Grocery prices are expected to climb upward, which will leave many consumers stretching their food budgets even more than they have previously.

Since 2021, grocery prices have risen 11% and are expected to go up 8% more, as Lois Collins reported on Monday for Deseret News. This means prices are at an all-time high, and some staples like eggs have increased well above the average rate.

Several food bank operators told the Deseret News that high grocery prices impacts them as they receive fewer donations. Some families are struggling to put food on the table.

Given the high prices of groceries, here’s a practical guide on how to lower your grocery bill while also not spending a ton of time or energy on meal preparation.

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Make meals that work the best with your schedule

I made a goal of bringing lunch from home every single day for a few months one time. With my busy schedule, I found that the best kinds of things to bring for lunch were bento boxes with vegetables, hummus, fruit, pretzels, crackers and dips since these boxes were easy to put together and I generally was in the mood for those types of foods every day.

When thinking about how to budget for groceries, I think it’s important to consider your schedule before making any big changes. If you unwind by cooking after a long day, it might be a good idea to portion out what you need to cook for every day, freeze the rest and get in the habit of defrosting what you need each day. If you don’t like cooking at all and want to do it as little as possible, batch cooking or meals that don’t require much cooking might be the way to go.

Think about your spending

When lowering your grocery bill, one of the first things that you can do is look at when you’re spending money on food and drinks. Is it because you left your water bottle at home? Is it because you didn’t feel like cooking dinner one time? Think back on some of the habits that you may have fallen into and take note of them. This can help you make simple changes to your lifestyle that will translate into better savings.

Look at what the most expensive items you’re buying are and see if there’s a way to cut down on their price. Generally, the most expensive items are meat. If you love chicken, consider getting chicken thighs instead of chicken breast to save some money or wait to stock up until chicken is on sale. If you’re buying meat for tacos, consider alternatives like beans and rice or sweet potatoes for tacos that’ll save you some money.

Shop your pantry

It may be a good idea to clean out your pantry anyway. Take everything out of your pantry and see what you have (ensuring that it’s not expired). Think about ways that you can build meals around these items. You may find a box of rice you forget you had or some dried beans that you had good intentions of making — now you can spend time making them.

One way that might be helpful for you to do this is to make a record of what you have in your pantry. It’s a time investment up front, but if you have a document handy telling you that you have a few boxes of wild rice or quinoa or pasta on hand along with some jars of beans, you easily plan a meal around that and save money at the grocery store that week. Plus if you know how long you have had certain items in your pantry, then you’ll be able to use those before they expire and cut down on food waste.

Be practical about meal planning, not idealistic

Meal planning is crucial to saving money at the grocery store. There are a few steps that you can take to become a savvy meal planner.

  1. Bring coupons to the store and shop for meals based on what’s on sale. If sweet potatoes are on sale, consider getting those with a couple other vegetables, some black beans and rice for a low cost, protein-filled meal. Or if you find that a particular cut of meat is on sale, purchase that. Buying food based on what’s for sale takes some pre-planning (looking at sales beforehand is a good idea), but it can help you save money.
  2. Select meals that you’ll actually eat, that have simple ingredients and try to get a frozen meal as backup if you can.
  3. Be realistic with yourself. If you get a bottle of water or a lemonade every day from a vending machine or local store, think of a lower-cost way you could have the same thing. Make sure you have a reusable water-bottle and if lemonade is your must-have, purchase it from the store — you’ll likely save money in the long run.
  4. Buying frozen produce, uncut fresh produce, bulk grains, dried beans and wholesale spices can be a good way to save money.
  5. Avoid buying packaged goods or deli meats. Both of these can be higher priced than their bulk alternatives. There are still easy substitutes for both of them though.
  6. Think of ways to use ingredients differently. Sweet potatoes in a breakfast scramble can taste dramatically different than sweet potatoes seasoned with taco seasoning.
  7. When you get home from shopping, pre-portion all of your snacks into baggies. If you’re having cereal or oatmeal, consider pre-portioning it as well. Taking steps like this can help you to still have convenient foods to eat while saving money.

If you’re struggling to think of some budget friendly meals, here’s a list below.

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal with frozen berries or a banana.
  • Pancakes and fruit — one box of generic dry pancake mix can last a long time.
  • Cream of wheat.
  • Cereal and milk.
  • Toast with an egg or hummus.
  • Breakfast potato scramble — think potatoes with frozen peppers and onions.
  • Pumpkin bread.
  • Zucchini bread.

Lunch:

  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup.
  • Hummus and vegetable sandwich.
  • Potato salad and greens.
  • Chicken salad and crackers (pro-tip: you can use canned chicken).
  • Tuna and crackers.
  • Cheese, crackers and fruit.
  • Quesadilla.
  • Rice and mixed vegetables.
  • Chicken noodle soup.
  • Homemade pizza.
  • Pasta salad.

Dinner:

  • Baked potato and salad.
  • Fried rice.
  • Lasagna soup.
  • Sheet pan dinners (think chicken and roasted vegetables or chickpeas, potatoes and vegetables).
  • Black bean soup.
  • Lentil soup.
  • Chicken and dumplings.
  • Pasta and meat sauce with salad.
  • Chicken, broccoli and rice casserole.
  • Potato soup.

Learn how to cook your favorite meals

With apps like DoorDash and UberEats, it’s easy to have some favorite restaurant meals delivered straight to your home, and some nights, that might make sense as a treat or it’ll work better with your schedule. You could learn how to cook your favorite meals from restaurants, too.

There are copycat recipes on the internet like this one for Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup or this one for Olive Garden’s breadsticks.

Buy a couple of easy meals

Examples of easy meals are macaroni and cheese and some frozen vegetables or a couple of cans of soup with some toast. Have meals like these on nights where cooking really is off the table, so you can make something quick rather than eat out or order in.

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Consider switching up your grocery store

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Sometimes we just go to the grocery store closest to us and we leave it at that, but it’s possible that you could be spending more than you have to on groceries this way. The store you go to can make a big difference. Consider going to a store best suited for your eating habits. Business Insider compared the prices of organic food at Walmart and Whole Foods, and Whole Foods was a little more expensive, but not by much. In some cases, shopping at Whole Foods would make more sense. Other times, shopping at Harmon’s or Smith’s or Trader Joe’s or Walmart would make more sense.

Sign up for your store’s rewards program

Signing up for a rewards program can help save you some money, especially because you will often get special deals. Some programs like the Harmon’s one will give you offers like a free loaf of bakery bread or a discount on soup when you hit a certain number of points.

Have snacks that you can grab and go

Getting a couple of snacks can help save you money in the long run if you find that you’re hungry before dinner and this is a motivating factor for you to eat out. Some snacks like tortilla chips and salsa or cheese and fruit or pretzels and hummus can be relatively inexpensive. If you look at buying groceries as a way to help you eat at home more, then this tip can be used for you to save money in the long run.

Plus if you buy chips and salsa, you can use that as a side for a meal as well.

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