If you’re looking to save money on groceries, chances are you’re already clipping coupons, looking for point-of-sale discounts and buying in bulk any items that you use frequently. But if you want to up your game, the following professional kitchen tips can help you eat better, waste less food to spoilage and reign in your food budget while also making the entire shopping experience easier and more enjoyable.
1. Plan a Weekly Menu … & Stick To It
Chefs never go to the market or order supplies for their restaurants without a plan, and neither should you. So before you head to the grocery store or farmers market, make sure you also have a plan in place by creating a menu for the entire week. Not only does this keep your shopping on point, but knowing ahead of time what you’re going to have for dinner every night can be incredibly helpful when you’re tired. You’ll never again have to come home and wonder what you’re going to make, or if you even have anything to cook. And because you have options at home, you’ll be less likely to order take-out or head to a restaurant on a whim.
You can start the planning process each week by looking at what is already in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Are there items that need to be used right away? If so, create a meal plan around those items. If you’re not terribly creative in the kitchen, try entering a few items from your refrigerator and pantry into a Google search and see what recipes pop up. Have some chicken, cannellini beans and cheddar cheese? Boom. You’ve got the foundation for a white chicken chili.
The important thing to remember is to plan every meal for the week and build in some flexibility. If, while shopping, you stumble upon an ingredient you really want to try and you’re unfamiliar with it, see if you can substitute it for something already on your list. Or just plan to create a bonus dish for one of your meals.
And by all means, schedule a night or two for take-out or eating out. It’s good to get out of the kitchen sometimes.
2. Think Seasonally
Buying what is in season is a great way to save money and add variety to your diet. Sure, you can get blueberries in December, but they’ll typically cost you a lot more than they will when they’re in season in North America in June and July. Instead of blueberries, consider what’s in season. In this case, citrus fruits and late-season apples, and get creative with their preparation.
3. Frequent Farmers Markets
Seasonality is in its full glory at farmers markets, and more frequently than not, what you’re buying was raised or produced nearby, meaning there’s no middle man and limited shipping, which helps keeps costs low.
You’re also more likely to stumble upon foods you might not have eaten or cooked before, or at least a variety of that food you haven’t seen, and that’s great news if you’re an adventurous cook (or eater who knows an adventurous cook!).
The USDA estimates there were more than 8,000 farmers markets operating in the U.S. in 2014, so chances are there’s one near you.
4. Visit Local Farms & Food Businesses
If you stumble upon a farmer, wine maker or other purveyor at your local market that you just really love, plan to visit their farm, vineyard or place of business. Many of these businesses welcome visitors and some even provide tours of their facilities where you can learn more about their practices.
By getting to know your local farmers and food purveyors, you can easily get a heads up on what products they’re particularly excited about as the new season approaches, and you might even get a discount for being a valued customer.
5. Shop Early in the Morning
Most stores stock overnight or early in the morning, so you’ll get the absolute best selection if you get there early. That’s especially true for farmers markets, which can quickly sell out of popular items.
6. Skip Dry Goods – Have Them Delivered Instead
Even if you don’t have the storage space to buy in bulk, buying your toilet paper, paper towels and even cereal and canned goods online and having them delivered can make a lot of sense and save a lot of money.
Online retailers typically sell items like toilet paper, paper towels and household cleaners more cheaply than your local grocer. Buying these items online also cuts down on the amount of time you have to spend in the grocery store, and you can schedule these deliveries so they come at regular intervals — monthly, semi-monthly, etc.
7. Eat While You Shop
Most stores offer tastings while you shop, and you should really try to take advantage. Why? First, those items are typically being offered at a discount. Second, it could introduce you to a whole new world of flavors, even if you think you might not like it.
If you do happen to find something you really like, use the tip from No. 1 above and see if you can substitute it for something already on your list, or plan a bonus dish so you and your family can experience a little culinary adventure.
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