Let’s face it — when it comes to inflation, 2022 and 2023 have been tough years. The numbers don’t lie. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in August 2022, the rate of inflation for food stood at 11.4% — the highest it had been in 43 years. And while inflation on food from October 2022 to October 2023 was at 3.3%, we haven’t recovered from that surge, and it’s not like we are returning anytime soon (or ever) to prices before August 2022.
So if you’re trying to keep your prices low at the supermarket, what are your best bets? I thought I could suggest some foods that tend to give you bigger bang for your buck and can help you create real meals for your family.
Now, I have to warn you — foods that are cheaper are rarely healthier. That’s just a hard reality. It’s truly a sin that to eat well in a healthy way in America, you have to pay much more. So you’ll have to consider how you will be preparing meals and how often you are eating certain foods, to make sure you are getting the most and best nutrition, while you are trying to save money.
Eggs have had a bad journey in recent months. They spent most of 2022 rising steadily, thanks in part to the bird flu and the resulting need to kill off many hens, and then finally, in the summer of 2023, they came off of prices as high as $6 a dozen in some U.S. areas and $9 a dozen in others. (We saw $9 a dozen in Chicagoland for a short time.)
But despite the highs egg prices hit, the truth is, when you consider what you can do with eggs and how far they can go, they are STILL one of your best buys if you are trying to save money.
Currently eggs in the area where I now live, in the southwestern part of of Tennessee, are just $1.24 a dozen. Back in Chicagoland, they aren’t too much more — $1.49. And for just under $2, you can serve up those eggs in so many ways.
You can make omelettes. You can scramble the eggs. You can make a Spanish tortilla, which is actually an egg dish (not to be confused with Mexican tortillas that are used for tacos and enchiladas) or an Italian frittata. You can make a quiche. You can hard boil the eggs and keep them in the fridge for quick snacks. As the egg industry’s commercial used to way, eggs truly are incredibly editable!
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of hot dogs, but I also have to admit, the men in my house love them. When I announce that we are having hot dogs for dinner, you’d think I just said that we were having filet mignon.
A package of eight hot dogs will probably run you about $4 to $5. Add to that the eight hot dog buns, for roughly $2 to $3 for the package, and the meal will cost you about $8 — $1 per hot dog sandwich. Now, sadly, in my house with two grown men with a big appetite, one package lasts only one meal. But for those with smaller appetites, you might be able to get two meals or even more out of those eight dogs. Condiments such as ketchup and mustard are very affordable as well. Homemade French fries, made fresh from whole potatoes, are an affordable side.
You really can’t beat canned soup when you are trying to feed a family AND save money. We have big appetites here, so I’d have to figure one can of soup per person. But that’s usually under $3 per can. A hearty soup dinner might cost my family under $10. If I want to add a loaf of French or Italian bread on the side, that’s usually less than $3 from my grocery store’s bakery (often just $1 a loaf).
Of course, if you have the time and the ingredients, making your own soup can be even cheaper and better (and tastier) for your family. But if you don’t have the time to do it, canned soup can work in a pinch!
A 5 lb of bag of Russet potatoes costs between $3 and $5. You can easily use them to make stuffed baked potatoes as a way to feed your family. Yes, it’s simple, but additions of shredded cheese, sour cream, and cubed ham can turn baked potatoes into a meal.
Beans and rice
If you listen to Dave Ramsey for his financial advice, you know he usually advices people to eat a diet of “rice and beans, beans and rice” as a way to save the money they need to get out of debt. That’s not a joke. Both rice and beans are extremely economical and provide a good deal of nutrition. My ex-husband, who is Mexican-American, once told me that he heard that chiles, beans, and rice provide all the nutrients you need to survive in one meal. True? I don’t know. But I do know that beans are a good source of protein, while rice provides carbohydrates. Throw in some chiles, and you have a nice green veggie included with your beans and rice. You can make a lot of things with rice, including an easy rice pudding just by adding milk and sugar (and some recipes might call for an egg).
Any pasta noodle and tomato sauce makes a cheap (and at least in my house, beloved) meal. If you take advantage of Dollar Tree, you can get a can of spaghetti sauce for $1.25 and a large box of pasta for the same price. For a really hardy, sticks-to-your-ribs pasta, try potato gnocchi, which you can also get at Dollar Tree for just $1.25 per package.
Salad as a meal really should make a come back. (It seemed like it was all the rage during the 1980s, but maybe that was just because I was so seriously watching my weight back then.) It can be full of vitamins while still low in calories. Protein within the salad can come in the form of cheap meats like strips of Polish ham or hard-boiled eggs. If you want to be really lazy, you can buy a bag of salad with lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage for under $2 a bag, and that bag could stretch to feed a family of four. If you buy one more bag, you’re still only at $1 a person for a family of four — it doesn’t get much cheaper. Add sliced cucumber and a protein, along with a choice of salad dressing for a quick and easy meal that’s especially nice during hot summer months.
I can’t say enough a good pork loin. First of all, pork loin roast is SO easy to make. It’s really hard to screw it up. Second, a pork loin roast tends to look fancy. I’ve made pork loin roasts for holidays and company, and they can make quite a splash. Third, and most important for this conversation, pork is CHEAP. When other meats are costing way over $5 a pound, along comes pork loin, consistently under $2 a pound. I typically buy a whole loin and cut it in half, freezing one half, and making the other that week. Occasionally, I’ll make the a larger roast, to intentionally have leftovers for lunch the next day (I love pork roast sandwiches). They make a fancy Sunday dinner too. Add a box of Stovetop stuffing (usually in the $2 range) and a bag of salad (another $2), and whip up some gravy ($1 for a package of gravy mix), and you have an impressive meal for up to four people with that half of a pork loin that probably cost you under $10.
Not exactly a “meal” item, but coffee is a stable of many households, and if you are a coffee drinker, as I am, you have to know just how cheap coffee can be, at least in comparison to buying it already prepared outside of your home, when you buy it at the grocery store. If you use a Keurig machine, a great money-saving option is investing in a K-cup that you can fill with your own grounds. If you must have a fancy flavor, you can buy flavored syrups or flavored coffee creamers to create your own barista-style drinks at home. A manual milk frother can give you the milk consistency that’s used to make lattes and cappuccinos. It’s really not difficult to make those drinks, and doing so at home is SO much cheaper than buying a cup of coffee! When I do splurge and buy my family of three a special coffee treat from our local coffee truck, the drinks cost us $17.50. When you think about the fact that I could easily make my family a meal with that money, it sounds horrifically wasteful.