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Budget-friendly meals

How to really stretch those food dollars

Green tote bag full of fruits and vegetables.

We’ve all been there. You’re punching those calculator buttons or looking at your bank statement, and … darn it. The numbers are not adding up (or adding way up). Aaack! You were trying so hard to stick to that food budget.

Of course, there are days when nobody feels like cooking, but dining out can get expensive. However, even if you’re really good about cooking your own meals, you might find that those grocery receipts are starting to add up.

The good news? Making just a few small changes could save you money. Here’s some food for thought on how to keep your meals cheap, and your bank account happy.

Have a plan

Do yourself a big favor and set aside just a little time to think about your meals for
the week. What ingredients do you have on hand? What ingredients need to be used? Is the freezer looking full? If you’ve got 5 packs of ground beef in there, maybe it’s time for burgers! 

Think about leftovers too. Are you going to cook a big pasta dish on Tuesday? Then no need to cook on Wednesday … or maybe Thursday. Also ask yourself: Are there 2 dishes or meals that could use the same ingredients? For example, if you’re just making a couple of burgers on Sunday, maybe the rest of that meat can go into Tuesday’s pasta dinner. Or, move pasta to Thursday, and use the rest of the meat for Taco Tuesday!

Tip: Store leftovers toward the front of the fridge, so you don’t forget about them.

Go to the store

As you probably know, a trip to the store usually costs less than using grocery delivery services. It’s probably best to save those services for very heavy items, like a big order of bottled water, cartons of broth, soups, or beverages—or for times when you have an especially big list.

Tip: Online grocery apps/sites can actually be a good way to do some comparison shopping before heading to the store. Check out apps like Instacart, Ibotta, Mealime, Shopwell,, Checkout51, and Flipp. Foods like beef, dairy, eggs, and bakery goods can vary in price, so double-checking might score you some deals.

That said, don’t stress yourself out by running all over town. If Walmart has cheaper eggs, but Costco has better prices on everything else, one stop probably makes the most sense when it comes to gas mileage, commute time, and your time! Making fewer shopping trips is better for your budget too. Also, something to keep in mind as you walk through the aisles: Brand names aren’t necessarily the best, and they cost more. Why not try some less-expensive options?

Follow your list

You took time to make a plan, so stick to it—and follow your list. The key is to stay focused on what you actually need, and away from impulse buys, which add up fast, and are often unhealthy choices.

Tip: Have a snack before you shop. This can prevent impulse buys or filling that cart with more food than you need.

Choose health and savings

Fresh fruits and veggies are some of your most affordable and best options. That means they’re good for you, and your budget. There are usually deals on frozen fish, fruits, and veggies, too. Beans and legumes are cheaper as well.

Do it yourself

Prepared foods and bakery items are pretty pricey, so it’s best to make them yourself if you can. It’s also good to grate your own cheese and cut your own fruits and veggies, instead of buying pre-shredded or pre-cut items which cost more. If it’s difficult to work with a knife or cut through hard blocks of cheese or trickier fruits and veggies (who hasn’t struggled with a pineapple or a butternut squash?), maybe ask a helper to assist with some weekly chopping or grating. Otherwise, give yourself a pass on this one.

Shop seasonally

Buying food when it’s in season can be very budget-friendly. For example, blueberries are a lot cheaper in July, as compared to December.

Tip: This also applies to meat! Beef is cheaper in summer, lamb is cheaper in spring, turkey is cheaper in fall, and it’s best to buy shrimp in early spring through summer. Salmon is priced best from late summer into early fall.

Get affordable foods that go far

Here’s a fun challenge: See how many different ways you can use budget-friendly foods like pasta, rice, potatoes, peppers, cabbage, mushrooms, spinach, eggs, rice, beans, and bananas. Sometimes a little recipe “research” can be fun—and you might be surprised by all the ideas out there.

Go for foods that last

Freeze-dried or dehydrated products such as grains, beans, pasta, jerky, and dried fruits can last for years. Plus, canned goods, especially those with a high-acidity level (like tomatoes), can last a very long time. And who knew… honey is good for decades! Other foods that store well include canned chicken or tuna, pumpkin, maple syrup, bouillon cubes, instant coffee, popcorn kernels, and gelatin. Some condiments keep well too, like pickles, apple-cider vinegar, mustard, and soy sauce. Just remember: It’s always important to check the expiration dates and storage information on the packaging.

Buy in bulk

Buying items in bulk could save you money in the long run. Many people like shopping at warehouse stores like Costco for this very reason. When you buy in bulk, the idea is to cut your cost per unit by spending more money upfront.

Store food properly

Food lasts longer when it’s stored the right way—which means you spend less! Be sure to keep your fridge temp at 36 - 38°F. Condiments should go in the fridge door, and lower shelves are best for meat, dairy, or seafood. Then put berries, hummus, and other no-cook foods toward the top. Cheese stays fresher in a deli or crisper drawer, and fresh-cut veggies should be put away in glass containers.

Tip: Fill those glass containers with water. Your cut veggies will keep longer!

Also, refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. But keep in mind: Not everything goes in the fridge. For example, don’t put bananas in there. Keep tomatoes on the counter, too. Potatoes and onions can go in a cool dark cabinet or space, although cutting into a refrigerated onion will cause less “crying.”

And make sure you’re getting the most out of your freezer — another good way to stretch those food dollars! Ingredients like tomato paste, butter, ketchup, chicken broth, garlic, and tortillas are surprisingly freezer-friendly.

Think outside the … burger

Quinoa, lentils, peas, and tofu are great meat alternatives, and they can be cheaper. Same goes for plant-based milks. Or, have you ever tried an egg substitute? It could be much cheaper, too.

Tip: Applesauce can sometimes be used in place of an egg.
You could also use chia seeds. Just 1 tbsp chia seeds + 2.5 tbsp water makes a chia “egg.” Or, combine 1 tbsp of flaxseed meal and 3 tbsps of water, then allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Now you have a flax “egg.”

Find more ways to save with Devoted Health

Hopefully these ideas can help you save more, so you can live more. At Devoted Health, we care about our members and want to help them do just that. Our U.S.A.-based team of Service Guides really listens, and is there to help you or answer more questions about Devoted Health Medicare Advantage plans. Call us at 1-800-451-9768 (TTY 711). You can also learn more about your Medicare options with this free Medicare Comparison Guide.

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