I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to spend a little less at the supermarket. As a natural cheapskate and from my work with low income families, I’ve learnt a few tips and tricks over the years to save money while still eating well. You don’t need to spend a fortune on healthy foods for the family. Repeat after me, “I do not need to spend a fortune to feed my family healthy foods”. A few little tweaks to your habits and you’ll be stretching your dollars further, in no time.
Now, you probably already know that rule #1 one for grocery budgeting is having a meal plan. So I haven’t included that in my top 10 tips. If you’re not already doing that, start right now with a scrap of paper and a pen. Write down 7 main meals plus some lunches and snacks. Use that plan to create your shopping list. This is absolutely the first step and most effective way at saving money and reducing food waste.
Then, move onto my 10 top tips to stretch your food dollars further.
1.Don’t be a brand snob
Home-brands really have come a long way in recent years. For most simple, single-ingredient foods (like oats, flour and sugar) they are often exactly the same product as the name brand option. Uncle Toby’s rolled oats are 100% Australian rolled oats and cost $6 a kg. Coles home-brand oats are also 100% Australian rolled oats. They don’t have the nice box or convenient middle of the shelf location; but are only $1.60 a kg. With name-brands, you’re paying for the branding, advertising, packaging and shelf placement. Switching to home-brand is the easiest way of saving money while coming home with the same (or very similar) foods.
For more processed products, check the ingredients list to tell if there really is a difference between the name and homebrand, there often isn’t. For example, look at the amount of the characterising (main) ingredient. If your favourite Birdseye frozen crumbed fish is 51% fish, you’d want the home-brand version to be the same.
If there is a brand name food that your family won’t compromise on, keep an eye on the prices and stock up when it’s on special.
2. Ditch the snack foods
So many of us are filling our trollies with processed snacks and it’s sending our grocery bills soaring. Packet snacks have become essential for packed lunches, but the trouble is, they’re not very filling or nutritious and they’re expensive! Look at your shopping list and decide if you really do need those pouch yoghurts, muesli bars, LCMs or single snack packs of ‘yoghurt’ covered sultanas.
Packets of potato chips, puffs or Messy Monkeys also aren’t very filling. They cost a lot ($14-$40 a kg) but aren’t providing the nutrients growing bodies need. You are still going to need something more filling to go with them to keep hunger at bay. Kids with big appetites (or hungry teenagers that could eat your snack entire supply on a Saturday morning) need more than these packets to keep them going. Snacks that include whole-grains, dairy and/or protein are what really fills kids up. Try yoghurt with fruit, seeds and honey or vegetables, cold meatballs and hommus for a more filling snack instead.
When you ditch the high sugar, high salt packaged snacks, you’ll have more of your grocery budget to spend on ‘real’ foods to fill them up. You’ll also be surprised how much more food you get for your dollars! If the thought of this makes you nervous, trial it for a month. Warn everyone in advance, help them prepare some alternatives and see how resourceful they get at filling up on wholefoods instead.
If you have a packet snack or treat the family really wants to keep, buy a bigger pack of that food instead of snack packs. Use small containers to ration out serves and put any leftovers out of sight in the pantry to make them last longer.
This is also a useful tip for saving money on yoghurt. A 1kg tub of Greek yoghurt costs around $5 – $7. Pouch yoghurts cost $11 – $20 a kg! They also aren’t good for babies or toddlers to suck out of, and give us even more plastic waste.
3. Cut down on meat
Relax, you don’t have to go vegetarian to save money on meat. Most Australian’s eat too much meat and get more than enough animal protein. For an evening meal, 100g of raw meat per person is plenty. Sticking to this serving is great way to save money. If you have a 500g packet of mince but are only feeding 4 people; save the extra 100g, wrap it well and freeze it. It might not seem like much, but it’s enough for a quick single serve meal or keep adding to it, and in a few weeks you’ll have 400g, enough for another full meal.
Make up for the reduction in meat by adding more vegetables, whole-grains and legumes to keep everyone full. Legumes, like chickpeas, beans and peas are inexpensive sources of protein that will also boost the fibre and nutrient content of the meal. They’re very filling, so adding a can of drained lentils to mince bolognaise or canned chickpeas to chicken curry makes the meals stretch further and fill up hungry tummies for less than $1.
Canned legumes are inexpensive ($0.75 – $1.50 for a 400g can) and easy to use. They’re already cooked so you just have to drain them, give them a rinse and add them to your dish towards the end of the cooking time. You can also have them straight from the can in salads.
