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5 hacks to cut my grocery spending

1. Make more plant-based dishes

Not only are vegetables better for your health and the environment, but they're also good for your pocket. 

In general, vegetables are more affordable than meat. Hearty vegetables like butternut squash, eggplant, and mushrooms make excellent meat substitutes, especially in pasta sauces and stews. For example, use an eggplant cut into cubes ($1.68 per pound where I shop) versus ground beef that averages $5 a pound. 

Also, adding vegetables to your meat-based sauces increases your yield. Instead of using two pounds of ground beef for chili, reduce the meat to one pound and add two cups of chopped vegetables.

2. Stretch your key ingredients

Reducing your grocery budget doesn't mean cutting back on creativity.

We make a lot of Latino and Asian dishes at home with rice at their base. Rice is very affordable and one of the most versatile ingredients to cook at home. Most cultures use rice in their cuisines, so it's a fun way to explore new recipes. 

In our home, we prepare three cups of rice that stretch into two days of meals. On the first day, I serve the rice with Puerto Rican-style stewed red beans and chicken. The next day, my husband uses the leftover rice to make nasi goreng, an Indonesian fried rice dish. Two completely different dishes are made from the same base ingredient.

3. Do a little extra work

Mostly, pre-cut and shredded items cost more by weight than whole products. It takes a few additional minutes, but buying the whole product and cutting it yourself will save you money.

Buying cheese by the block and shredding it at home saves you a few bucks, but the cheese tastes fresher because it's done in the moment. Kids love to shred cheese, so it's a great way to get them involved in the kitchen. 

Chopping your vegetables at home takes only a few extra minutes and will save you money. Dry beans are also a fantastic way to save. On average, you will save almost half the cost with dried beans than canned ones. Soak them the night before to save time. Bonus: They taste so much better than the canned variety! 

4. Shop in bulk

For lovers of granola, beans, grains, and nuts, the bulk section is your best friend. It allows you to control how much you're buying and helps you avoid food waste. 

When purchasing family-sized or bulk-packaged products, I make sure to check the price per unit when I am shopping for food. For example, when you look at the cost of cereal, a family-size price per unit is .19 cents per ounce, and a regular-sized box is .29 cents per ounce.

5. Choose store brands

Many store-brand foods you see at the grocery store are made in the same facilities as brand-name products. What's the difference? Marketing and branding budgets. 

For example, a box of Wegman's-brand linguine sells for .99 cents, half the price of the brand-name version ($1.99). An 8 oz block of Great Value (Walmart store brand) cheddar cheese sells for $2. The leading brand sells the same weight for $3. Experiment with different store brands to find which ones you like best. 

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