One of the reasons why our grocery bills are getting higher is our increasing reliance on convenience and pre-packaged foods. Yes, I get that they can be, well, convenient when we’re busy but let’s face it, we get lazy and unprepared and often they’re the first things we throw in the cart.

The problem with grocery stores is there are too many temptations. A whopping 23% of Canadians’ grocery bills goes to something StatsCan call “non-alcoholic beverages and other food products.” That’s a lot of money for things like pop, chocolate bars and prepared dinners.

Cutting back on prepared meals means spending more time cooking your own food, but the effort is worth it for both your wallet and your waistline.

Learn to cook and make meals from scratch

Making your own meals from scratch is one of the biggest ways to save money. The more prepared the food is, the more it usually costs. Pass on the cookie or cracker snack packs, cut-up pre-washed fruit and vegetables, already-seasoned meat, and grated cheese. You can do this yourself.

One of the best things you can do is invest in a comprehensive cookbook. My go-to for decades has been good old Betty Crocker but there are many others. These books are like kitchen bibles. They describe everything from what you need to stock your kitchen to the basic things like how to cook vegetables and prepare different cuts of meat. That way you’re not throwing away produce you don’t know what to do with or buying an expensive beef tenderloin to cut up for a stew.

There are lots of online recipe sites. Find some budget friendly recipes like pasta and rice dishes, soups and stir-fries.

Don’t choose elaborate, multi-ingredient recipes. Why go out of your way to find some costly ingredient or something you’ve never heard of which you’ll probably never use again? You know you’re not going to follow through and you’ll end up throwing the food away.

Plan your meals

Saving money on groceries and shrewd meal planning go hand-in-hand. Enlist your family’s help in coming up with a number of meals you like to eat. For inspiration search for budget food bloggers who share their tips on frugal eating.

Base your grocery list on sales in store flyers, your meal plan, and what you already have in your fridge and cupboards. This prevents you from coming home with the third bottle of ketchup you forgot you had already bought on previous shopping trips. It also prevents those quick trips to the store for a single ingredient you need for your meal, which inevitably turns into a mini-shopping spree.

If coming up with your own meal plan each week sales feels too overwhelming, you may want to check out an online meal planning service such as eatrightontario or mealplannerpro which offer a variety of different weekly budget-friendly meal plans. Some are paid services while others are free.

Plan for left-overs

If you can, try to cook more than you need immediately and then freeze the leftovers, or take them to work for lunch the next day. Freezing meals can help you save a lot of time and can make cooking meals from scratch more realistic for busy people. If you know that you’ve got food ready at home, it’s less tempting to eat out.

Final thoughts on ever-rising grocery bills

One of the worst things you can do is shop on the fly. When you’re roaming aimlessly through the grocery store aisles trying to remember what your family needs you don’t even bother to notice the prices and often end up making a lot of impulse buys.

Take stock of what you already have and plan your meals around those items before you head for the supermarket. Write up a list and don’t deviate from it unless you see an exceptionally good buy on something you use often.

Learn some basic, budget recipes and don’t forget to try something new once in a while. Batch cook ahead of time and freeze those extra meals for later.

You’ll not only save money, you’ll be eating a lot healthier too.

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