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4 Guidelines for Cooking on a Budget

4 Guidelines for Cooking on a Budget

Written By: Cassandra Aviles on November 19, 2013

Updated October 2020. 

Are you grocery shopping on a budget? Sometimes, it can feel like healthy food costs a lot of money. Here are some guidelines on how to stretch your food dollars:

Take stock of what you have

  • Create a budget for how much money you have to spend on food.
  • Make a shopping list based on the money you have to spend.
  • Buy only the amounts of fresh foods you can use before it spoils, or buy frozen produce. 
  • Consider frozen or shelf-stable items that last longer.

Meal plan with your ingredients

  • After taking a personal inventory of what you have at home, ask yourself the following questions:
    • What meals and recipes can I make using the foods I have?
    • Can I mix foods together to make a tasty and nutritious meal?
    • Which foods does my family need for good health?
  • Plan what recipes you will make using your list of foods.

Before, during, and after shopping

  • Before shopping:
    • Make a list of what you need and stick to it!
    • Plan your meals so you can put leftovers to good use.
    • Look for coupons, sales, and store specials.
    • For added savings, sign up for the store discount card.
  • During shopping:
    • Try to avoid grocery shopping when you're hungry. It makes it more difficult to stick to your list.
    • Try store brands. They usually cost less and aren't different.
    • Compare products for the best deal or check online to see if you can get it cheaper. 
    • Check sell-by dates. Buy the freshest food possible so it will last longer.
  • After shopping:
    • Store food right away to preserve freshness.
    • Freeze food to prevent spoiling.
    • Divide foods into small portions for children and the elderly to prevent waste.
    • Use foods with the earliest expiration dates first.

Best nutrition bang for your buck:

  • Bread and grains:
    • Look for bargains on day-old whole-grain bread. It costs less but is still nutritious.
    • Buy regular rice, oatmeal, and grits instead of instant to save on money, sugar, and calories.
  • Vegetables and salad:
    • Buy large bags of frozen vegetables. Seal tightly in the freezer between uses.
    • Avoid pre-bagged salad mixes. They are usually more expensive and spoil faster.
  • Fruits:
    • Frozen and canned fruits are a smart choice all year round.
    • Buy fresh fruits in season when they generally cost less.
  • Low-fat milk products:
    • Buy fresh, low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese in the largest size that can be used before spoiling. Larger containers cost less than smaller ones.
    • Ultra-pasteurized milk has a longer expiration date and won’t spoil as fast.
  • Meats and beans:
    • Dried beans and peas are a good source of protein and fiber. They last a long time without spoiling and have less sodium than canned.
    • Chuck or bottom round roast has less fat and is cheaper than sirloin.
    • Look for specials at the meat counter. Buy meat on sale for big savings.
    • Buy meat in large bulk packages to save money. Freeze portions you might not use right away to prevent spoiling.