As we approach the upcoming holiday season, you may be preparing for travel, getting ready to enjoy quality time with loved ones, as well as planning your family’s traditional holiday meals. You may even look forward to preparing and enjoying these comfort dishes every year!
The holidays can be a costly time of year for many reasons, which can include making special recipes or larger batches of recipes/quantities of food. Unfortunately, food prices have risen over recent months/years at above historically-average rates. This can make grocery budgeting and planning for food costs this season very difficult, as our previous/normal budgets may no longer afford the same foods they once did. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2023, food costs were predicted to increased by around 5.8 percent, which is a slower growth than in 2022, but ultimately still a large change. If you have noticed this change in your grocery store’s prices or in your weekly or monthly grocery spending amounts, you are not alone.
In this article, we want to share tips and strategies for saving money and stretching your food budget around this holiday season amidst the high food costs.
When it comes to cutting down food costs and shopping smart, below are a few simple tips:
• Think Seasonal, Bulk, Generic: For fresh produce, seasonal fruits and veggies are at their best flavor and price. For most items, the larger sized packages are cheaper by volume. This works best for shelf-stable or frozen items. Single serving packages are convenient, but more expensive. Most store brands are just as tasty as national brands, but cost less.
• Make a meal plan and grocery list: Planning meals ahead of time saves money, saves time, and makes healthy eating possible. To save the most money, plan your menu around items you have in your pantry and sale items. Have a snack before you shop to avoid the temptation of shopping with your stomach instead of your list.
• Cut out/avoid the “extras”: One important part of budgeting is sticking to your grocery list of necessary items and ingredients. This means eliminating the “extras” or items that provide low nutrition or are last-minute grocery cart add-ins. This may include beverages: stick with water, low-fat milk, or a small amount of fruit juice to drink and skip the soda or energy drinks. In terms of snacks, foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grain crackers or popcorn will be more cost-efficient than less nutrient-dense snacks such as chips, candy, or ice cream.
• Pay attention to unit prices: For identical products, the price tag can tell you which is cheaper. But for comparing different container sizes, varieties, or serving sizes, there’s a little more to it than that. This is where unit pricing comes in. You can calculate the unit price by dividing the price by the amount (weight, volume, or servings). But most stores now calculate the unit price for you on the price tag.
• Cook from scratch: Buying foods in their “whole” form rather than in a processed form tends to save you money. For example, buying whole potatoes rather than instant potato flakes or plain whole-grain pasta rather than flavored noodle dishes. Cooking at home from scratch may seem like purchasing more ingredients in quantity, but will ultimately come out less expensive than prepared or take-out meals, and will most likely provide more nutritional value.
• Know your nutrient needs: Portion sizes can be tricky, as they have gotten larger over time and we may not be used to what the right size for our needs looks like. MyPlate has great resources for calculating the right amount of each food group you need to be healthy. Use these plans as a guide for how much of each food group your family will need each day as you plan your meals. And if you cook too much at one meal, save your leftovers and don’t let them go to waste.
• Plan a mix of higher cost and lower cost meals: Meals with animal proteins and seafood tend to be more expensive, so plan a few meatless meals to balance it out. Additionally, if your your favorite holiday staple recipes are your priority in a given week, plan accordingly by choosing lower cost recipes that week.
Spending time with your loved ones is what matters most this holiday season. Worrying about your grocery budget and food cost inflation can inhibit your ability to be present, so we encourage you to keep in mind these tips and strategies.
We would love for you to share: What is your favorite traditional holiday meal?