Food is outrageously expensive right now. I’m sure you’re feeling the pain at the checkout counter. We all are. I’m going to give you some tips to save money food shopping that do not involve clipping coupons or living off instant ramen noodles — although you can do that if you want. They are just the obvious choices. I have some other ideas for how to save money when food shopping.
Tip #1 – Eat More Vegetables and Less Meat
I’m always talking about eating as many vegetables as possible. Try to get 5 to 10 servings of vegetables a day. Vegetables are much less expensive than meat when you go to the supermarket.
The other day at the market I was looking for vegetables because I wanted to make a vegetable casserole dish. I bought a bunch of vegetables at the supermarket. I really didn’t pick up much else, except some rolls. The bill was under $20.00.
If you really are are feeling the pain when you go to the supermarket, try to stick to vegetables and try to eat as many of them as you can.
On a Mediterranean diet, I always recommend that you fill half of your plate with vegetables, add some whole grains, maybe some beans, and make meat your side dish.
On the Mediterranean diet, meat is usually served in small quantities. It’s a side dish, or used for flavoring, or not eaten at all.
Tip #2 – Fill Up on Other Mediterranean Diet Staples
The other staples of the Mediterranean diet will also save you money. I read a quote from Oldways, and they said the Mediterranean diet is really based on peasant food from back in the day. So it’s not a fancy diet in any way.
We talk a lot about olive oil and drinking red wine and eating a lot of fish, and those things can get pricey. But the basics of the Mediterranean diet are whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.
They’re all the things you can buy fairly inexpensively at the supermarket. I usually pick up beans in a can because they’re so convenient. I usually choose cannellini beans, which are white kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, and butter beans.
In a can, beans are fairly inexpensive. But you’ll save even more money if you buy dried beans in bags. You’ll have to cook them yourself, of course, but you’re not paying for the convenience of ready-made. If you really want to save money on staples, beans and legumes are a good place to start.
Tip #3 – Rethink Breakfast With Whole Grains
Whole grains such as rice, oatmeal, polenta, and farro can be inexpensive, and are very filling. Try grains that are new to you like freekeh, millet, teff, buckwheat, bulgur, spelt, and barley. You can get them in bags and they go a long way. You can add them into salads, soups, stews, or serve them as breakfast cereals.
The standard American breakfast of eggs, bacon, and sausage can get pricey. The price of bacon is ridiculous for what you get, and it’s not healthy. Instead make a warm, comforting bowl of polenta with vegetables and add an egg if you want more protein. Sprinkle on a little cheese. Instant polenta cooks in 3 minutes, and makes an easy and delicious breakfast.
You can eat anything for breakfast. There are no rules. Sometimes I eat leftovers. Don’t get trapped into this mindset of how breakfast has been marketed to us. We’re told that breakfast needs to be this huge first meal of the day. Breakfast is marketed to us as eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, pancakes, coffee, and juice.
In most Mediterranean countries breakfast if often just coffee and a cookie or a piece of bread with fruit preserves.
Rethink what breakfast looks like for you. Save money and start your day healthier at the same time with whole grains. Any of the whole grains I mentioned above can make a really tasty breakfast bowl. You can make them sweet or savory. Try oatmeal with brown sugar or cinnamon or honey or maple syrup. Or make it savory with vegetables and a sprinkle of cheese, and you have a nice inexpensive breakfast as an alternative to eggs.
Or try making a breakfast sandwich with seedy bread spread with hummus and topped with leftover vegetables. Or try peanut butter with pumpkin seeds on top. There are so many healthy, inexpensive options.
Tip #4 – Eat at Home
Another way to save money on food is to eat at home. It’s fun to go out to eat. It’s fun to get your coffee at a cafe. It’s fun to go to a diner. But even diners are really expensive right now because they’re feeling the the high cost of food too, and they have to pass it on to their customers.
When you make your dinner at home, not only can you control your portion sizes better, but you’re also going to know all of the ingredients that are in your food. When you go out to eat, you don’t really know what ingredients are in your food.
Restaurants generally use way more butter, salt, cream, and cheese than we would at home. They want your food to be luscious. They don’t care about your diet.
Also, the portion sizes are usually outrageously large when you go out to eat. If you eat at home, you can save money by cooking instead of spending the money on the service, and you can also control what you’re eating much better.
Tip #5 – Canned Fish
Another way to save money on the Mediterranean diet is to eat canned fish. When you go to the fish counter and buy fresh fish, that can be really expensive. Some of the fish are better priced — salmon and flounder are usually the less expensive ones.
If you’re feeling the pain at the fish counter but you want to get your Omega 3s, you can use canned tuna, mackerel, or sardines. Or watch my video on how to get Omega-3s without eating fish.
The other day, I made a Mediterranean plate for lunch where I put a variety of foods on my plate. One of the things I did was open a tin of mackerel, plain in olive oil, and split it between our two plates. I didn’t do anything to it, just fresh out of the can, and it was wonderful.
