3 Ways to Trim the Fat From Your Grocery Bill

Eating, cooking, and shopping insights from our food and nutrition editor
November 2, 2008

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We’ve all felt it creeping up over the last few months. No, not just the endless election coverage—our grocery bill.

The price hikes are across-the-board at a time when many Americans are bracing themselves for a recession and wondering if they’ll still have a job in 2009. In September, the price of eggs jumped 4.6%, and dairy prices were 4.9% higher than last year. Apples, which are usually pretty reasonable this time of year because they’re in season, are up 21.7% from last year. What’s a health-conscious consumer to do?

I, for one, am not about to stop drinking organic milk or buying natural meats. I’m pregnant, and I know how important it is to minimize my exposure to pesticides and synthetic hormones. But there are some ways to trim the fat from your grocery bill without compromising your health.

Follow these three ways to make your list leaner, but if you’re still at a loss, try these four recipes for under $10.

1. Buy in bulk. It might make you feel like a seventies throwback, but buying grains, cereals, dried beans, nuts, and seeds in bulk can save you a whole lot of cash. Plus, it cuts down drastically on the amount of packaging you need to schlep home and eventually recycle.

Of course, proper storage is a must. Keep grains, nuts, and other dry goods fresh in airtight jars. This will keep pests out and will help prevent the food from becoming rancid. Foods rich in oil, like nuts, are better off stored in the fridge or freezer in an airtight bag. If you can’t consume the nuts yourself, try making maple-spiced nuts as hostess gift to bring to holiday parties. Food co-ops and natural-food stores usually have a pretty good bulk selection, and you can also buy online.

My favorite new discovery is olive oil in a cask. Light, oxygen, and heat can break down oil and make it go rancid, but this packaging keeps the air (or at least most of it) out. Instead of buying eight 500-milliliter bottles of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil for about $20-$25 a bottle (a total of up to $200), check out the Yellingbo 4-liter cask for $60. I know that sounds like a lot of dough to spend all at once, but if you use a lot of olive oil at home, it can be a huge cost-saver. Plus, instead of cleaning out and recycling all those bottles, you can just fold up the box, which is already made from recycled cardboard.

2. Clear out your freezer. Get rid of extraneous ice cube trays and finish up that gallon of rocky road. Look for bargain buys, and if you find a great deal on chicken breasts, for example, buy a bunch (make sure they haven’t passed the sell-by date) and either freeze in the original packaging or rewrap and seal using something like Reynolds Handi-Vac. Use a black marker to write the date you packaged them up and make sure to use them within two months.

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