10 Tips for Beating Inflation at the Grocery Store, According to Experts
Inflation has seen its highest one-year increase—8.5%—since 1981, according to MSN News, and prices don't look like they'll be decreasing anytime soon. Unfortunately, the top indexes hit by inflation are part of our everyday lives: gas, shelter and food. The food-at-home category has seen a whopping 10% increase since March 2021, according to the Department of Labor's March 2022 Consumer Price Index. While these statistics are affecting the average American in significant ways, a little innovation, open-mindedness and careful planning can help keep your grocery bill down during this difficult time. We chatted with six experts to get their tips for beating inflation while keeping your fridge full of nutritious, delicious food.
1. Tap into the network of local farmers and makers
Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., RD, CDN, the CEO and co-founder of Culina Health, says she loves to find CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture groups of farmers that allow you to shop direct-to-consumer, and neighborhood makers that may be able to offer better food prices due to the lack of shipping costs and a middle man. Websites like LocalHarvest.org will help you find a CSA that you can join (invite extended family, friends and neighbors to join too!), while the GrownBy app will connect you with farmers in your area that can provide the freshest food possible while you support local agriculture (and likely save a buck along the way). This also allows you to shop in-season, which not only saves you money, according to chef and Freshly product development manager Brooke Baevsky, but also allows you to enjoy the most wholesome, nutrient-rich foods during any given time of year.
2. Make the freezer—and freezer aisle—your new best friend
Several of our experts stressed the importance of shopping the freezer section, particularly when it comes to produce. Restaurateur and wine expert Nate Siegel of Willa's in Tampa, Florida, says that frozen fruits and vegetables are not only cheaper than fresh but they also last longer so you won't have to worry about throwing out rotten berries or slimy greens at the end of the week. Additionally, Rissetto says the freezer aisle is a great destination for those who are concerned about chemicals and pesticides. She says that produce destined for the freezer gets to ripen until its peak before getting flash-frozen. (Try some of these healthy spring desserts that start with frozen fruit.)
Beth Moncel, creator of BudgetBytes.com, says using the freezer is also a great way to stock up on the most expensive foods, like cheese, nuts and meats. By shopping in bulk and freezing these foods properly in small amounts, you can take advantage of store deals without worrying about creating food waste or feeling like you have to consume an entire block of cheese on your own before the use-by date. (Try some of these healthy, cheesy recipes.)
Toni Okamoto, creator of Plant-Based on a Budget, loves to cook grains that are destined for the freezer on weekends. This helps make weeknight meal-prep speedy while keeping you from veering off at Chipotle on your way home from work.
3. Map out the week ahead before you shop
Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council, says that it's important to take the time to think through the number of meals you need throughout the week and what your schedule looks like to make a realistic shopping plan that won't leave you with a sad crisper drawer or stale bread by the following weekend. This is also helpful for those who prefer to shop a few times a week and may be tempted to buy more than you need. Sollid says one of the most important things you can do is stick to your grocery list and avoid adding extra snacks or ingredients you likely won't use. Arriving to the food shopping destination of your choice with a full or satisfied belly also helps you stick to your plan!
4. Stock up on versatile (and hearty) staple foods
Siegel says he learned during the pandemic to emphasize everyday fridge and pantry foods that can be cross-utilized in a variety of recipes, and finds it's still a great tip for today. He leans on root veggies that can last weeks in the fridge, along with canned goods, rice and pasta that have year-long shelf lives to serve as the base of many meals throughout the week. These foods can be used to make soups, grain bowls, pasta bakes and more with whatever else is fresh that week.
Moncel adds that leaning on recipes that allow for such versatility, such as the ones previously mentioned, plus pizzas and stir-fries, will ensure that you don't have to throw out your meal plan for the week if your grocery store is out of a few ingredients. She also notes that it's important to make sure you're always well-stocked with seasonings, oils and vinegars at all times to make basic fridge and pantry foods incredibly delicious and satisfying.
