Have you ever seen a coupon for some overly processed cookie and thought, “Why aren’t there coupons for kale?!” According to a recent study, which looked at more than 1,000 online coupons offered by six major grocery store chains, the biggest chunk of discounts (25%, in fact) were for snack foods—like chips, crackers and desserts—and just 3% were for fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and veggies. Major bummer! But there are savvy ways to cut your healthy grocery bill, and even save on fresh produce. Check out these nine budget-friendly tricks, along with easy ways to incorporate your bounty into nutritious meals.
Shop for organic store brands
Most major grocery chains now offer organic options of their store-brand products, and some even sell a separate line of USDA-certified organic foods. These private-label goods tend to be less expensive than brand-name alternatives. For example, at my local market, a 16-ounce package of organic store brand quinoa cost $1 less than a 12-ounce bag of a popular, brand-name product that’s not organic. The same store sells organic beans for $1 per can, which is $0.79 less than a non-organic, well-known brand one shelf away. And organic store-brand eggs sell for at least $1 less per dozen compared to a popular organic version.
Make more plant-based meals
An effective overall budget-friendly strategy is to make more plant-based meals each week, like bean or lentil stew. Compared to $2 per pound for chicken on the bone (one of the least expensive poultry options), one can of beans costs about $1 and contains 3.5 servings. For an easy dish you can make ahead of time and re-heat, sauté a few cups of chopped veggies of your choice and minced garlic in extra virgin olive oil. Add a cup each of water and organic, low-sodium vegetable broth, along with some Italian herb seasoning. Bring to a quick boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Add a half cup of canned beans or lentils, and serve over a half cup of a cooked starch, like brown rice or sweet potato. This hearty dish costs much less than a meat-based entrée, and it’s brimming with fiber and nutrients.
Print organic coupons
While brand-name products tend to cost more than store brands, many now offer printable coupons on their web sites or on retailer sites. When I Googled “organic coupons” I found organicdeals.com, where I quickly spotted a link to printable coupons from Whole Foods for organic products, including $1 off two cups of Stonyfield organic yogurt and $1 off a 3.5-ounce Green & Black’s organic chocolate bar—pretty decent deals!
Switch your meal proportions
If you eat meat, remember that one portion is 4 ounces uncooked, which means that 1 pound of raw meat should yield four servings. Cutting back too-large portions of meat to the recommended amount and bumping up your veggie intake can be an easy and effective way to reduce food costs. For example, slashing your chicken breast portion from 6 ounces to 3 ounces and adding a quarter of a head of broccoli in its place saves about $1.00, a savings that could snowball meal after meal.
Buy from the bulk section
Lots of healthy staples are sold in bulk, including oats, wild rice, quinoa, nuts, beans, lentils, and dried fruit. Buying these foods “loose” slashes costs, because savings on packaging are passed onto consumers. Plus, the bulk section is efficient because you can purchase exactly the amount you need. The other day I bought bulk pistachios for $3 less per pound than a pre-packaged branded version, and I’ve saved up to 50% on the same quantity of whole grains compared to packaged products.
Join the DIY movement
I’m a huge make-it-yourself advocate, since from-scratch versions of tons of foods—from salad dressing to energy bars—can be much healthier and more affordable than buying them pre-made. If you regularly eat bread, investing in a bread maker can be a great way to cut costs long-term. A machine will generally allow you to make three loaves of bread from a 2-pound bag of whole grain flour for about $1.79, compared to buying just one loaf for almost $4. Plus you can make it all natural, with no preservatives or unwanted additives, and freeze what you don’t need right away to prevent waste.
Frequent your local farmer’s market
In-season, locally grown produce is affordable because it’s abundant. It also happens to be at its peak, both for nutrients and flavor, so take advantage when you can. If you happen to buy more than you need, freeze what you can’t use before it spoils, or split your bounty with a friend or neighbor and share the cost. If you’re not sure where and when your local farmer’s markets are held, visit Local Harvest.
Stock your freezer
Fresh cherry season peaks in the summer, but I enjoy these gems throughout the remainder of the year in frozen form, as I do many other fruits and veggies. When I walk the grocery aisles with my clients most are surprised to learn that frozen produce is just as nutritious as the fresh stuff, because freezing locks in nutrients (for more check out my previous post 5 Reasons This Nutritionist Buys Frozen Fruits and Veggies). You can whip frozen fruit into smoothies, heat it up in a saucepan with spices as a topping for cooked oats, or thaw in the fridge to eat cold. Frozen veggies are just as versatile. Quickly steam and season them for an easy side dish, sauté in veggie broth or olive oil, pop in the oven to roast (baby Brussels sprouts are my favorite for this!), or add to recipes like stir frys and soups. Recently, my local market was selling bags of frozen veggies for $1 a pop. Needless to say I took advantage, and while I love fresh, frozen is a great way to expand my everyday options without spending an arm and a leg.
Save in other areas
Buying non-food items like laundry detergent at discount stores and price clubs helps me carve out more room in my budget for healthy foods. Once I realized I could purchase eco-friendly brands at places like Costco, and even the dollar store (which in my neighborhood is right next door to Whole Foods) I stopped paying full price for them alongside my groceries. Yes, it’s an extra stop, but it’s totally worth the lack of guilt when I want to splurge on a primo bottle of balsamic vinegar or a jar of cashew butter—money much better spent in my book!
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.