Over two years since the start of the pandemic, and we are still feeling the costs… quite literally. Across the world, food prices have been on the rise, due in part to shortages that began during the pandemic and compounded by Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate change and continued inflation. The U.N. has recently warned of what NPR describes as “crippling global shortages” in the food supply. Of course, the worst of these effects will hit the poorest countries—and poorest people—first.
If you’ve stepped foot in a grocery store lately, you’ve probably noticed the hike in prices yourself. Where I’m located in Boston, prices were up 7.3 percent from a year before in March of 2022. And experts expect that prices will continue to rise throughout the year. I know this jump in prices has affected my own purchasing decisions, and I’m trying to be more mindful when it comes to what I’m buying (and wasting).
Of course, food affordability is a systemic issue, and our individual solutions can only function as a Band-Aid for the problem—we need to ensure that everyone can afford healthy, culturally appropriate foods on a daily basis. But we also need practical solutions for our everyday lives, so I decided to gather some tips for cutting grocery costs as exorbitant prices continue to change what we eat. For those who are lucky enough to afford to shop at a grocery store or market, here are some ways to reduce your food bill.
This isn’t a solution that everyone will love, but if you were trying to cut back on your meat consumption anyway, it’s not a bad idea to bypass the butcher if you’re trying to save money. In November of 2021, CNBC reported that beef prices had gone up a whopping 20 percent in the last year, and you’re likely seeing those numbers for yourself when you’re shopping for chicken, turkey and other types of meat as well. If you have time to prepare beans and other proteins like tempeh and tofu, this can be an easy way to lower your costs at the grocery store while doing something positive for the environment and the animals at the same time. Plus, beans are delicious, so if you get to eat more of them in the process, even better.
It may seem like frozen food, especially produce, is less nutritious than the fresh stuff, but that’s actually not the case. Food is frozen at the peak of freshness, which means you might actually be getting more nutrients and better taste when you opt for the frozen stuff. Plus, it can be significantly less expensive than buying everything fresh, and it won’t go bad if you don’t eat it quickly enough. Frozen veggies are perfect for adding some extra greens to a quick dinner, and I love frozen fruits for summertime smoothies when it’s too hot to cook anything else.
Rising grocery prices definitely aren’t a good thing, but they may just help us take a better look at what we’re throwing away. In the United States, around 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted, which essentially means that we’re just throwing money away. Next time you clean out your fridge, take a close look at what you’re throwing away, and make note to buy less of it next time. If you’re paying more for your groceries, it’s even more important that that food doesn’t end up in the trash before you even get the chance to eat it.
You probably already know this one, but it bears repeating: If you have the option, always buy the store brand. Sure, the packaging may not be as good, but a lot of the time, you’re purchasing pretty much the exact same product you’d be getting if you were to buy the brand-name product. This is especially true when it comes to those pantry staples that you always keep stocked: A lot of the time, pasta, flour, sugar, eggs and canned vegetables aren’t going to vary much from brand to brand.
It’s so easy to add a bunch of unnecessary items to your cart when you’re leisurely pushing it around the store. But if you’re sufficiently noodly-armed like I am, carrying a basket will prevent you from buying as much. The extra bag of chips you don’t really need isn’t going to fit, which makes it easier to just snag the stuff you need and be on your way without overspending on accident. If you’re stronger than me and can carry two baskets at once, I don’t know what to tell you: Maybe work out less, and you won’t need to eat so much.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.