By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
How to eat healthy on a budget? If you want to save supermarket dollars and stop food waste, use these tips. You'll get food waste prevention tips while you save on foods!
One of the most common complaints I hear about healthy eating is that it's too expensive. But that's not necessarily true.
You can save supermarket dollars by shopping smartly and throwing away food less often. Practice food waste prevention tips that also help you save groceries! With these tips, you'll quickly learn how to save money every month, even on foods like olive oil!
Perhaps an unpopular opinion: I love grocery shopping. Whether it be Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, or a mom-and-pop shop, I can spend hours wandering around supermarkets, looking at niche, brand new food products and ingredients, perusing the exotic produce section, and brainstorming all the fun meals I can make with my findings.
I recently found out something interesting: The average American family spends $151 per week on groceries, reports a Gallup poll. That number isn’t low at all—and like most of us, I’m always looking to save supermarket dollars.
Plus, in a study published in PLOS One, 29% of Americans said wasting at least some household food is unavoidable.
However, many participants said they'd like to cut back on this waste—for reasons including less guilt, increased efficiency, money savings, setting a good example for children, and environmental benefits.
To help you save supermarket dollars and help with reduced food waste, I rounded up a whole bunch of tips on how to save on groceries and practice food waste prevention. Ready to help there be less wasted food in the world? Let's get going!
Dietitian Tips to Supermarket Dollars Every Week
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic is making grocery shopping completely overwhelming. The grocery aisles (even the virtual ones!) are wiped clear of staples like bread, frozen veggies, and pasta.
And for people who have sadly lost their jobs, some foods are simply too expensive to bring to the table.
That's why I'm talking all about how to get the most bang for your buck at the supermarket. By the way, all these tips to save on foods will still be helpful when our everyday lives go back to a degree of normalcy...which will hopefully be sooner rather than later!
Stocking your cart with nutritious whole foods doesn't need to break the bank. In fact, one of the most common questions I get is about saving grocery dollars. I opt for affordable vegetarian proteins like beans and eggs to slash a few extra dollars off my grocery bill.
You, too, can maximize nutrition while spending less on groceries! I asked my registered dietitian nutritionist colleagues for their top tips for trimming down their supermarket bills, too. Get ready to make some edits to your shopping list!
Stock Your Fridge
“Having food at home can save so much money. When people are prepared to make their own meals, it eliminates last-minute grabbing of takeout on the way home from work, as well as lunches out and breakfasts on the way to the office.”
–Abby Langer, RD, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition
Shop Like a European
“Go shopping more than once a week. Living in Europe has made me realize how much money I lose by shopping just once a week—the size of the refrigerators in Europe are small, so people shop every day or every other day. You waste less food, and that saves you money.”
–Betsy Ramirez, MEd, RD, owner of Betsy's Kitchen
Make Your Own Stock
“Use scraps like carrot and other peels, tops of celery, and more to make vegetable stock. Your stock will be loaded with potassium and comes without the high sodium and cost of storebought stock.” Then you can use the stock in your meal plans.
Buy Just the Spices You Need
Here's one case it doesn't make sense to buy in bulk. “Rather than buying an entire container of a spice, I get just the small amount I require for the recipe. It's much cheaper to buy just the amount you need, and I know I won't be letting any go to waste—unlike if I were to purchase a full container!”
–Angie Asche MS, RD, owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition
Choose Lean Proteins
“The fat that you trim or drain off fattier cuts of meat are dollars that are going in the trash. By choosing leaner cuts of meat, you benefit from every ounce of meat that you purchase.”
–Bethany Frazier, MS, RD, blogger at Kansas City Dietitian
Try Out Meatless Monday
“Many of my clients save money grocery shopping by incorporating Meatless Monday into their diet. Protein sources such as beans, eggs, or quinoa can be used in various dishes and are often ingredients already in the pantry or fridge. Try substituting the meat in a recipe with a meatless option such as lentils.”
