Best and Worst Values at the Grocery Store

With a recession looming on the horizon, it's a smart money move to adjust your grocery budget now.

For many shoppers, rising inflation rates have led to shrinking budgets—especially at the grocery store. Do you know which foods pack the most nutritional bang for the buck? These tips can help you stretch your grocery budget as far as possible—and avoid wasting money on overpriced items.

The Recession-Proof Pantry

If you find yourself needing to tighten your belt as inflation continues to rise, it’s important to adjust your mindset as you cut back on your grocery budget. There are so many delicious, nutritious foods that are budget-friendly, too. The main thing you’ll have to sacrifice isn’t flavor but convenience. Prepared foods, packaged snacks, and microwave meals all cost more than cooking similar dishes from scratch.

You might also want to get used to the idea of going vegetarian a few days a week. If you’re used to eating meat for every dinner, this can be an adjustment. However, plant-based meals can be just as tasty—plus they’re good for your body and the environment.

Finally, consider buying in bulk. A chest freezer can be a really smart investment for a family, as it will allow you to buy more when foods are less expensive. A membership to Costco or Sam’s Club can be helpful, but you can also find great deals on bulk food at your local grocery store.

Buy It: Beans

dried legumes

Beans are some of the most nutritionally dense ingredients you can buy. Packed with protein, beans are versatile and shelf-stable. If you buy dried beans in bulk instead of in cans, you’ll save even more. Dried beans are quick and easy to prepare in a pressure cooker—plus, you can control the amount of sodium.

Skip It: Greeting Cards

Can you really put a price tag on love? Yes, you can. Mass-produced greeting cards can range from $2 at the low end to $10 at the high end. You’re much better off buying cards at the dollar store—where you can typically get two cards for that price. You might also consider buying a bulk package of cards that’ll last you a year or more.  

Buy It: Eggs

It’s a myth that eggs are unhealthy. Yes, the yolks contain a lot of cholesterol, but it’s the good kind! The ratio between calories and nutrition is outstanding in an egg. As WebMD explains, “One egg has only 75 calories but 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, along with iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.”

Skip It: Steak

steak on the grill

The beef industry has been hit hard in the last two years. Between issues with the supply chain and rising inflation, prices for beef have spiraled out of control. You can get the same amount of protein and other nutrients without the high prices—and the environmental impact. Check out these meat substitutes for alternatives to paying top dollar for steak.

Buy It: Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables sometimes have a bad rap, but the truth is that they are often better than the fresh produce you get at the grocery store. That’s because the veggies you get in the freezer section are flash frozen instead of being picked unripe and shipped cross country or even from overseas. One word of warning: pay attention to the label! Many frozen veggies are pre-seasoned and have shockingly high levels of sodium.

Read More: Is Growing Your Own Food Really Cheaper?

Skip It: Batteries

Batteries are another non-food item that are much more expensive at the grocery store. Amazon’s private-label batteries are the cheapest on earth, but you can also find good deals at Best Buy, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Office Depot, and Walmart. The cost of name-brand batteries is significantly higher than most store brands, and you’ll rarely find coupons or sales on them at the grocery store.

Buy It: Brown Rice

Brown rice dish

There’s a reason that rice is a staple crop across the globe. Brown rice is more caloric than white rice, but it also contains more nutrients per serving, including protein and fiber. It’s also incredibly versatile—and it pairs great with those dried beans you bought earlier. Shelf-stable, delicious, and easy to cook, brown rice should be a pantry staple in your house.

Skip It: Birthday Cakes

We’re not going to talk about the nutritional value of a birthday cake—after all, the calories aren’t the point when you’re celebrating someone’s special day. However, custom-decorated birthday cakes from the grocery aren’t a great value. You may also face an uphill battle to get the decorators to spell the message correctly. Rather than paying premium prices for a birthday cake, buy a regular cake and stick some candles in it.

