It’s no secret that we are experiencing rising food costs. We are also seeing some shortages off and on due to supply chain issues, weather, etc. Providing nourishing food for our families is an important part of a homemaker’s job, despite these circumstances. Let’s discuss some ways we can cope with current challenges.
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Rising Food Costs and Shortages
How to cope?
Since the beginning of the pandemic I have been ordering my groceries rather than going into a grocery store. I use Instacart to have groceries from Aldi delivered to my daughter’s front porch as I live outside the delivery area. A local grocery store has an online shopping option and a very nice employee will gather my order and bring it out to my car. I also have ordered more than usual from Amazon.
Because all of my shopping has been done online, it has been easy for me to keep all the receipts in an email folder. That’s how I know on a personal level that grocery prices have increased a LOT over the past two years.
There’s really no denying it, though. The USDA puts out monthly cost of food reports. They are divided into four food plan categories: thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal food plans. Take a look at how much the thrifty plan increased in 2021:
USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food Reports
Thrifty plan for family of four, 2 adults (20-50 years of age) and 2 children (6-8 and 9-11 years):
$155.80 per week
$199.20 per week
That is an increase of $2,343.60 a year!
The Thrifty Plan for this same family of four was $215.10 as of May 2022. So as you can see, it continues to rise.
I know many are struggling so I’ve put together this list of 23 suggestions to help us all cope with rising food costs and shortages:
1. Buy on sale and stock up
When items you use regularly are on sale, buy extra. You don’t have to buy cases at a time if you can’t afford it (or it’s in short supply). If canned green beans are on sale and you need two for that week’s meals, pick up one or two extra. If done consistently, you’ll gradually build up a pantry.
Try to get in the habit of shopping for those things you use all the time before you run out. As you open your extra jar of mayonnaise from the pantry, put it on your shopping list. When an item you want is temporarily unavailable, it won’t be a big deal because you have extra on hand.
Things tend to go on sale in a fairly routine manner. Begin to pay attention to the sales cycle. The ultimate goal is to buy enough of sale items to last until the next sale, thus avoiding ever paying full price.
2. Use less meat in recipes
Meat is a big expense in the grocery budget. Beef prices rose 20% from October 2020 to October 2021. One way to offset this is to decrease amount in recipes. If you normally use a full pound or more of ground beef in casseroles or spaghetti sauce, try gradually decreasing it. You can often make up the difference by adding (more) vegetables or beans.
3. Reduce waste
With food being so expensive it’s more important than ever that the homemaker avoid waste. Plan to use leftovers in a variety of ways. Send leftovers in lunches. Use bones and vegetable scraps for stock. Make soup or casseroles. If fresh fruit is a bit past its prime, toss it into smoothies (you can freeze it first). Overripe bananas make wonderful baked goods, including my Fresh Banana Cake.
Learn to store items properly to extend their freshness.
4. Plan ahead but be flexible
I’m a big proponent of weekly (or even monthly) menu planning. But it’s important to remain flexible. If you planned a meal that calls for a certain cut of beef but it’s not available at the store, or another cut is on sale, be willing to change your plans. One thing I think we’ve all learned during the pandemic and the associated shortages is that we have to be flexible.
5. Cook from scratch
It’s no secret that prepared foods are usually more expensive. You are paying for someone else’s labor. We all have those circumstances when it’s reasonable to utilize prepared foods but by cooking from scratch most of the time we can save a lot of money.
If you are an inexperienced cook, invest in a good, basic cookbook. Stick to simple recipes at first. Read through the entire recipe carefully. Assemble all of your ingredients and necessary pots, pans, measuring cups, spoons, etc. before you begin. Take your time, double-check measurements and use a timer when called for. Before you know it, you’ll be cooking delicious, homemade meals!
6. Buy produce in season
You’ll save a lot of money by sticking to fresh produce in season. A bonus is that it will taste a lot better, too. If you have a farmers market nearby you can likely find good deals on seasonal produce.
Find out what’s in season in your area (U.S.) here:
I’m sure other countries have similar resources. If you live outside the U.S. and know of a guide I can share, please let me know and I’ll add it to this post.
7. Compare prices of fresh, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables
In a best case scenario we would all be eating organic, fresh-from-the-garden fruits and vegetables. But that’s not usually the situation for most of us. While I do believe fresh, organic produce is best, cost and availability are important factors. The most important thing is to consume as large a quantity of fruits and vegetables as possible.
In some cases, frozen vegetables are even more nutritious than fresh. They are flash frozen immediately after harvest whereas fresh may have traveled long distances before arriving at your local grocery store. And even canned vegetables provide many nutrients. Don’t disregard them if they are the most economical choice for a tight budget.
8. Master the art of soup making
I hear that there are people who don’t like soup but I find that hard to imagine. A tasty soup is one of my favorite things! Learn to make good soups and you’ll have a valuable and money-saving skill. Here are some of my favorites:
9. Consider nutrition, price and satiety
Your food dollars are best spent on items that provide nourishment and full tummies at a reasonable price. For instance, a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal is healthier, cheaper and more filling than a bowl of sugar-sweetened cold cereal.
10. Buy less popular cuts of meat and poultry
When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, I don’t recall seeing boneless, skinless chicken breasts. And yet now, that’s what everyone seems to want. It’s fast and easy to cook but that convenience comes with a price. Consider less popular choices such as leg quarters.
