How to Make Groceries Stretch in Tough Times


Stretching your food dollar might seem like a tough task – everyone’s got to eat, right? But as a controlled expense, you can apply strategic tips to make your groceries stretch when you’re experiencing tough times financially, as many are facing now from economic changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re sharing some advice to help stretch your meals and make your food budget go further.

Start Your Grocery Savings at Home

For many of us, it almost becomes a habit to go to the grocery store when we run out of certain foods – even if that means we still have a pantry or freezer full of other foods that we could use.

While having certain staples on hand is usually a must (think milk, eggs, and bread), take an inventory of what you do have left at home before heading to the store.

Sometimes this is as simple as running out of breakfast pastries like Pop-Tarts or cereal. Before running to the store to refill your stock, ask yourself what you do have. Do you have a couple extra eggs in the fridge? An egg casserole with some frozen or canned veggies or diced potatoes can last for days as a leftover.

Recipe Generators

Recipe generators can be a really useful tool for helping you use up those extra items. A quick Google search of “recipe generators” will give you a bunch of results, each with their own set of recipe results.

You can type in a few items you have on hand and the website will generate recipes you can make with those items. Some recipes are really basic while others require a lot of extra ingredients, so find your favorite generators ahead of time so you know which ones work best for your needs.

Coupons, Sales Ads, and Seasonal Specials

Shop based on what’s on sale, what’s in season, and what you have coupons for (although with this last part, don’t buy something just because you have a coupon for it unless it’s something you would buy anyway).

Almost all grocery stores release weekly circulars showing what they have on sale and in season for the week, and it’s best to plan your meals around that.

There are a lot of free digital tools that can make this process easier and faster for you, rather than searching through paper ads and coupons.

For example, Flipp is a website (and they have an app) that lets you search weekly ads and coupons from tons of local retailers in one place. Quickly find and compare prices so you can shop the stores that have the best deals. You can even save your own grocery list if you want to. You can search by retailer or by item if you are looking for the best price on something specific.

Just remember, the fewer places you shop at, the less time and gas money you’ll be spending.

Use Flexible, Yet Hearty Foods

Flexible foods can be used as stand-alone dishes or to create a bunch of other dishes. For example, potatoes can be eaten in so many different ways, it’s hard to get bored with them. Baked, mashed, roasted, boiled, a hash or a soup … you get the idea. They are a flexible food.

Other flexible foods are eggs, peanut butter, beans, oatmeal, pasta, frozen/canned veggies, and rice.

These foods also have another trait in common; they are all hearty.

Hearty foods fill you up rather than leaving you hungry again in an hour. This will help prevent overeating and constant snacking, which in turn, will stretch your meals out longer.

Create a Meal Plan

Planning out your meals ahead of time has several benefits. Firstly, you know what you’ll be making so you don’t need to buy anything extra that won’t get used (leading to extra cost and waste).

Second, if you are strategic about your planning, you can really see your meals stretch here. If you find chicken breasts on a great sale, plan on making them early on for the week and use them for multiple meals. If you stick to basic cooking methods such as baking or boiling, you can use the leftovers to make chicken tacos or a salad for one meal, chicken noodle soup for another, and maybe even some chicken omelets for a third meal – all from one purchase and prep!

Be sure to include snacks in your meal plan as well. Make sure everyone in the family is aware of how many and what kind of snacks are available for each day so there are no surprises when they suddenly go missing a week earlier than planned!

Make a List from Your Meal Plan

After you create your meal plan and scour your pantry, fridge, and freezer for anything you have on hand, make a list of the items you don’t have that you’ll need to buy.

Again, these should revolve around what’s on sale, in season, and what you have coupons for. But since you’ll be shopping for your meal plan, you have little room to go rogue and buy something just because you want it (rather than needing it).

Make the list and stick to it! We know this can be hard sometimes, so make sure to eat before you go shopping so your cravings don’t take ahold of your senses.

Think Outside (Or Inside) the Box

Don’t feel limited by what you can do with your on-hand food items. If you find a box of pancake mix in the back of the pantry, have pancakes for dinner!

Think outside the box and get creative with what you have.

Don’t discount the bakery staples either like flour, sugar, and baking powder. With a few basics, you can make loads of breads and muffins, all of which usually last for days and can be quite filling.

With a little prep work and some dedication, stretching your groceries and your budget is possible.

If you find yourself really struggling to make ends meet, however, give 211 a call or visit their website. They can help you find local resources in your community like food pantries, meal delivery services, and public benefits.

CFSC is dedicated to helping our customers find ways to make their lives easier. Check out our blog for more ways to save, budget, and find assistance during tough times!

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