We keep hearing a recession is looming.
As you think about cutting costs to prepare, one area to consider is your grocery bill — especially after rising food prices through 2022.
To start, learn to think about ingredients differently. And consider the grocery store geography. Visit areas you might not frequent, such as the frozen section, and make inexpensive staples regulars on your grocery list.
With a little creativity and culinary guidance, you can take simple ingredients to great meals, all while saving some dough — cash, not the flour-based kind.
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1. Look for frozen foods
The frozen section can serve grocery shoppers well while they look to save. Plenty of good options live in the frozen aisle — and they last a long time, too, pushing your dollar even further.
The Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond told USA TODAY if you’re trying to pinch pennies, to purchase frozen vegetables over fresh.
“There are so many times that you can use frozen veggies,” she says. “You can save so much money by replacing you know what you might buy in the produce section with frozen and the quality is just barely noticeable when you’re making a soup or stew or casserole.”
The frozen variety are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables, and last infinitely longer. Stockpile bags of peas, corn, broccoli, diced potatoes, sweet potatoes and mixes like peppers and onions.
It’s all about what you do with them. USA TODAY’s Food Editor, Jennifer McClellan, rarely takes her frozen veggies from microwave to plate because mushy, bland foods aren’t her thing. For example, frozen broccoli florets are transformed in the oven. The ice melts to soften them, then a dose of Parmesan and lemon juice makes them a savory, bright side dish you’ll keep coming back for.
Frozen dough is your friend
Other frozen foods beyond vegetables can go a long way, too, Drummond says.
“I love things like frozen bread dough, for instance,” she says. “(It) can turn into a huge pizza crust, it can turn into small calzones – you can make so many things with frozen bread dough. And if you bought bakery-fresh bread you might spend more money.”
Frozen pork shoulder
If you’re looking to feed a lot of people, or just want to cook once and eat for a week, then it’s hard to beat pork shoulder (plus, the USDA predicts the price of pork to increase less than other meats).
Besides being a large cut, pork shoulder is more forgiving than lower-fat cuts like pork chops, which can become dry quickly. You can cook pork shoulder in a slow cooker, pressure cooker, oven, grill – pretty much anywhere – and it’ll be tasty.
Look for deals in the meat section
Protein is where the pocketbook often takes a hit, Drummond says. So she likes to optimize her spending in that area.
“I love going to the meat counter and finding the deal,” she says, noting that it’s almost always a family pack of chicken thighs – which she thinks is the best part of the chicken because they’re considerably less expensive than chicken breasts.
The Food Network star added that when she gets a pack of ribs or chicken she breaks the package up, repacks it and freezes whatever is extra.
Don’t shy away from canned food
It’s understandable not many canned foods are desirable straight out of their tin. We’re not recommending you dig into a can of meat with a spoon (though feel free if that’s your thing – we don’t judge), but we’d like you to give the compacted protein a chance and we have some kitchen- tested suggestions.
One thing to keep in mind — you don’t usually need to add salt given the high sodium content of many canned foods.
Canned shredded chicken
Like frozen vegetables being placed into recipes that call for their fresh counterpart, canned chicken can be subbed into most shredded chicken meals. That said, we don’t advise adding it to soups because it can disintegrate a bit in the boiling liquid.
We recommend using it in a quesadilla for a quick lunch or making a quick chicken salad with mayo, celery, onion and pepper.
If you’re not a chicken-lover, canned tuna is low in fat and high in protein, plus has omega-3s. I eat it with a dab of mayo and chopped pickles and onions for a quick tuna salad, while my kids love it in an old-school tuna casserole.
Beans are a cheap and easy ingredient to add heft and nutrition to any meal (even breakfast – just add some pinto beans to your burrito and you can use fewer eggs while keeping the protein level up). They’re full of fiber, which most of us need more of, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, folate and loads of other goodies.
Don’t underestimate canned tomatoes. While fresh are delicious, canned tomatoes are great for easy chili or pureed into tomato soup.
Purchase dry goods that stay good for a while
Having staples in the pantry that stay good for a long time can help reduce food waste and stretch your food’s value, if you want to eat just a little at a time.
Rice is right up there with honey, vinegar and Twinkies in the things-that-don’t-expire category. Which means you can easily buy in bulk to save even more money. Rice is amazing because it shines on its own or as part of a dish.
Dry beans are even cheaper than their canned cousins (though the canned variety takes less time to cook), and allow you more control over the flavor and texture.
It might seem like an obvious choice, but sometimes that’s the best choice. Turn egg noodles, ground beef and low-sodium cream of mushroom into stroganoff. Add lemon, butter and Parmesan to penne. And who could resist an easy spaghetti bolognese?
Pasta stays good for a long time and it can be made in many different forms, it’s something worth keeping in the pantry.
Consider where you are shopping
It doesn’t come down to just what you’re buying while grocery shopping. There are some grocery stores that carry higher prices than others.
Pay attention to the prices you see at one market versus another. Check out flyers before picking up your bags and heading into the store — where the deals are makes a difference. Plan accordingly. Sometimes a little extra thought on the front end makes a difference when it’s time to whip out your preferred form of payment.
Get a grocery store membership
Some club warehouse stores offer memberships for customers looking for discounts.
Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart+ and Kroger have club memberships that can help you stretch your dollar further.
And, while the club memberships do come with an annual fee, there are ways to get that money back through discounts throughout the year. Some clubs, like Costco, offer certain programs with a percentage back to the customer for qualifying purchases. And others sometimes have sign-up offers for in-store purchases that make up the cost of the first year of membership.
Contributing: Christine Persaud and Elsie Boskamp, Reviewed