As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, much uncertainty persists surrounding the economy, job market, and food supply chain. In these unprecedented times, many people may turn to cheaper and less healthy food alternatives.
The World Bank noted that 2020 “marked the most severe increase in global food insecurity.” According to data published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food prices have been steadily rising. The Consumer Price Index showed overall food increased by 0.2% from September 2020 to October 2020. The data also showed overall food prices jumped 3.9% from October 2019 to October 2020. Many fresh foods are affected by rising prices. For instance, fresh fruit and vegetables are up 4.2% over the same time period in 2019, notes the USDA.
Eating unhealthily, even for a few months, can have a significant negative impact on your health. Even while under financial stress, you don't have to cut corners with your health, there are ways you can still eat well.
Shop with a list
Writing a list and sticking to it is one of the best ways to stay within your budget. To do this, shop for sales at the grocery store and use what you find to plan your meals. For instance, when your grocery releases its weekly sales, build your meal plan around wholesome food that is currently selling at a discount. Several grocery apps can help you build a list and, as a bonus, you can also track nutrition facts when you’re buying.
Shop in bulk
Many pantry staples can be purchased in bulk which frequently equates to big savings since most stores and suppliers offer discounts for bulk purchases. Foods such as rice, beans, flour, nuts, oats, dried fruits, and dried pasta have a long shelf life. Other canned and boxed goods sold by the case can also equate to savings over the long-term. Keep in mind, you’ll spend more money upfront, so you’ll need to carefully budget for bulk shopping. However, you can tick these items off your grocery list for a long time and always have wholesome ingredients on hand in your pantry.
Be creative in the kitchen
Once you determine which foods are on sale for the week, look for recipes that focus on or highlight these foods. Or look for ways you can swap out a sale ingredient for the normal ingredient you’d use (e.g. substituting broccoli for cauliflower). Not only will creativity in the kitchen be a nice change for your palate, but you can also bring down spending in the process.
Meat is expensive, especially good quality meat. Instead of centering your meals around meat, try building them around beans, tofu, and grains. With the right spices, you can create cheap, healthy meals that taste oh so good. Over time, once you get the hang of meatless cooking, you can save a bundle and eliminate the saturated fats associated with meat.
Fresh veggies and fruit, especially those offseason or not grown locally, can significantly boost your grocery bill. Don’t be afraid to substitute frozen produce, these are packaged at their most ideal time to seal in nutrients. Essentially, you’ll get the health benefits of produce without the dent in your wallet. Once the spring arrives, try to shop local, it’s fresher since it hasn’t been shipped very far and you can often find good prices.
Tip: Frozen fruits pair nicely with other ingredients to make healthy smoothies.
Learn the ‘Clean 15’ and ‘Dirty Dozen’
Consuming too many fruits and vegetables that absorb heavy amounts of pesticide isn’t good for you. However, organic produce is more expensive than conventional. To stay healthy while keeping your budget in check, choose your produce wisely by limiting organic purchases to those foods where pesticides don’t easily wash off or are too heavily absorbed. Every year EWG publishes its “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists. Use these as a guide when buying your produce so you know which ones you should splurge on.
Also, remember to join your grocery store’s reward program. You’ll not only receive special savings, but you may also get personalized coupons and other less widely published discount offers which can save hundreds of dollars a year.
By making conscious choices at the grocery, combined with a willingness to plan and be a little creative, you can eat better while keeping within budget.