7 Ways to Slash Your Food Budget

groceries on a table
foodiesfeed.com

Groceries, dining out and other food expenses often represent a large part of our monthly budgets, and unlike your cable bill or your gym membership, it's an expense you can't just slash altogether. You need to eat, one way or another.

But there are plenty of ways you can cut your food costs by planning ahead, thinking creatively and putting in a little extra time and effort. Here are 7 tips to help significantly slash your food budget.

1. Shop Smarter

Learn to distinguish when something is truly a good deal and when it just seems like one. Just because a name-brand item is on sale, or just because you have a coupon for it, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best bargain. Buying generic may still be cheaper. Keep an eye on "unit prices," which is where you'll really see the difference in value. A bottle of ketchup might have a lower sticker price than it's competitor, but a higher cost per unit (such as per ounce).

2. Plan Your Meals

Planning your weekly meals ahead of time makes cooking easier — no more staring blankly at the fridge wondering what you can put together with the ingredients you have on hand. (And no more giving up in frustration and ordering takeout because it's easier.) It cuts out a lot of stress, reduces food waste, and helps you make sure you're only buying the ingredients you'll need for that week.

3. Shop With a List

Develop a list based on the coming week's meal plan, and don't enter a grocery store without it. Look only for the things on your list — no more grabbing things off the aisle caps just because they catch your eye. You're on a mission.

4. Stock Up on Basic Staples

Items like pasta, rice, beans, whole grains and eggs are cheap, healthy staples that can be combined to make a number of meals on the fly.

Always keep some on hand.

5. Cook More

There are tons of cheap, healthy recipes online that take 15 minutes or less to prepare. You can also make a large batch of something in a slow cooker on the weekends so you'll have meals for the rest of the week. The more meals you make yourself, the less you'll pay for convenience foods.

6. Don't Let Leftovers Go to Waste

Food waste is a huge money-suck. Learn to use your leftovers in creative ways. Omelets, stir fries, casseroles and salads are all great way to use up vegetable and meat odds and ends.

7. Go Vegetarian Sometimes

Making even a couple meatless meals each week can help you save some money. Try protein substitutes like beans and legumes. Not only are they cheaper; they're high in fiber and low in fat.