How to maximize your grocery budget

Top tips to make your dollar stretch.
Published April 1, 2020

Feeding yourself or family members on a budget doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, all it requires is some basic organization and practical know-how. This article offers savvy shopping tips, ideas for maximizing leftovers and all the kitchen essentials you need to create cost-effective meals all week long. 


General tips for maximizing your grocery budget


Plan meals ahead of time, either a few day’s worth or for the entire week. Ask for input from family members in order to ensure everyone is on the same meal-planning page. Make a grocery list — and then stick to it!


Prepare extra food for leftovers and use them to build meals throughout the week. For example, cook several chicken breasts at the beginning of the week and add them to salads, sandwiches, soups and stir fry recipes. If you’re unsure whether or not the leftovers will be eaten in time, transfer portions into resealable freezer bags or lidded containers and freeze.


Take advantage of sales but stick to items you would normally buy. Store surplus whole grains, flour, and nuts in the freezer to prevent them from going rancid. Oil, vinegar, and dried spices and herbs should be kept in a cool, dry place away from direct heat or light sources.


Essential items for a well-stocked kitchen on a budget


The following grocery items are low in cost, high in nutritional value and will keep you feeling energized throughout the day. Mix and match as needed, adding any other staples you regularly use.


Canned tomatoes: A selection of whole, diced and crushed tomatoes can be used to create a wide variety of meals. Tomato sauce and tomato soup are only the tip of the iceberg! Canned tomatoes can be added to chana masala and other curry dishes, vegetable soups, and braised meat dishes. Whole tomatoes can be roasted on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet at a low temperature until almost dried, use them as a pizza topping or add to warm salads for intense tomato flavour.


Canned or dried pulses: Both canned and dried pulses, which include beans, lentils and chickpeas, are budget-friendly pantry staples to keep in stock. Pre-soak and cook dried pulses in large amounts and freeze in small quantities for future use (a pressure cooker or slow cooker makes the task even easier.) Add pulses to salads, grain dishes, soups and sauces.


Canned tuna (and other canned fish): Canned tuna, salmon, anchovies, and sardines add plenty of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids to your meal without blowing your grocery budget. Finely chopped anchovies and sardines can be used to build depth of flavour while adding deep umami notes to tomato sauces, stews, and pasta dishes.


Eggs: Whether you like your eggs poached, scrambled, sunny-side up or in an omelet, when you have eggs in the fridge a satisfying meal is only a few minutes away. Try making a frittata, shakshouka or huevos rancheros with leftover meat and vegetables at the end of the week.


Frozen fruits and vegetables: Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash-frozen at peak ripeness, resulting in produce that is both tasty and nutritionally intact. Using frozen produce will also help reduce food waste as frozen fruits and vegetables have a much longer shelf-life than fresh (just make sure to keep frozen items completely sealed to prevent freezer burn.)


Whole grains: Whole grains are an inexpensive plant-based source of protein, fibre, and iron. Oats, rice, quinoa, farro, and barley — or any other budget-friendly grain you love — can be prepared in large batches and stored in the refrigerator or freezer for last-minute meals.


Yogurt: If purchased in a large tub, plain yogurt is a cost-effective way to add protein and calcium to smoothies and parfaits. Use yogurt in place of sour cream to top Tex-Mex dishes, grain bowls and to extend small amounts of leftover hummus.