4. Stretch a recipe instead of doubling it
When you have more than four mouths to feed (or you’re feeding family members with big appetites) don’t be tempted to just double standard recipes. This can get expensive, fast.
Add an extra cup of vegetables and a serve of grains to a meal to stretch for a full extra serve. You could also try serving the main meal with one or two separate vegetable or grain-based side-dishes to stretch the meal instead. For example, if you’re making spaghetti bolognaise (remember; with just 400g of mince), serve it with a side salad, zucchini crisps and homemade garlic bread.
Offer a simple dessert of fruit, yoghurt and muesli to anyone who still needs filling up after dinner.
5. Check the price per kilo as you shop
You’ve already seen how handy it is to use unit pricing (the price per kilo or 100g) in my previous tips. As you choose fruit, vegetables meat and seafood, it pays to double check (every time) if produce or deli meat and seafood is cheaper than the packaged/prepared options. Often can save as much as $5 a kilo by choosing loose produce (like mushrooms you put in a bag yourself or salmon from the Deli counter) compared to ones that are packaged.
However, sometimes the supermarkets have a deal on where the opposite is true. It always pays to look at all the options each time, so don’t keep redoing your same online order without checking.
6. Reduce waste by using all of the vegetables
We all need to eat more vegetables, remember that every little bit adds up. The odds and ends you usually throw in the bin may seem like small pieces, but you’ve paid for them and they’re nutritious – so use every bit!
Have a go at using more fresh produce and wasting less.
– Cut around the top of the capsicum and use every bit of the flesh.
– Peel and chop the broccoli stem with the florets in stir fries.
– Use diced cauliflower stems and leaves in soups.
– Collect your veggie scrap to make stock. Keep a container or large ziplock bag in the freezer and after dinner prep, add in any celery tops, onion skins, carrot peelings, etc. When it’s full, add to a large pan of water and seasonings and boil to make stock. Strain keep in the fridge for 3 days or freeze for 3 months.
7. Ditch the packet and jar meal bases
Meal bases, flavour packets and sauces are often high in sugar, salt and/or additives. More importantly though, they’re expensive and can only be used to make that one thing. Even if you’re not a confident cook, they can be replaced with cheaper pantry staples like canned tomatoes, passata, herbs, spices and salt-reduced soy sauce. Look at the ingredients list of your favourites to see how they’re made, the main ingredient will be staples you’re likely to already have. Not only are these staple ingredients cheaper (remember, compare the price per 100g) but they are more versatile. Your pantry will be better stocked with flexible ingredients to make a variety of different meals.
8. Fill the freezer with veggies
Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables. They’re also very affordable. It’s always worth keeping a stash in the freezer to add a nutritious boost to meals or to make them stretch another serve. My freezer always has frozen peas, corn and green beans.
Regularly check the prices though as sometimes fresh are cheaper when they’re in season and in good supply. This is especially true for carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Frozen peas, corn, green beans, spinach and berries are always a good deal.
9. Measure ingredients accurately
It’s really easy to waste cooking ingredients like oil, cheese, honey and soy sauce by adding them freehand. Use a measuring spoon or cup instead. Most of us use way more oil than needed during cooking. By measuring, you’ll be surprised at how much longer your staples will last (and perhaps how excessive you’ve been in the past!). You’ll be saving yourself from extra fats, sugars and sodium too.
10. Keep a basic dinner in rotation
Schedule one night a week to have a very simple, cheap meal from what’s in your fridge and pantry. A hash of leftovers, toasted sandwiches, or eggs and baked beans on toast are tasty meals to feed the family without costing much at all. These types of meals are still nutritious and filling options and will leave you with some extra dollars to spread your next grocery shop further.
If you don’t already know your grocery budget, keep receipts for a few weeks and see how much you spend. Use them to identify foods that you don’t really need and where convenience (or habit) is costing you money. You can do a lot of research before you even step foot in the supermarket just buy looking at your current spending habits. Use Coles and Woolworths online to check prices and make a list of some cheaper alternatives to spread your dollars further next time you shop.
I hope you have found these tips helpful. Give them a go and see how much the small changes improve your savings and your diet.
Sarah Moore is a mum, and university qualified Registered Nutritionist with a decade of experience working with families to improve their health and well-being. Sarah has a simplistic and practical approach to family nutrition and can help the overwhelm of eating and living well with private consultations, email Q&A and her school lunchbox ebook. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips and tricks.