–Kristen Smith, MS, RDN, founder of 360 Family Nutrition
Nutritionist Tips to Stop Food Waste
Shopping for fresh fruits and veggies helps me stay prepared for healthy eating. But as much as I love having supplies at the ready for a salad or a stir-fry, I often forget about what’s in my fridge.
Sometimes, my produce goes bad before I can eat it—and this contributes to the 31 to 40% of food that's wasted in the United States. That amounts to 133 billion pounds of food wasted each year.
On a household level, we can each do a lot to cut back on waste. I asked my nutritionist colleagues for their top tips to stop food waste in its tracks. Now, let's celebrate food too good to waste!
Don’t be Lured by a Sale
“Resist the urge to buy large quantities of food just because it's on sale,” says Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, author of Favorite Family Meals. “Ten for $10 or buy one, get one can seem like a really great deal, but it’s not if it goes to waste. Buy out of necessity, not out of impulse.”
Slice Up a Snack
“When roasting broccoli or cauliflower, I don’t waste the stems,” says Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, a nutritionist in Los Angeles. “I cut them into slices and salt them for a pre-dinner snack. First, I trim the outside layer by cutting vertically, then slice horizontally into ‘coins’ and salt. They're crunchy and refreshing.”
Eat the Greens, Too
“Remember that the greens of many vegetables are edible and nutritious!” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. Try this with beets, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots.
Add Broccoli Stalks to a Recipe
The best part about fresh broccoli is definitely the florets, but I always feel a little guilty about throwing out the thick stalks. The solution: This homemade, oh-so-healthy slaw. Thanks to creamy avocado, it's just as satisfying as coleslaw but has an extra dose of nutrients. Whip up a batch tonight to cut back on your food waste and give your BBQ dinner the side dish it needs.
Don’t Pile on the Food
Here's an easy way to prevent food waste. “Put the appropriate amount of food on your plate, so there isn’t waste after a meal to scrape and trash,” suggests Hope Paul, RD, a certified diabetes educator at WW. You can always go back for an extra portion of veggies if you’re still hungry!
Use Up Foods in the Order They'll Go Bad
The last time you were at the grocery store, you might have gone a little overboard and bought too much bread, meat, and fresh fruit. So if it's all going to go bad at some point, what's the best item to use first? I answer that exact question, and teach you how to use fresh food fast, in this Well+Good article.
Whip Up a Bisque
“Once shrimp shells are peeled, you can freeze them to make a seafood or shrimp soup or chowder,” notes Tracee Yablon Brenner, RDN, co-author of Simple Food for Busy Families.
Create New Dishes with Leftovers
“When you're trying to use up leftovers, it may seem like certain foods don't go together,” says Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of Expect the Best. “But you may be pleasantly surprised. For example, I top leftover cooked quinoa or whole-grain pasta with last night's chili for lunch.” Not going to be around to use those leftovers? Freeze extras, or whip up a smaller amount of food.
Toss Fruit into the Freezer
“Freeze berries, melons and other fruits when they are on the verge of going bad—and use them a frozen snack,” says Amanda Bratton, RD, a dietitian in St. Charles, MO. Store the fruit in zip-top freezer bags. No freezer space? Think about composting your food scraps so you can create soil to grow new food!
Use Fruit Leftovers
Are you tossing your melon rinds and orange peels in the trash? You're missing out! Cooking with food scraps is one of my favorite ways to bump up the flavor in meals without adding too many extra calories. You can do a lot with those watermelon rinds, so don't toss 'em.
Make a Food Donation Run
A great way for reducing wasted food? Make a point of storing food that's non-perishable for food donations that you're unlikely to use. You know, maybe you bought an extra bottle of cooking oil during a BOGO sale. Make a monthly run to drop off food donations.
How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
If you're like me, you'll always have a reason to save on food dollars. Whether you're putting money away for holiday gifts, a dream vacation, or a wedding (like me!), you probably don't want to spend all your extra bucks on healthy food.
