Part of a healthy holiday is not only about eating nutritious foods, but it is also about keeping our spending in check. Buying non-GMO, Fair Trade, organic, antibiotic-free, pesticide-free foods can be quite costly as it is — and then add to that gluten-free or dairy-free products, plus holiday entertaining? You could quickly blow through your December/January budget without even trying!
Here are fifteen ways to keep your food costs down over the holiday season (and into the New Year) without compromising on the quality of what you eat:
1. Eat Seasonally: I was able to save quite a bit when I started buying fresh, primarily in-season fruits and vegetables for our smoothies, salads, snacks, and juices. For instance, it’s a great time to buy all manner of citrus fruit, but a horrible time price-wise for English cucumbers and berries. Turnip and rutabagas are plentiful right now, but decent quality tomatoes are hard to find. In order to save a bit of money, you have to be willing to menu plan around the ebb and flow of what’s available, reasonably priced, and of good quality.
2. Buy in Bulk: Hit up bulk food stores and warehouse stores for items such as nut butters, maple syrup, almond milk, honey, gluten-free crackers, meats or in-season fruits and vegetables. Make sure that your bulk items can be stored in a pantry or preserved for future use. For instance, every month we buy huge bunches of bananas at Costco (best price in town) — then peel, slice, portion and freeze them for our smoothies and Banana Bread.
3. Stock Up: Now I’m talking really stocking up when something you use often, but rarely find on sale, goes down to that magic price. A few months back, our local Superstore had Power-Os (a bean-based cereal) on sale for the lowest price I have ever seen it, so I bought 10 boxes. Recently, the price of lemons and limes has gone down, so we’ll be stocking up on those too and freezing them. They stay good for quite a long time frozen, yield more juice, and can be thawed out in a bowl on the counter overnight. Sam uses half a lemon in his hot water, cinnamon and honey concoction every morning, and I use the other half in our green juice at night. So at the rate of a lemon a day, we can save quite a bit by stockpiling them when they’re on at a really good price!
4. Use Coupons: Granted, Canada isn’t as coupon crazy as our neighbours to the south, but you can still find good coupons in circulars, at the grocery store, and online. I can usually source them for items like almond milk, hemp hearts, cleaning supplies, and pet supplies.
5. Shop Around: In Ontario, we have a two retail stores (with the same parent company) called Winners and HomeSense that mainly sell clothing and home goods, but which also carry a surprising variety of organic and health food items at great discount prices. I’ve sourced a ton of Pukka and other specialty brand organic teas at both stores for up to half price, as well as containers of Manitoba Hemp Powder for $6-$9 less than at the grocery store. Other discounted items we often find are organic shredded coconut, fancy mustards, chia seeds, and clean-eating bean soup kits for $4.99. Their stock is always changing and therefore inconsistent, but there are some awesome deals to be found if you are willing to check-back often — which I do!
6. Read the Flyers: I’m always surprised by how many people don’t read the weekly grocery flyers (available online, in the newspaper, or even via snail mail). While there isn’t the same variety of choice for alternative and organic produce, there are still some gems to be found. Get to know your stores and keep an eye out for good prices on the products you do use – and then stock up!
7. Meatless Meals: A few days a week I will cook with quinoa, beans, hemp, chia and/or peas and lentils. I also try to do fish once a week, which can be considerably less expensive than other kinds of meats. Eggs are another source of inexpensive protein — add a couple of hardboiled eggs to any salad, or just whip together a quick, but hot and delicious omelette or frittata for dinner.
8. Stretch It Out: Instead of parking a huge slab of steak on our plates, I like to buy cuts of meat that I can stretch out over several meals and then make up the protein in other ways, such as using hemp hearts in our salads. Ground beef/chicken/turkey for instance, can be cooked in big batches with garlic and onions, and then frozen in portions to add to pasta sauce or shepherd’s pie later on. The same can be done for less expensive cuts of beef in both soups and stews.
9. Collect Points: It may take a bit to get to a reward level you can use, but collecting grocery store points will eventually yield free food. Also, if you are good about carrying a zero monthly balance on your credit cards, you could always apply for cash back cards (look for ones that don’t have a yearly fee) and then slam all of your purchases on them. Use the yearly rewards you’ve earned to buy some (or all!) of your next month’s groceries. It amounts to weeks of free food — for very little time or trouble on your part!
10. Eat In: Sam and I have begun to save a little by not eating out nearly as often. Since I began Clean Eating, it’s a little more difficult to find restaurants that cater to my nutritional choices — so in a weird way, that’s actually helped too. What we are more likely to do these days though, is to order take-away Thai or Arabic food, split the entree (restaurant portions are often too huge for one person) and make our own salad to go with it.
11. Be Realistic: I used to buy those massive, jumbo packages of spinach and other greens for salads. Bulk discount right? Wrong. It’s not saving you a penny if half of it ends up going bad because you can’t get through all of it in time. It happened twice before I kinda’ lost it and sourced something more manageably-sized at a reasonable price – I really, really hate throwing out food!
12. Grow Your Own: Sam and I are in an apartment, however, we can still do herbs in pots all year round, and container gardens on our balcony in the summer. There are also a ton of “food hacks” online which show you how to grow your own windowsill sprouts and how to start new vegetables from bits of old ones, such as green onions.
13. Use It All Up: Building off points number 10 and 11, don’t waste any of the food you buy. Seriously, you’ve already spent the money, so make sure to use it all up! I saw this great tip recently on YouTube (How Jen Does It) that talked about saving your edible vegetable scraps in a freezer bag to make slow cooker soup stock. Simple idea, but what a game-changer! We’re never buying vegetable stock again! Bonus points if you’re able to compost what’s left after that!
14. Make It Yourself: From making your own applesauce, to canning your own pickles, to grinding your own oat flour — sourcing raw, bulk, and in-season ingredients to make your own “finished products” will often save you money. For a few dollars worth of ingredients, I can make Oat Bread for less than half the price I would have to spend at a specialty bakery. I can also make a slow cooker soup for a fraction of the price it would cost to buy it fresh at our local market. It’s not as convenient up front, sure, but that’s what your freezer is for! The time you spend in the kitchen now, will be paid back five-fold in the future when you are able to grab a nutritious, home-cooked, pre-made meal at a moment’s notice and re-heat it in the oven.
15. Don’t Go on an Empty Stomach: It’s an oldie but a goodie, and still just as true — never shop for groceries or travel in the car when you are hungry. I usually keep a couple of Simply Protein Bars in my glove box (really does fill you up for hours) so we’re never caught short, and I always pack us car snacks and/or a picnic for the long drive up north to see my family. This way we’re not tempted to spend on random foods at the market, or eat low quality, junky foods while on the road.
Creative Commons Photo Credits:
“Fresh Herbs on My Balcony” courtesy of Suzette