How to save money on groceries and eat healthy while on lockdown
From purchasing in bulk to buying produce in season, here are some tips on how to make your money go a long way at the grocery store
By Glenn Sumi
Apr 7, 2020
nrd / Unsplash
A few dried chickpeas can go a long way.
During the first days of the coronavirus pandemic – what I like to call the time of toilet paper hoarding – it was impossible to find things like spaghetti sauce, pasta, soup and canned tuna at many grocery stores.
So during my first grocery run, I strode past the empty shelves and purchased a couple bags of dried beans and legumes, as well as brown rice and frozen veggies. All of these would last for months, I remember thinking, plus they were relatively cheap.
A few days later, I made a bean dish and served it with brown rice. The cost of the ingredients, which also included an onion, some garlic, ginger and a bit of molasses, came to a grand total of $2. I got five delicious meals out of it, packed with protein and fibre. Each serving cost 40 cents.
In a time of economic uncertainty, eating affordably is suddenly a fact of life, and we’re all spending more time in the kitchen. So here are some handy cost-cutting tips.
Avoid prepackaged and overly processed foods
Why buy chicken fingers or frozen single servings of pasta when you can make your own for a fraction of the cost? When I couldn’t find spaghetti sauce, I cooked up a batch myself with one can of tomatoes, some tomato paste and various dried herbs and spices. Instead of buying cans of soup, make a huge pot of the stuff. Freeze portions so you don’t get tired of eating the same thing every day.
Shop for simple ingredients, whole foods. Rather than buy a box of individually packaged oatmeal portions, complete with salt and sugar (and unnecessary packaging), buy a bag of oatmeal (only ingredient: oatmeal) and scoop out whatever you need.
Even if you’re a Kraft Dinner kinda person, keep in mind that you can buy a big bag of elbow pasta and purchase the cheese mix at the Bulk Barn. You’ll get a lot more meals out of that method.
Make menu and shopping lists
It helps to be prepared. Keep a running list of ingredients you need – perhaps on the Notes folder on your phone. (If you think you’ll remember when walking through a store’s aisles, you’re wrong.) You can also find a couple of recipes you like, and write down the ingredients you need to make them. Tip: group the ingredients if you can into things like Produce, Grains, Frozen, etc., so you’re not needlessly travelling all over the grocery store – you want to minimize your time there.
If you don’t have a shopping list, you’ll be tempted by lots of impulse buys. Speaking of which, never go shopping on an empty stomach or you’ll end up with expensive snack foods and sweets in your cart.
Buy things on sale
This might seem like a no-brainer, but if a store’s having a sale on an item you use regularly, buy it. If you know you don’t hate the thing, give it a try. Google the item for recipes. But be careful with how much you buy, especially if something’s perishable. Buying two litres of milk on sale is a waste if you’re only using it in your morning coffee.
Buy club pack sizes
Since we’re going to be self-isolating for at least a couple months more, try buying larger portions of things like meat and poultry. Then separate them and freeze for future use. It’ll save you money now (club pack prices are generally less expensive), but it’ll also be convenient since you won’t have to return to the store for it later on – you can simply defrost it.
Jose Pedroso Vallejo / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Buy things in bulk or find substitutes
If you need a tablespoon of a spice you seldom use, consider going to the Bulk Barn or a health food store and purchasing only what you need. If you buy a whole jar of the stuff and you don’t end up liking the dish, you’ll have wasted money. Or come up with a substitute that you already have on hand. This site is helpful for that.
Buy cheaper cuts of meat (or avoid it altogether)
Big protein sources like meat and fish will probably be your biggest expense. But if you buy cheaper cuts you can use them in things like soup and stews. Sure, they take longer to cook, but during the pandemic we’ve got a lot of time. On the other hand, now’s the time to try out different protein sources, including eggs, legumes and canned fish. All are much cheaper.
Buy produce in season
Produce that’s in season and not imported from elsewhere is often cheaper, plus it’s often more nutritious and flavourful since it travelled less distance to get where you are. Instead of buying one or two carrots or potatoes, buy a bag. Also, since spring is coming, why not start growing your own vegetables and herbs? Watching things sprout from an herb garden or humble patch of soil will pick up your spirit and give you something to look forward to every day.
Worrying about every penny you spend can add stress to an already stressful time. So remember to occasionally pamper yourself with a sampling of your favourite decadent treat: a bit of chocolate or candy bought in bulk, perhaps, a cookie or scoop of ice cream. Things will get better.
Glenn started writing for NOW’s theatre section in 1997. Currently, he edits and contributes to the film and stage sections. He sees approximately 280 live stage shows and 150 movies a year. His mother once described his job as “Seeing The Lion King"