I’m a big tuna salad lover. But if you find the taste of tuna too strong, try mackerel or sardines. They are milder in flavor and packed with nutrients. You don’t have to eat fresh fish to get your Omega 3 fatty acids.
Fresh mackerel is often recommended for the Mediterranean diet, but it can be difficult to find. Opt for the canned variety. It’s just as good. Sometimes that’s the only way you can find it.
You can also try anchovies. I use anchovies as a flavor enhancer. I’ll warm a couple of anchovies in some olive oil. They melt into the oil and add a nice flavor to things. So don’t be afraid of tinned fish.
Tip #6 – Salad Fixings
Another way to save money is to buy whole heads of lettuce when you want to make salad, instead of buying the pre-chopped bags of salad. You pay for the convenience of these salad kits.
I usually buy red leaf lettuce and iceberg lettuce. Sometimes I get radicchio or escarole. I take part of each head, chop it up, and put it in my salad spinner. I can get multiple salads out of this. It goes a lot further than if you bought a bagged salad. You might get two salads out of one bag. Or if you’re making salad for the whole family, you’ll probably use the whole bag.
It’s not hard to make a salad from scratch. Don’t spend extra on the convenience of pre-chopped lettuce.
Tip #7 – Frozen Vegetables
I’m always encouraging people to eat dark leafy greens. But lately my local supermarket, which used to have a large variety of fresh greens, has really cut back. I used to be able to find beet greens, mustard greens, turnip tops, Swiss chard, escarole, and more. But now I’m lucky if I can find chard and spinach.
I grew Swiss card and arugula in my backyard this summer, and they really flourished. I used them many times. Growing your own vegetables can really save you money.
But don’t forget about frozen vegetables. If you can’t find fresh leafy greens, frozen spinach can be an inexpensive choice. You know when you buy a bundle of fresh spinach and then it cooks down to nothing. Well, frozen spinach is already pre-shrunk. It can be an economical way to get your dark leafy greens. And spinach tastes great.
Tip #8 – Whole Chicken
Chicken is also outrageously expensive now. It used to be the cheap meat. Chicken is so versatile and a staple in most households. To save money, try buying a whole chicken and cutting it into parts yourself. It’s really not that difficult. You can find videos online about how to do it.
Or cook it whole. Nothings beats the aroma of a whole chicken roasting in the oven.
You can save up to 15-50 cents per pound when you buy a whole chicken instead of buying it pre-cut. Again, a lot of the cost of food comes down to the convenience of how it is prepared.
Tip #9 – Grow Herbs at Home
Fresh herbs are a vital part of a Mediterranean diet. They add flavor to your meals without adding a lot of salt or additives. They are packed with antioxidants and other nutrients. But they can be expensive when you buy them at the supermarket in those little packets.
It’s easy to grow herbs at home. Even if you don’t have an outdoor area, you can grow herbs in pots indoors. Think of them as potted plants that you can eat. I have a whole line-up of herbs in my kitchen. I grow basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, lemon balm, parsley, chives, and more. I use them all the time.
They smell nice too.
Tip #10 – Use Your Leftovers
My last tip for saving money on the Mediterranean diet is to make sure you go through your leftovers. When I’m cooking I usually make more food than we can eat. But sometimes I forget about the leftovers in the fridge and then wonder what they are in a week.
Try to make a point of eating your leftovers. Start a food calendar. If you make too much of something on Monday, have the leftovers on Wednesday. Sometimes I’ll deliberately make too much of something just so it saves me time later in the week. Leftovers are great when reheated for lunch. Or they can really save you time and money as a dinner later in the week.
Whenever I make pasta — I’m terrible at measuring pasta portions — I usually make the whole box. Whatever is left after the meal becomes a pasta salad that we can eat throughout the week. I love pasta salad as a side dish to a sandwich at lunch. Or sometimes if we have leftover tomato sauce, we’ll reheat the pasta in the sauce for a quick supper.
One more bonus tip:
Don’t Give In To Price Gouging
I was at the supermarket the other day and coffee was $16.99. $16.99! That’s not even a pound. Coffee used to come in a one pound bag, now it’s only 11 or 12 ounces. I didn’t buy it. I went back a few days later and it was $8.99.
It just goes to show you that if you don’t give in to these high prices, the giant food corporations will be forced to lower their prices. There is no reason for these crazy price hikes except greed. They’re testing the market. If the customers say no, they have no choice but to lower their prices unless they want to be stuck with a lot of old stale food.
A couple of months ago, I went to the market and eggs were $8.99 for a dozen. I saw people looking at the eggs, shaking their heads, and walking away. Yesterday I bought a dozen eggs for $2.00. You’ve got the power to say no.
Now of course you can’t say no to everything. You have to eat. You need to feed your family and you want to put a nutritious meal on the table. That’s why I wrote this article.
I hope these tips help you with your food budget. I know I’m feeling the pain when I go to the supermarket and when I saw the price of coffee and eggs, I was shocked. It makes me want to buy my own chickens and keep them in the backyard.
Let me know if you have any questions, or if you have any of your own tips to share on how to save money when food shopping. Happy cooking!