You probably feel the pinch at the grocery store these days since the cost of necessities has soared in recent years. Eggs — the once reliable cheap go-to protein source — have gone up by nearly 60% since 2022, and butter has increased by over 30%. How can you nourish your family amid the insanity?
While economic winds may change, human needs do not. You need the right combination of nutrients to function at your best. The foods you eat influence everything from your energy levels to your mood and immune response.
However, it’s more challenging to meet your needs when even dollar-store prices rise in response to inflation. What can you do?
Here are five tips for meal budgeting in 2023.
1. Get More Precise With Estimates
It’s natural to want to dig into a hearty portion if you’re famished, but remember the folk wisdom advising against grocery shopping when hungry. Instead, let technology guide your decisions, especially when cooking for a crew.
You can find many online calculators to help you with this task. Some let you compare the price of different meals, while others advise you of the estimated serving size for each portion. Restaurants use such tools when determining how to price various menu items — why not implement their use in your kitchen?
2. Cook With an Eye to Freeze
However, only some have the luxury of sufficient time to cook every day. Prepackaged convenience meals cost more than a pretty penny. They often contain oodles of sugar, salt, white flour, and additives that can do a number on your health. The solution is to embrace freezer-friendly meals you cook in bulk and store them in individual serving containers for easy defrosting and heating in your slow cooker.
This method reduces food waste — if a recipe calls for half an onion, double it instead of letting the unused half go moldy in your crisper drawer. Building your stash might take a while, but you’ll be rewarded with glorious variety after a few weeks of devoting two or three hours of Saturday time to healthy meal preparation. Start with one or two bulk recipes and add them to your collection each week.
3. Maximize Sales and Coupons
Maybe you remember your childhood caregiver collecting newspaper inserts from neighbors to clip the savings inside. However, there’s no need to subscribe to the Sunday edition or spend hours with scissors in hand these days. The wild world of digital couponing makes it a snap to keep the discounts you use most at your fingertips — download a few and see which ones work best for your needs.
Likewise, pay attention to sales. Sign up for your local store’s circular for real-time alerts of hot discounts, especially on staples. For example, it’s not unusual for groceries to have midwinter sales of canned soup that only last for a few days — make a special trip and stock your pantry.
Should you invest in a warehouse club membership? If you have more than two people in your household, you can probably justify the cost, even if you don’t buy perishable items. Purchases such as razor blades and household cleaning products can spike your weekly shopping bill — it’s often more cost-effective to invest in a stash if you always use the same brands.
4. Go Back to Basics
How often have you heard someone say, “I can’t afford to eat healthily”? While it’s true that many prepackaged and prepared foods cost more, you can often save money by returning to the basics and starting with the raw ingredients.
For example, you might pay $10.99 for a single package of prepared cookies baked using a healthier whole grain or chickpea flour blend. That same expenditure can net you two to three pounds of raw flour. If you need half a cup for one batch of 24 cookies and there are roughly seven cups in a pound, it’s not tough to see how you can multiply your savings while creating a healthier homemade sweet treat.
Perhaps the ultimate way to get back to basics is to grow what fruits and veggies you can at home. Even urban dwellers can manage a container or two of beans or tomatoes in sunny spots. Learn to save the seeds from what you already consume — it’s a cinch with varieties like peppers — and get fresh, organic produce at home without spending a fortune.
5. Invest in Proper Storage
Of course, all that growing, cooking, and freezing won’t lower your grocery bill or help in meal budgeting if you toss most of it out after it goes bad. To preserve your food treasures, you need the proper storage solutions.
Look for specialty produce containers that reduce the emission of ethylene gas — the culprit that makes these foods rot more quickly. You can reuse silicone freezer bags time and again, and they won’t take up nearly as much space as hard plastic containers. If you have a bigger budget for large purchases, an extra freezer in your garage helps you take advantage of sales.
Do you want to go even further? Learn how to can those veggies you grow in your garden for tasty produce, even in the middle of winter.
Save Money and Eat Healthily With Meal Budgeting This Year
Even if you didn’t engage in meal budgeting previously, the economic reality could tighten your belt at the grocery store. How can you save money?
The above five tips for meal budgeting can help you survive 2023. Learning to thrive in lean economic times is a beneficial survival skill you’re savvy enough to master.