Buy It: Rotisserie Chicken

If you know that you’ll use up every part of a rotisserie chicken, then it’s a phenomenal value. Not only do roasted chickens from the grocery save you money but they also save time. The meat can be shredded for soups, tacos, and salads, and even the bones can be used to make stock. However, if you’re someone who prefers boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then a rotisserie chicken might be a waste.

Skip It: Pet Food

Dog and cat at food bowl

It seems like you should be able to buy your pet’s food at the same store where you buy the rest of your family’s groceries. Unfortunately, supermarkets offer some of the worst prices on pet food. You’ll usually find better prices shopping at a specialty pet store—or ordering your pet food online. You can also find good prices at discount clubs such as Costco, but they may offer limited options.

Buy It: Bananas

Bananas are one of nature’s wonders. They’re packed with potassium—a nutrient that many people lack in their diets. Bananas are tasty on their own, but they’re also fantastic in smoothies. And once they get a little too ripe, they find a new purpose in banana bread. While they may not be nutritional powerhouses like berries, bananas are cheap, easy to find, and less fragile than many other fruits.

Skip It: Pre-Cut Fruit

Sure, buying pre-cut fruit is convenient. But from a cost-effectiveness point of view, it’s a terrible idea. (That doesn’t even get into the unnecessary plastic from the container.) Pound for pound, produce that’s prepped at the store instead of your kitchen is much more expensive. If you truly don’t want to bother with peeling and chopping, buy frozen or canned fruit instead.

Buy It: Canned Fish

Canned fish

Canned fish has come a long way since the days of basic tuna salad sandwiches. Although it’s been popular in Europe for a very long time, Americans are only recently coming around to the idea of canned fish. Unlike fresh fish, which can be very expensive and has a short shelf life, canned fish is affordable and lasts for up to five years, according to the USDA. It’s not a replacement for a grilled salmon filet, of course, but canned fish is ideal for making patties, chowders, pasta, and sandwiches.

Skip It: Bacon

Thankfully, the pop culture phenomenon surrounding bacon has started to die down. Bacon is still being stacked on the sides of breakfast plates and layered on top of burgers, but if you’re going to enjoy this cured meat at home, rethink your portion size. Bacon is expensive—and not terribly good for you.

Buy It: Spinach

Unlike other salad greens, spinach is versatile. Not only is it packed with vitamins and minerals, but it can be used in a wide variety of dishes. While many people prefer fresh spinach, if you’re planning to saute it anyway, you might be better off buying frozen. You can use fresh spinach to make Italian dishes such as lasagna, fresh pesto, spanakopita, Indian staples like spinach paneer, and quiche.

Skip It: Premium Ice Cream

Ice cream has been one of the biggest victims of shrinkflation. The product size of Breyer’s ice cream has been steadily shrinking over the last two decades, for example, dropping from 64 ounces (a half-gallon) to just 48 ounces. Premium ice creams in pint—or smaller—containers are often ridiculously expensive when you break down the cost per ounce.

Read More: What Is Shrinkflation, and How Is It Costing You?

Buy It: Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter

As long as you aren’t allergic to peanuts, this is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can enjoy. Check out the benefits of adding more peanut butter to your diet! If you plan to start eating more peanut butter, look for natural versions rather than the “peanut spread” you might be more familiar with it. Traditional peanut butter often has extra oil and sugar added.

Skip It: Packaged Snacks

We all know that processed food is bad news—but it can have a major impact on your wallet as well as your health. Packaged snacks such as cookies and chips offer little in the way of nutritional value, but they’ll put a major dent in your grocery budget. These snacks are often marketed to kids, making it harder for children to establish sound dietary habits.  

Buy It: Potatoes

Potatoes are one of the most recession-proof foods on the market. The price tends to stay relatively stable despite fluctuations in the purchasing power of the dollar. Potatoes offer vitamins, minerals, and fiber—especially sweet potatoes. When stored properly, potatoes can last for several months.  

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