With food costs on the rise and everyday essentials taking up an uncomfortable chunk of our budgets, we ask: how can you really save money on your weekly food shop?
According to the latest figures, we spend an average of 16% of our budget on food and non-alcoholic drinks. For the average UK household, that’s around £3,601 on groceries, and £1,744 on takeaways and eating out each year. That means we’re spending nearly £70 on our weekly food shop, and £31 on takeaways. Other figures have estimated a £643 rise in average grocery bills this year, with shoppers paying around £12 extra each week to buy the same food and groceries.
With inflation at a 40-year high leaving many of us seeing soaring gas and energy prices, while wages for the majority of workers are falling behind inflation, it’s no wonder more and more of us are looking for creative ways to save money.
But other than the obvious changes of cutting back on meals out, ditching the occasional coffee on your way to work, and switching down a brand on your favourite purchases, what can we do to save money on food shopping?
Keep track of what you have
Know what you have in your cupboards before you get started. How many times have we all accidentally bought yet another pack of lasagna sheets, pasta sauces, or our fave cupboard staples? By knowing what you have, you can minimise food waste and your weekly shopping spend. If you struggle to remember what you’ve got, apps like No Waste can help you to easily track your fridge, freezer, and food cupboards, helping you to create shopping lists and plan around the ingredients you've got.
Plan your meals before hitting the shops
We’ve all heard the advice: don’t go shopping on an empty stomach. But it’s not just our hunger that can lead us to over-spending - our lack of planning can lead to us buying an unbalanced basket, relying heavily on more expensive ingredients or ready-made options.
Planning your meals for the week ahead (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) can help you to avoid the temptation of splurging on extra takeaways or meals out. It can also reduce the time and energy needed to think about what you’re going to cook - something that can lead many of us to feel demotivated at the end of a long, stressful day.
Meal planning can also help us to pick more sensible meal options. Making a full-on roast may sound like a great idea when you’re shopping on a Monday, but when Sunday rolls around and you’re feeling the end of the weak dread, you might not have the energy to cook such a big meal. Nutritionist Angelika Cutuk-Short (MSc) shares her 7-day family meal plan to help you make easy, vitamin and mineral-packed meals in 30 minutes or less.
How often do you think about what’s in season when you head to the shops? With food flown in from around the world year-round, it’s easy to forget that seasonal, locally sourced produce can be cheaper. As nutritional therapist Lucia Stansbie (Dip CNM, mBANT, mCNHC) explains, eating seasonal foods can help you not only spend less but eat better.
“In-season fruits and vegetables are cheaper, richer in vitamins and antioxidants, and a much better alternative to out-of-season imported goods. If you buy in-season fruit and veg, you might be overloaded with one kind of produce. The same thing happens if you decide to go and pick berries or mushrooms. The best solution is to ferment those products. They will last for the months to come, and will be an excellent aid for your gut health.”
If you’re new to seasonal shopping, the Vegetarian Society has a great, simple guide to seasonal UK-grown produce to help you get started.
Head to the reduced section first
When heading to your local supermarket or corner shop, head to the reduced section first. Same-day, used-by and even best-before items can often be found at a hefty discount - just remember these items will all need to be used up first.
Apps like Too Good To Go help cut down on food waste while saving you money on delicious food. Free to use, Too Good To Go partners with local shops, restaurants, takeaways, and supermarkets to offer ‘grab bags’ of food at the end of the day that would otherwise go to waste. While you often can’t pick exactly what you’re getting, you can get great deals on tasty food to freeze and use later, or to replace your usual takeaway and have a much cheaper treat.
Consider when and where you shop
The time of day and day of the week you shop can have an unexpected impact on the cost of your food shop. Often, the best reductions can be found at the end of the day just an hour or two before stores are due to be closed. Keeping in mind the day of the week can also have an impact, as more people may be likely to shop for bargains over the weekend.
If you’ve got a local market, this can make buying fresh produce cheaper (especially if you’re able to adapt recipes based on seasonal ingredients and offers). Consider stepping outside of your comfort zone for long-lasting staple purchases and try your local no-waste store or Asian supermarket. Bulk buying large packets of rice, noodles and spices can often be cheaper from these stores, helping you to save money over time.
Shopping online does come with some extra costs. Even if you choose to click and collect, there is still an additional picking and packing fee, but it can be worth the cost if you find yourself tempted by extra off-list purchases during your weekly shop. Without the clever marketing tricks used in-store, switching to shopping online can help you to stay focused, avoid end-of-the-isle deals, and compare like-for-like items a little easier, as you can search for exactly what you need - not just what the supermarket wants you to find easily at eye-level.
If you're able to spend a little more time on your online shop, recreating your basket in more than one supermarket’s website can give surprising results and help you to find the best prices.
Get wonky fruit, veg and bread
Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food goes to waste. Yet did you know that 40% of that waste isn’t down to short shelf life or accidental over-buying, but thanks to the ‘wonky’ look that causes supermarkets to reject fresh produce?
