Eat well for less

Seven easy ways to stretch your grocery budget

You don’t have to be a coupon clipper to save a few bucks at the grocery store. Cutting costs may be easier than you think with these simple tips.

Looks can be deceiving – especially in the grocery store! While fancy packaging is appealing, it doesn’t make the food taste any better – and you can end up paying more. Bypass irregularly shaped bottles or jars, cumbersome frozen food boxes or oversized plastic containers that don’t really hold that much.

When shopping for condiments, stick to the old-fashioned jars and bottles. Those funky squeeze bottles may hold more product, but there’s also a lot more waste – it’s nearly impossible to squeeze the end bit out.

Pre-sliced and grated cheeses are other bill builders. Once cheese is sliced or grated, I find it quickly loses flavour. And it costs more than a block I could grate myself! Why pay more for something that doesn’t even taste as good?

And, of course, for non-perishable goods, it generally pays to buy in bulk.

Shake out that last bit of ketchup to make our Stir-fried beef with tomatoes.

Check out the house brand instead of reaching for big name products. Most generic brands are similar to the name brand, but without the fancy packaging. Don’t automatically shell out for the sake of a name. (Except for ice cream and chocolate – for these, in my opinion, there’s nothing like premium brands!) Good house-brand buys: pasta, frozen juices, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables, pet food and other canned goods such as tuna or salmon.

Pick up a bag of house-brand pasta and make our Mediterranean shrimp toss – you’ll never notice the difference!

Try DIY butchery. You don’t have to go whole hog and buy an entire animal – just pick up a larger amount than you normally would and cut it into portions at home. For example, if you like pork chops, buy the whole loin. Slice as many chops as you need for dinner (thick or thin – you choose!), then tuck the rest in the freezer for a weekend roast down the line. The same goes for beef strip loin. The big cuts often go on sale while precut steaks rarely do. If you like steak, buy a large piece of strip loin when it’s on sale, cut it yourself (you’ll need a good knife!), then enjoy a tender roast dinner another night. Your original payout will be higher, but you’ll end up saving in the long run and feeling like you got an added bonus without doing extra shopping!

Slice your own chops, then sizzle up Ten-minute Mexican pork chops.

Cheap isn’t always the smartest buy, especially at the meat counter. When comparing the cost of meat, look at the cost per serving, not the cost per pound. The price tags on less expensive cuts are appealing, but the meat usually needs lots of doctoring – which in kitchen terms means it’ll be time-consuming to cook. Plus, you buy a lot of waste with bones and pockets or layers of fat that you’ll just end up removing. Forking out for boneless lean meat may eventually be less expensive – and certainly easier to cook – than a cheaper cut with lots of unusable parts.

There’s nothing harder on your wallet than buying fresh produce that’s not in season. I’ve paid $12 for a bundle of asparagus in the winter, but I can buy it for less than half that in the spring. Raspberries are highway robbery right now at $4 for a measly half pint! You can fill up on carrots for 60 cents per pound or buy a three-pound bag of apples for less than $3.

What’s in season now? Stock up on apples, cabbage, carrots and parsnips.

Save some coins and fill a mug with our Carrot-and-pear soup.

That’s just plain common sense! And it’s easy to do if you have extra room in the freezer for perishable goods, or lots of cupboard space for tins and packages. This may be easier for large families – if you’re a small household, consider doing a shop ‘n’ share with friends or neighbours. But don’t go overboard! Remember to buy things you’ll actually use – a good deal is only worthwhile if it’s something you like. And make sure your sale finds are top-notch quality. Those last-chance bundles of fruit and vegetables on the bargain cart in the grocery store may cost less, but they’re often on their last legs and must be used immediately. Be sure the bargain’s worth your time and money.

The meat counter has good deals from time to time. But if you’ve hit a day when nothing is on sale, your best bet is to buy chicken or turkey. Both are less expensive than most other cuts and, without skin, are usually lower in saturated fats and cholesterol, too. Uncooked chicken or turkey will freeze well for up to six months. Wrap pieces with plastic wrap, then seal with a layer of foil and place in a freezer bag so the meat will stay as fresh as possible. If you cook in small batches, wrap the pieces individually for easier handling.

Chicken legs and thighs are less expensive than breast meat so stock up and try our Fiery plum-glazed chicken.

Sure, they’re time-savers, but fast food drains your wallet. Be discerning when shelling out for convenience. Frozen pizza? Skip it! A frozen pizza can cost between $7 and $10, while a store-bought pizza base topped with odds and ends from the fridge will cost less than $5. Buy the base and top it with a pile of veggies and leftover chicken, if you have any. Making salad? Wash and prepare your own head of lettuce instead of buying bags of ready-to-go. Same goes for pre-cut veggies and fruit bowls – they taste much fresher when bought whole and this type of leftover is always welcome! However, if you’re the kind of shopper who fills the fridge but doesn’t have time to prep your produce, you’ll be better off in the long run to go for the convenience of pre-cut.

Regular enriched rice and other uncooked grains often cost less than the instant or flavoured and pre-cooked ones. Plus, did you know that hot cereals, including oatmeal, Red River and Cream of Wheat, cost less per serving than ready-to-eat cereals?

Saucy pizza pie uses cost-saving ground beef and store-bought pizza dough. Saving never tasted so good!

Note: Prices in supermarkets across Canada may vary.