I hear over and over that it's so expensive to eat healthy. But it's actually really not. That is, if you follow a few stellar food-buying secrets! Find out how to eat healthy on a budget.
If you’ve ever thought it’s too pricey to get your five a day, think again: Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service shows that eating enough fruits and veggies isn’t cost prohibitive to most people.
Fruits and veggies help keep us healthy and provide important nutrients that help in chronic disease prevention.
About 85% of American adults don’t eat enough fruits and veggies, per a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Authors of the USDA study thought that price might be a deterrent for many Americans.
So they estimated average retail prices of 156 commonly eaten fresh and processed produce. In 2013, an adult eating 2,000 calories a day could meet daily fruit and veggie recommendations—2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of veggies—for just $2.10 to $2.60 a day.
- 1 cup strawberries: $.80
- 1 cup apple slices: $.42
- ½ cup Roma tomatoes: $.26
- ½ cup broccoli florets: $.44
- ½ cup cucumber slices: $.18
- ½ cup canned pinto beans: $.26
- ½ cup potato: $.09
- TOTAL: $2.45
One interesting finding of the study is that fresh fruits and veggies sometimes cost more than processed versions—for example, canned corn is $.51 per cup, versus $1.81 for fresh.
So remember that no-salt-added canned veggies or frozen produce can be part of a healthy diet and are great options when produce is out of season or too expensive.
Want more ideas for saving money at the grocery store? Grab a list of the the 25 healthiest foods you can buy for $5 or less. See how far your dollar can go with this list of super foods you can grab on the cheap, via MensJournal.com.
I'll take my own advice and pile my grocery cart with these favorites so I can save for my dream wedding! You can most definitely eat well on a budget.
More Ways to Save on Groceries & Reduce Food Waste
I've recently found a few products that help food last longer and help to avoid wastage of food, which also helps you to save on foods. Give these a try, and you may be pleasantly surprised at your reduced food wastage!
Best for... Fruits and Veggies
When I tried Oxo’s GreenSaver Produce Keeper, I was impressed that my berries stayed fresh and plump longer than a week. The container’s carbon filter absorbs ethylene, which is the gas that causes fruits and vegetables to ripen—and eventually spoil.
Best for... Meat, Produce, Herbs
I like that the The FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer helps food last up to five times longer by removing air from food storage—while using as little plastic as possible. This model allows you to cut the exact size strip you need and contains a plastic roll storage and cutter.
Best for... the Whole Fridge
The BerryBreeze uses activated oxygen to keep food fridge. It works by neutralize ethylene, mold, and bacteria—as well as associated odors.
This article was updated in June 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com.
- Americans Spend $151 a Week on Food; the High-Income, $180,
- Wasted Food: U.S. Consumers' Reported Awareness, Attitudes, and Behaviors, PLOS One
- Abby Langer, RD, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition
- Betsy Ramirez, MEd, RD, owner of Betsy's Kitchen
- Christy Brissette, MS, author of Everyday Low Carb and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition
- Angie Asche MS, RD, owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition
- Bethany Frazier, MS, RD, blogger at Kansas City Dietitian
- Kristen Smith, MS, RDN, founder of 360 Family Nutrition
- Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, author of Favorite Family Meals
- Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, a nutritionist in Los Angeles
- Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life
- Hope Paul, RD, a certified diabetes educator at WW
- Overwhelmed with What's in Your Fridge? Here's the Exact Order You Should Use Everything Up,
- Tracee Yablon Brenner, RDN, co-author of Simple Food for Busy Families
- Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of Expect the Best
- Amanda Bratton, RD, a dietitian in St. Charles, MO
- Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service
- Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations, United States, 2013, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- The 25 Healthiest Foods You Can Buy for $5 or Less,
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What are your thoughts on this topic? What are your favorite ways to save supermarket dollars and to practice food waste prevention?
What are your favorite tips for saving a buck on healthy food? Do you have any tips to add to help with reduced food waste and to save on foods? What do you add to your grocery list to donate to food banks?
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