My local grocery store currently has 10 pound bags of frozen chicken leg quarters for $5.99. Fifty nine cents a pound is an incredible deal, especially when compared to their price of $4.29 for boneless skinless breasts. Brushed with barbecue sauce and baked, leg quarters make a tasty and inexpensive meal when served with a baked potato and homemade coleslaw.
Leaner, less tender cuts of beef can still be delicious when cooked “low and slow”. You’ll likely find many recipes for these choices in older cookbooks.
11. Buy family packs
Most stores sell family packs of meat and poultry at a lower price per pound. Repackage in meal-size portions and freeze them for a substantial savings.
12. Pay attention to portion size
Here’s a bit of tough love for us all: many/most of us simply eat too much. Portion sizes have increased way beyond our needs as evidenced by our growing waistlines. One way to save money is to consider what a serving size really is, especially when it comes to higher calorie/higher cost items. For instance, for most adults, a 4-ounce serving of meat is plenty. Fill your plate with a larger quantity of vegetables and you’ll save money as well as calories.
13. Use meat to add flavor
Many of us grew up eating a large portion of meat as the main dish. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider meat as more of a condiment…at least for some meals each week. For instance, a bit of diced ham in a big pot of split pea soup adds a lot of flavor. Whenever I serve a ham for a holiday meal, I freeze the leftovers to use for soups, beans and casseroles. A little goes a long way.
14. Invest in herbs and spices
Inexpensive meals don’t have to be bland and boring. Gradually build a collection of herbs and spices and learn how to season your meals well. This makes all the difference!
15. Institute more meatless meals
Try instituting one or more meatless meals per week. We went vegetarian for a year many years ago and in the process we discovered that many of my usual recipes were just as good without meat (Sour Cream Green Chili Enchiladas is a good example.).
16. Use more eggs
Even though egg prices are rising, they are still an economical source of high quality protein. Fortunately we now know that the cholesterol in eggs is not the big concern it was once thought to be. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, most healthy adults can eat up to seven eggs a week according to the Mayo Clinic.
17. Learn how to cook dried beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are an inexpensive source of protein. The dried versions are cheaper still. They aren’t difficult to cook but just require a bit of planning ahead.
18. Try more ethnic recipes
Many ethnic cuisines offer delicious low-meat or meatless dishes. What they lack in meat they more than make up for in flavor. Try a flavorful dish like:
19. Maintain good stock of basics
With a well-stocked pantry you can make any number of meals without a trip to the grocery store. This is also very helpful during times of sporadic shortages. Remember the beginning of the pandemic when flour and yeast were virtually impossible to find? I already had both in my pantry. This, my friends, feels like freedom.
20. Consider Depression-era and wartime recipes
Look to the past for low-cost recipes. There are many recipe books and YouTube channels featuring simple recipes from the Great Depression and wartimes. Granted, some recipes are just plain weird but there are many others that deserve another look as we try to save money in the kitchen.
21. Learn about basic nutrition
When grocery money is tight, it’s all the more important that we focus on the items that will provide the most nutrition. Do you know what nutrients the body requires and good food sources for each of them? How many servings do we need each day of the major food groups? If you never had home economics in school or if it’s been many decades, consider researching this topic. Don’t get too far into the weeds on this; stick with a basic overview and then do your best to meet those basic requirements most days.
Perhaps I should finish that series I started here on the blog:
Let me know if you’re interested. If there is enough interest I’ll start it up again.
22. Invest in kitchen equipment
This suggestion requires an initial layout of money but can save you in the long run. The following small appliances will make it much easier to prepare meals at home, saving you time/effort and money. Here are the items I find extremely useful in my own kitchen:
- slow cooker – great for those less tender meats
- Instant Pot – the best way to cook dried beans (no need to soak!)
- rice cooker – easier than stovetop and requires no watching
- blender – make smoothies, purée vegetables to add to sauces, make your own breadcrumbs
A well-organized kitchen with good food prep tools will make it much easier to provide your family with delicious, home cooked meals.
23. Grow your own food
Finally, if you have the space and time, a garden and perhaps a few chickens will provide nutritious food for your family. I’ve done both at times and there is nothing quite like being able to go into your backyard to gather fresh eggs or sun-ripened tomatoes.
Here are a few additional resources to help you provide nourishing meals for your family:
Azure Standard is a great source of organic and natural food items, many of which are available in bulk. I’ve purchased from them for many, many years. If you are looking to really stock your pantry in a big way, they are a wonderful resource.
Click here to get $10 off your first order with Instacart. Use this code: D47124317D
Menu Planning Links
Need more help with meal planning? Would you love to outsource this task? If so, I’ve got the solution. My friend Tiffany King, founder of Eat at Home, has done all the work for us to get dinner under control – simply and easily.
She’s created meal plans for everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. She’s got plans even if :
…You have picky eaters
…You’re trying to feed your family a more wholesome diet
…You aren’t the world’s best cook
…You need to get dinner on the table in 15 minutes
Eat at Home meal plans accommodate any family size – and any preferences! With over 10,000 meals under her belt, she’s an expert at making the meal process simple, yet satisfying.
If that weren’t enough when you join Eat at Home Meal Plans you get access to FOUR different meal plans for one price.
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