Over the past couple of years, the average consumer has been watching their grocery bills climb to never-before-seen heights. Eggs have notably been called out for their steep price, but it doesn’t stop there. Everything we eat, from cereals to fruits and vegetables to meat and dairy, has risen sharply in price. In fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture, the cost of groceries rose by a staggering 11.4% in 2022 and is expected to rise by nearly another 10% in 2023.
Never mind the cost of eating in restaurants, cooking at home is as expensive as it has ever been. If you’re worried that cooking at home more often will result in bland, boring food, worry not. We’ll dig into the secrets of home cooking that will allow you to simplify meal preparation, produce tastier food, and save money. And, as an added benefit, the food you cook at home tends to be much healthier than restaurant or takeout food, as you’re in complete control of how much fat, sugar, and salt is in use.
From choosing the right ingredients and meal planning to learning to cook the staples, here are three ways to get your grocery budget under control, all the while loving the food you make.
Learn to Cook the Basics
We live in an age where convenience is king, but learning to cook the basics could save you hundreds of dollars each year. If you stock up on staples like rice and whole grains, beans, and frozen vegetables, you’ll always have the essentials for a healthy meal at the ready. As a nutritionist, I always recommend that people strive to include a green (or any vegetable, really), a grain, and a protein with every meal. Keeping basic ingredients on hand makes eating healthy easy and accessible.
Canned beans are great for their convenience, but if you want to take things one step further and really save on your grocery bill, learning to cook dried beans from scratch will take you a level up. You can find a bag of dried beans for less than a dollar per pound in some places, and once cooked, that will yield enough beans to replace three cans. Cooking dried beans from scratch only takes about an hour (and no, it isn’t necessary to soak them overnight), and most of it is hands-off while the beans are simmering. As an added benefit, you can add aromatics, like garlic and bay leaves, for added flavor, and you also control the amount of salt that’s added to your beans.
Whether it’s beans or lentils or rice and whole grains, learning to cook the basics from scratch means cooking meals that are not only friendlier for your wallet, but better for your health as well. Two large studies have linked the consumption of ultra-processed foods, such as ready meals, soup mixes, and more, to a range of health concerns, including cardiovascular disease and death. Cooking meals at home is one sure way to ensure you’re eating a well-balanced diet.
Lean on Your Freezer
If you’ve been thinking of frozen food as low quality, think again. Frozen foods, in particular fruits and vegetables, tend to be harvested at about peak freshness and then flash frozen, leading to the preservation of nutrients. This means that frozen fruits and vegetables are every bit as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, if not even more. With frozen vegetables tending to be significantly cheaper than fresh, this is a great way to ensure you get five servings each day without breaking the bank.
And the freezer aisle is hardly limited to fruits and vegetables. It’s also a great way to get your protein, like frozen salmon, at a lower price than fresh. Just like with vegetables, fresh meat and fish is flash-frozen immediately upon processing, preserving nutrients in a like-fresh state.
Skip the Takeout
We all know how tempting it can be to order takeout on a busy day. But, with a few exceptions, takeout is expensive and can be loaded with salt, fat, and even added sugars. The average takeout meal is at least 1000 calories, and portion control can be difficult.
By contrast, cooking an Authentic Massaman Curry at home guarantees fresher ingredients, less salt, less added fat, and fewer preservatives than ordering in. As an added benefit, you can batch cook your favorites, stashing extra portions into the freezer or packing them for packed lunches.
With the rising cost of groceries, the time to start cooking at home is now. But as we’ve demonstrated, with a few tricks up your sleeve - like cooking dried beans from scratch, shopping the freezer section, and making your own takeout, you can save money, eat healthier, and ditch the takeout habit for good.