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COVID-19 Pandemic: Six Ways to Save Money on Groceries

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COVID-19 Pandemic: Six Ways to Save Money on Groceries

In case you haven’t noticed, the price of food has been skyrocketing. Not only that, but some of those grocery shelves are also looking a bit bare, too. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is a measure of economy-wide inflation, increased by 0.8% from September 2021 to October 2021, up from 6.2% from October 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Since April 2020, food prices have increased an average of 3.6% for food bought for at-home consumption, and 3.9% for food away-from home, says the website Econofact. But why?

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  • Illnesses in the meatpacking sector have increased, closing almost 40% of national processing capacity (hence, higher beef and pork prices).
  • Agricultural commodity prices have increased, too, affecting the prices of corn, wheat, and soybeans.
  • Wages have increased in the food industry, which means that food prices have increased, as well.
  • Supply chain and transportation issues play a role, too. There aren’t enough workers to unload containers in ports and not enough truck drivers to deliver food to stores. Also, problems obtaining products for packaging (like aluminum and cardboard) impacts food manufacturers, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • Consumer demand has increased since the onset of the pandemic which, in turn, drives up food prices.

Bottom line: Food prices are higher than they’ve been since 1990. So, what can you do to curb costs at the grocery store but still eat healthfully? Here are some tips that can help.

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Tips to save money on groceries

Plan your meals for the week.

Planning allows you to think about your food needs, tastes, and budget. If you know you must stretch your money for the week, meal planning can really pay off.

  • If you’re feeling stuck on what meals to prepare, come up with three to five recipes or dishes that you can have during the week. Ask your dietitian or diabetes educator to help tweak these recipes if they seem too high in carbs or fat. For example, instead of pasta or noodles, you might try a lower-carb substitute such as spaghetti squash or spiralized “noodles” made from zucchini or other vegetables.
  • Use the same ingredient several times during a week. Cook a whole chicken and then use it in different ways — try a stir fry one night and chicken fajitas or chicken soup another night.

Make a list…and check it twice.

Good shoppers know that entering a supermarket without a list can not only mean you forget certain items, but you may also end up spending more, since you may be tempted to buy foods you didn’t plan for.

  • Take stock of what’s in your fridge, freezer, and cupboards. Unless you have unlimited space, decide what’s most important to purchase that week or month.
  • Gear your list to the aisles of the store to keep shopping organized and save time, too.

Cash in on coupons and other deals.

Savvy shoppers scour store fliers and online sites such as coupons.com for the best deals. Sign up for store loyalty cards. And consider using a rebate app like Checkout 51 or Ibotta.

  • Be careful with coupons — don’t buy something that you usually don’t eat (or that isn’t healthy) just because you have a coupon. Buy what makes sense for you and your family.

Stick with store brands — with caution.

Unless there’s an awesome sale going on, buying store brand foods can save you 20% to 30% on your grocery bill. Store brand canned beans, canned tomatoes, milk, and frozen fruits and vegetables are just some examples of how you can save some cash.

  • Realize that store brands might contain added ingredients that you don’t want — such as added sugar in cereals or yogurt, or palm oil in peanut butter. Scrutinize ingredient lists and decide what makes sense to purchase “generic” vs. “brand name.”

Use some elbow grease.

Prepared foods are so convenient — you don’t have to chop that hefty butternut squash into cubes, for example, or do much more than reheat those cooked chicken breasts. But convenience comes with a price tag. If it helps you to eat healthier foods, then budget those foods in. Decide, though, what you’re willing to prepare yourself vs. buy ready-made.

  • If you like the idea of having certain foods practically made for you, devote some time each week to do some batch prepping and cooking. For example, cook several chicken breasts at one time so that you have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. Some people also find that prepping their veggies is best to do after you’ve unloaded the groceries.

Rethink your protein choices.

With the cost of beef and pork climbing through the roof, consider other ways to get protein at your meals. Cheaper cuts of meat work well in a slow cooker, as well as in soups and casseroles. Fish is generally less expensive now, so it’s a good time to fit fish into your menu, whether it’s fresh or frozen.

  • Consider plant-based proteins, too. Tofu, tempeh, beans, and vegetarian meat-alternatives (think veggie burgers, meatless chicken strips, or meatless crumbles) are options. You don’t need to banish meat altogether, but finding ways to focus on meatless meals will add variety and nutrition (for the most part) to your eating plan and keep more money in your wallet.

Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read our latest COVID-19 updates.

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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