UPDATED FOR 2014
For the past couple of years, I’ve been watching my grocery bill rise to ridiculous levels. In just three years, milk, eggs, and beef have doubled in price with produce now costing about $2 a pound more than it ought to. And as we all know, rising grocery prices without a corresponding rise in pay is tough on a household budget.
Fortunately for those of us on a budget, there are still some great grocery bargains to be found. Many budget brands are still quite affordable and the introduction of bulk bins has also helped to keep down the cost of groceries. However, the key to reducing any grocery bill is to choose wisely by buying groceries that provide the most nutrition for the money.
Over the years, I’ve learned to include 10 basic staples in my grocery basket. These budget items pack a great deal of nutrition at a price that easily fits into a grocery allowance.
Quaker 100% Whole grain Oats
Old fashioned oatmeal continues to be the best grocery bargain out there. Even at $2.89 for a 42 ounce container, this cereal is less than 10¢ a serving. Regular oatmeal takes about 6-7 minutes to prepare, and can be sweetened with brown sugar and a dab of butter. Not only is it healthy, oatmeal can be used in many other recipes as well. Whole oats can be added to cookie recipes and used to stretch hamburger dishes, ground oats can be substituted for flour or used as thickener in soups and stews,
Dry white rice costs between 3 to 6¢ per serving and can be easily added to casseroles, soup, and stews. If you enjoy rice pilaf, making it from scratch takes as time as making a boxed mix but for one third the cost. Steamed rice is great with stir fried veggies and leftover meat, and can also be used to make rice pudding.
Dry beans continue to be one of the most economical foods on the market, averaging between 2 to 6¢ a serving. Beans are high in protein and count as both a meat and vegetable serving; this is defintely one staple that will easily fit into any grocery budget.
Whole chickens can be found on sale for 99¢ a pound and can provide three evenings of meals for a family. From a single chicken, you can serve up the split chicken breast as a main meal, carve the smaller pieces for casseroles, and boil the bones for a delicious broth for soups and stews. When it comes to a budget stretcher in the meat department, few meats can top a whole chicken for value.
With the rising costs of eggs and milk, soy powder is an inexpensive baking substitute that adds protein to your baked goods without compromising the leavening action. 1 heaping tablespoon of soy powder and one tablespoon of water can be substituted for one egg in cake, cookies, batter breads, pancake recipes and more. I buy soy powder in bulk which runs about 25¢ for a one cup portion.
Corn Flakes continues to be the best cold cereal value on the market. This cereal frequently turns up on the shelves at my favorite discount store at $1.48 for a mid sized box, making it about 8¢ a serving. Some fresh fruit, a little sugar, and your family has a tasty morning cereal. Corn flakes can be substituted for bread crumbs or au gratin toppers, and can be used as a bread coating for fish & chicken. This is one cereal that’s affordable on any budget.
Jiffy Mix Baking Mix
This low budget cousin of Bisquik can be purchased for about $2.84 for a 35 serving box. It can be used for pancakes, muffins, coffee cakes, cobblers, cookies, biscuits and so much more. For an inexpensive convenience product, this one tops anything else on the market.
As near as I can tell, whole carrots have stayed about the same price these past 5 years, averaging about 99¢ for a two pound package. This breaks down to 9¢ a serving for a vegetable that’s loaded full of vitamins and is so versatile in meal planning. Carrots can be eaten cold or steamed, turned into breads, chopped in soups and stews, and served up in a salad.
Without a doubt, fresh locally grown apples continue to be a bargain at 79-99¢ a pound. Apples are full of fiber and vitamins, can be eaten as is, sauced or turned into a myriad of winter dishes.
Peanut butter continues to be one of the best bargains on the market, dishing up a whopping 7 grams of protein for a mere 10¢ a serving. Peanut butter is easy to store and easy to use, is great on sandwiches, veggies, and can be used in baking.
Honorable mention: Gallon of milk
Even though milk has seen a real leap in price these past few years, it still averages about 35¢ a pound, or 18¢ a serving. Milk is highly versatile and is both a nutrition packed beverage and the basis of many recipes. It’s important for strong bones and teeth, is fortified with vitamin A and D, and is high in protein and calcium. If your grocery budget only allows you to buy one beverage, milk is definitely it.
Versatility, ease of preparation, and lots of nutrition for only pennies per serving is why these grocery items have remained staples in my grocery basket for so many years. Choosing wisely and buying groceries that provide lots of nutrition at a bargain price, is the best way to stretch a grocery budget.