Make a list of basic foods you use regularly, and buy them in quantities suited to your needs. For example, if your family eats a lot of bread, it’s worth stocking up when prices are low and freezing the excess for later.
Save on fruit and veggies
Buy fruit and vegetables from a store or supermarket where you can select and weigh your own. You’ll be able to buy the exact quantity you need and check whether the produce is bruised or damaged more easily than if it’s in a sealed pack. Loose fruit and vegetables also keep longer than those wrapped in plastic and are often less expensive.
Fruit and vegetable stores
It may be wise to be careful when shopping for fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. Some produce managers select individual, unblemished items of a similar size to look more attractive in the package or for display, and this costs more. Smaller greengrocers and stores may purchase lower-grade produce, which is just as good, but less visually perfect. It will be cheaper, but you should select your individual items with care. Avoid places where vendors put items into a bag from a box at the back.
Priced for preserves
Discounted fruit needs picking over carefully. It may be cheap because it’s fully ripe and needs clearing to make room on the shelf for a new delivery. This is fine if you’ll be eating the fruit on the same day or plan on making preserves, salsas, jams or chutneys. If it has ripened too far, or is likely to go to waste, it is probably not worth buying, even at a reduced rate.
Reduced but not rotten
Check reduced-priced vegetables carefully as well. Green vegetables such as beans and broccoli should look bright and fresh, root vegetables such as carrots or potatoes should be firm, and lettuces and leaf vegetables should be crisp.
Prepackaged bags of prewashed salad can be 50%-70% more expensive than mixing ingredients and making your own salads. A 454 g bag at around $3.49 costs the same as two romaine lettuces, three medium-sized iceberg lettuces or three leaf lettuces—each enough for several salads.
What’s in season?
Today, in most major centres, almost all fruit and vegetables are available. They are shipped from all around the world, but you pay the price. Not only can they be very expensive ($5 for a handful of blueberries), but most fruit is picked quite early and ripens during transport. The flavour suffers as a result. Why not forgo those out-of-season items and enjoy them as a treat in season—tasty and cheap.
Save over half the price of juice by purchasing frozen juice concentrates and reconstituting them. They are just as nutritious, there is a wide variety and they are easier to store so you can buy in bulk when they’re on sale. Look for those that are made from 100% pure juice and avoid juice “drinks” that have too much added sugar.
Though juice boxes are popular with kids and easy for you, how hard is it to pour a glass of juice at home or use a refillable container for lunches? Just pop them in the dishwasher with the dinner cleanup and think of the money you’ve saved and your contribution toward conserving the planet’s resources.
The meat of the matter
Many people think of cooking turkey only at Christmas, but it is an economical choice all year round—a 4.5 kg bird will feed about a dozen people. You don’t have to buy a whole bird, since turkey is available in supermarkets and at butchers as oven-ready joints, breasts and ground, and is good value for family meals and barbecues.
The tender touch
Flank steak, stewing beef and other less-expensive cuts of meat are 10%-30% cheaper than choicer cuts, but they need longer cooking to make them tender. Plan in advance if you are going to use them; an Irish stew needs to cook for 2 hours, for example, though marinating for as little as 20 minutes will help to tenderize and add flavour too.
Cheaper ground beef may not necessarily be higher in fat than prime ground steak. Some butchers prepare ground beef from cheaper cuts. The meat will also have been hung for a shorter period, so increased cooking time will be necessary to make it tender. Cheaper ground is fine for slow-cooked chili or spaghetti sauce if you add plenty of herbs, wine and tomato paste for extra flavour. But buy prime cut ground for quick-cook homemade burgers.
You can save on chicken pieces if you buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself—all it takes is a good knife and a systematic approach. Whole chickens cost around $6 per kilogram, compared to about $5 for 1 kg of chicken thighs or $17 for 1 kg of boneless, skinless breasts. Use the bones and any leftovers in stocks and soups. Roasted chicken wings make excellent party nibbles.
Although expensive, fish is an economical buy as it has little waste. Fresh fish should have plump flesh and bright eyes.
Which to choose?
Fresh fish is not necessarily more expensive than frozen. It depends on the time of the year and the region. Fresh halibut, at $1.70 for 100 g is a great alternative to some of the more expensive varieties of fish.
Shopping for shrimp
A 454 g bag of unpeeled frozen shrimp costs around $9.99; peeled and cooked costs around $12.99. Buy a smaller portion of shrimp than you need for a recipe and add cheaper pollack-crab to make up the weight.
Buy whole and bag up
A whole 4 kg salmon on special offer might cost $13 a kilogram. If you cut it into steaks and freeze the surplus in individual bags, you will save over precut steaks, which cost $15.50 a kilogram.