5. Go vegan a few times a week
Meat, poultry and dairy—particularly beef, pork and whole-milk products—are some of the foods most negatively affected by inflation right now, according to the March 2022 Consumer Price Index, so reducing your intake for just a few meals a week can make a major difference in your grocery bills.
Okamoto says that dried beans are some of the best-value buys right now, as you can purchase a variety of beans for less than $2 per bag at Walmart, and they offer a satiating combo of fiber and protein to keep you full for hours. And if you don't have the time to soak beans or don't have an Instant Pot to cook them quickly, canned beans are still a great value.
Rissetto suggests roasting some chickpeas with your favorite spice and herb combinations. Dishes like this can replace your grilled chicken salads at lunch or two to three dinner meals a week, so you can still enjoy your favorite foods while filling up on more budget-friendly ones.
6. Take advantage of the new age of couponing
Couponing does not look the same as it did when you were growing up. These days, social media, apps and other digital platforms help making finding the best deals in your neighborhood easier than ever—no clipping required. Moncel is a big fan of the Flipp app, which showcases the weekly and monthly deals at the food retailers in your area to help you best determine where to shop—and what to cook—each week to be the most savvy home cook around.
Sollid advises staying up-to-date with the latest inflation rates through the Department of Labor's Consumer Price Indexes in order to determine the best and worst deals. For example, shelf-stable fish has seen the lowest inflation rate across the entire Meat, Poultry and Fish category, so that can inspire plenty of delicious and easy meals into the next month. Salmon burgers, anyone?
7. Make a list of what you already have in the kitchen before shopping
While we can be quick to make lists of what we want from the grocery store in a given week, what about what we already have? Okamoto says doing a quick pantry, fridge and freezer inventory may not only prevent you from buying extra of what you already have, but it can also inspire ways to use up what you've already purchased in the last few weeks. Plus, it just may remind you that you have some cookie dough in the freezer or 10 cans of chickpeas in the cupboard that need using.
8. Pick a weekly splurge (yes, really!)
Okamoto says that although this may sound counterintuitive, picking a weekly treat, whether that's your favorite (expensive) yogurt or a bag of fancy kettle chips, can actually help prevent spending more throughout the week. Okamoto likes to have sweets in the evenings, so she buys a pint of her favorite ice cream to enjoy throughout the week, and that actually keeps her from straying outside her budget and heading to the nearest neighborhood ice cream shop four nights a week. Plus, you'll enjoy any treat more if it's made from high-quality ingredients, meaning you will likely need less of it at one time.
9. Ignore grocery store marketing at all costs
Good marketing can get the best of anyone (Hello, Instagram ads!), but Okamoto says it's important to cut through the product placement and pretty labels when shopping for food and beverages. For example, if you're looking for tomato sauce, she suggests ignoring the actual price of various jars and looking at the price per ounce to determine the best deal. Additionally, she says that companies will often pay to have their products at eye level or in a sale bin at the front of the store, but the store brand, as well as brands at or near the bottom shelf, are likely the best values in the aisle.
And while it may be tempting to reach for the already-prepped meats, produce and nonperishables, Baevsky says being willing to do a few more minutes of extra prep work at mealtime can save you lots of money in the long run. Slicing chicken, pineapple and broccoli yourself can keep your budget down and may also allow you to reach for the organic versions that aren't pre-cut.
10. Start cultivating a produce garden
While this may seem extreme for those who don't already enjoy gardening, Okamoto says that growing a few plants—even if they are in containers near a sunny window in your home—can really help you cut down on your grocery bill for the long haul. Okamoto says mid-spring is the perfect time of year to start planting for a vibrant summer garden full of tomatoes, squashes, fragrant herbs and other fruits and veggies that can be costly. Plus, some of these plants will come back year after year if you take care of them, so you'll keep reaping the benefits long after inflation simmers down. You'll also enjoy more delicious meals thanks to having the freshest produce around.