for items that have a short shelf life. For example, buying a large box of cereal is a wise choice for a family of four, but if you are single, it probably doesn’t make sense to buy a 40-pack of yogurt.
- Know when to shop
The best time to get a good deal at the grocery store is during the middle of the week, on Wednesdays. This is because the store is restocking its shelves and marking down items that didn’t sell from the previous week. However, because the store is also in the process of changing the discounts, sometimes you can still get the price cuts from last week’s sale. If you can’t go on a Wednesday, try to avoid the weekends, when there are bigger crowds and fewer deals.
If you want to get the best bargains, you should either shop early in the day or right before the store closes.
- Start freezing and storing meals now
If you’re looking for ways to save money on food, one option is to make freezer meals. This involves making a bunch of meals at once and then freezing them to eat at a later date. This can save you both money and time, and you won’t have to worry about your food going bad.
- Pay with cash
We’ve all heard it a million times, but it’s true- cash is king. The best way to stay within your budget is to only bring the amount of cash you’re willing to spend. That way, when the cash runs out, you know you’re done spending.
Additionally, it will assist you in ranking the healthier options like meat and vegetables over sugary snacks like cookies and ice cream. While it’s okay to have the occasional treat, you have to be mindful of them and plan for them accordingly.
If you are eating well at the beginning of the month and barely getting by at the end, try taking out cash for groceries every week instead of once a month. This will help you see how much you can afford to spend on groceries each time you go.
- Make a plan and stick to the list
Making a meal plan and grocery list before leaving the house is one of the easiest ways to save money on groceries. When you get to the store, only buy the items on your list. Don’t allow yourself to buy any extras. If you go grocery shopping with your family, let your kids help plan the meals and find the items in the store (it will be like a scavenger hunt!). It is easier to stay on budget when you have a plan and are working as a team . . . and when you get used to saying no to candy.
- Order curbside pickup
Some people find it difficult to resist temptation and may give in to cravings. If this is the case, it may be helpful to order groceries online for curbside pickup. This eliminates the need to go into the store and be around tempting food items.
Shopping online makes it easy to compare prices for different brands, see what items are on sale, and keep track of the total amount without having to use a calculator! You won’t have to worry about getting to the register and finding out that the family-size box of cereal isn’t on sale after all, or buying rolled oats just in case you’ve run out at home (you can check your pantry to see for yourself—it’s amazing).
Another benefit of grocery pickup is that you save a lot of time by not having to go to the store at all. This is a great budget hack if you don’t mind letting someone else do the shopping for you. Some grocery stores offer their own curbside pickup services for free, while others charge a small fee. Just make sure you include any extra expenses into your budget.
- Shop in season
Buying fruits and veggies that are in season is the best way to save money while grocery shopping.
- Ignore eye-level items
Do you ever notice that the most expensive items at the grocery store are at eye level? That’s not a coincidence. Grocery stores are smart and they want you to see those items so you’ll spend more money.
Instead of letting marketing tricks influence your decisions, do your own research before you shop. The more affordable brands are usually either higher or lower on the shelves. Try to think of it as a treasure hunt to find the best price.
- Try different grocery stores
Why do you currently shop at the grocery store you do? Is it the friendliest? Is it the closest to your home or along your commute? If we’re being honest, most of us probably shop where we do just out of habit.
Breaking up is hard, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you’re finding that you’re constantly overpaying for produce at your current grocery store, it might be time to switch to a new one.
Some of the most affordable grocery stores in the U.S. are Aldi, Market Basket, WinCo Foods, Food 4 Less, Costco, Walmart and Trader Joe’s. Of course, prices may vary depending on your location, so it’s always a good idea to compare prices before you commit to one store.
If you want to save money on food, check the weekly ads at competing grocery stores to see what’s on sale. You may find that it’s cheaper to shop at the store down the street.
- Test out your green thumb
You can save money and eat healthy by growing your own tomatoes, bell peppers, and cauliflower in your garden. This is a great way to eat healthy on a budget. You can just go out and grab them from your garden, Little House on the Prairie style.
Indoor garden kits are available for those without a yard garden. Start with small plants like herbs in a kitchen windowsill. If there is an excess of harvest, puree and freeze in ice cube trays.