Help to offset the rising cost of food!

Vegetables and price tags
Vegetables and price tags (Photo credit: Jeana Bala)

Every day I hear the same grim news. Food prices are steadily increasing, and the big-chain grocery stores are increasing their prices again. Food costs, everywhere, are soaring and even so-called budget foods are eating the wallet.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Some innovative ways to reduce your food bill could include ditching the typical grocery list. Oftentimes, consumers make the mistake of treating food like a cheap commodity rather than an investment. Families really don’t have to pay full price for everything they consume. Running to the store to replenish whatever you’ve run out of almost always means you’ll pay full price for it as everything’s not on sale all the time. Instead of letting running out of food trigger the purchase, let the sales trigger when you shop. Every single thing goes on sale once every 12 weeks or so. So, everything, short of dairy and produce, can be bought as an investment—if you’re sure that you’ll eat it.

We all knew prices would be going up, but I don’t think we realized how bad it was going to be. The whole supply chain is increasing, and nobody wants to absorb that cost. So, unfortunately, the person or people that are going to bear it are the consumers. Consumers need to find sales by checking weekly circulars online and in-store—you can find them near the entrance of most grocery stores.

Secondly, bigger doesn’t mean better. Items typically come in three sizes—small, medium and large, but bigger don’t always mean better value. Consumers should choose the item with the lowest cost per unit, chances are it will be medium-sized. In addition, families should go for store brands. We’re not talking generics—the supermarket’s private label actually competes with no-name products since they offer great value at a reasonable price. When they go on sale it’s practically a steal.

Planning out your meals based on your current food stock and what’s on sale that week is optimal and can lead to massive savings. With this method of meal planning, you’re able to use what you currently have, which means you’re not spending additional money on new items. The added benefit is that you’re able to utilize your stockpile, making your meal plans cost less per serving. It also gives you a way to make more creative meals by swapping recipe ingredients with items you already have in stock. Meal planning in combination with shelf cooking (using what you have on hand) can add up to notable savings in your food budget.

One of my favorites is to repurpose leftovers to eliminate food waste and save yourself from making another meal. Once a week, we “clean out” the fridge and reheat and repurpose our leftovers from the week. It looks like a buffet dinner, but the food is eaten and enjoyed by the entire family while more money stays in our pockets. Accounting for one leftover day means one less meal you have to shop for. That equates to four extra meals per month at no extra cost to you.

The large majority of citizens in the Caribbean have the available space to plant fresh food, unlike most people who live in big cities. A small garden is quite advantageous and can save you a bundle at the grocery store. For example, an average plot provides an estimated 300 pounds of fresh produce worth approximately US$600. A simple 12-by-14-foot and 33-by-3-foot garden can cut down your grocery bill by hundreds of dollars. The start up may seem like a lot but the yield is significant. It’s important to plant what you mostly use or what you prefer to eat on a daily basis. Plant what is reasonable for where you live, and you will reap the benefits later.

Don’t underestimate your garden’s value beyond its food. Most importantly, it’s free entertainment and it takes work and time to tend your garden — time you would otherwise be out and about spending money — plus it is a great educational activity to do with the family.

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian Educator residing in New York.

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