Food doesn’t have to look good to taste good. More and more supermarkets are trialling ‘ugly’ veg boxes, while online companies like Wonky Veg boxes and Earth & Wheat are leading the way and rescuing food that is still perfectly fresh, tasty, and useable - it’s just not necessarily pretty. Find out more about how you can get fruit and veg boxes delivered to your door.
Switch to budget-friendly recipes
Switching up family favourite recipes for more budget-friendly options can help you to save money (and can even offer a healthier alternative). Nutritional therapist Filomena Komodromou, (BA Hons, Dip CNM, mBANT) shares her budget-friendly lasagne recipe.
Looking for more ways to save money while cooking at home? There are plenty of great, free websites offering recipes, tips and tricks to help you save money (and time). We particularly love Jack Monroe’s Cooking On A Bootstrap for vegan recipes and microwave-friendly meals; Feed Your Family shares over 600 recipes to help you feed your family for just £20 a week; while Cooking On A Budget has simple breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes to help you eat local, seasonal food while saving money. Even supermarkets are now offering budget recipes and one-click shopping options if you’re looking to save time and money.
Consider going flexitarian
28% of us are already eating less meat to help us save money. While we know the benefits of going vegetarian (for our health, the environment, and our budgets), giving up meat fully can feel like a huge step for many. But have you considered going flexitarian?
Reducing, rather than removing meat from your diet, can help you to save money on your weekly grocery bill while encouraging you to have more meatless meals each week. If you’re new to plant-based cooking, it’s important to make sure that you’re including enough vitamins, minerals and nutrients in your diet. Nutritionist Resource explains more about vegetarian and vegan diets, getting enough nutrients from a plant-based diet, and common mistakes to avoid for healthier vegan eating.
Batch cook to save time and money
Batch cooking can help you use all of the ingredients in your weekly food shop, and avoid waste and unused leftovers, while also helping you to avoid the temptation of an extra cheeky takeaway at the end of a long day.
It can take some getting used to, having a little less variety in the number of different meals you have in a week, but batch cooking doesn’t have to mean eating just one or two meals over a whole week. There are plenty of recipes out there that you can cook and freeze, helping you to move away from a weekly menu towards a bi-weekly shop.
Many meals like lasagna, stews, soups, chillies, curries, and more can be cooked and frozen, some keeping for weeks or even months without seeing any real loss in quality or taste.
Try these simple batch-bake lunches to help you get started, or check out the great meal plans and batch-cooking recipes to help you fill your fridge and freezer with The Batch Lady.
If you don’t have the room to fully embrace batch cooking, making enough leftovers for one or two extra dinners or lunches can still help save time and money.
Be mindful of how you store food
Did you know that many fresh fruit and veggies are stored for easy transport, not to maximise shelf life? Leaving mushrooms wrapped in supermarket pre-packaging can lead to them going off far faster than they should, while pre-packaged salad bags can have their freshness extended by just adding a piece of kitchen roll to the packet to help absorb excess moisture.
Keeping fruit in the fridge, rather than on your sideboard in a bowl can help to extend its shelf life. Moving foods like bread and onion into your cupboards can help them to stay fresher for longer. EatingWell explains more about the best ways to store fruits and veggies.
Make the most out of your freezer
Are you getting the most out of your freezer? Saving leftovers and storing batch-cooked meals aren’t the only options for making your freezer work harder to save you more. Buying frozen fruit and veg can be a more affordable option, allowing you to buy in bigger quality at lower prices while also helping avoid food going off before you can use it all up.
Nutrient-dense frozen fruit and veggies stay useable for longer, allowing you to defrost or cook what you need when you need it. Berry mixes can be a great option to pick up affordable out-of-season fruit for smoothies and overnight oats. Frozen spinach or carrots can help you to incorporate healthy veggies that, when bought fresh, often go bad before you can fully use them. While simple staples like frozen peas can offer healthy bulking options or side dishes for many meals.
When you’re meal planning, build in at least one leftover dinner towards the end of the week. This can help you to avoid letting things go off while saving on the ingredients for a whole extra meal.
If you find yourself with veggie odds and ends, making soup could be the answer. You don’t need to follow a specific recipe to get a tasty soup. Use a stock cube or leftover miso paste to make a basic broth. You can add any mixture of leftover veggies for different flavour and texture combinations, blend down for something smoother, or add in noodles or cubed potato for a more hearty meal.
Make, don’t buy treats
Buying pre-made snacks and sweet treats can really add up. If you’ve already got flour, eggs and sugar in the house, you can easily make your own biscuits and cakes to help your food budget go further (without sacrificing those extra treats). Try these simple batch-baking snack recipes from Nutritionist Resource, or for a more decadent (yet healthy and budget-friendly) option, try this five-minute chocolate cake.
Why should I care about eating healthy when I’m on a budget?
Healthy eating isn’t just about weight loss, nor is it just for those who can afford it. Having a healthy, balanced diet impacts your physical and mental health, affecting everything from your mood to your immune system. When you eat right, you can reduce feelings of stress and tiredness, whilst boosting your energy levels.
Looking to learn new ways to eat healthily? Connect with a professional using the Nutritionist Resource.