Summer is a great time to kick back with family and friends while enjoying delicious food straight from the barbecue. However, the USDA's Food Price Outlook puts a little damper on those summer soirees. According to a recent report, beef prices are at an all-time high and the worst bird flu in history could contribute to an increase in egg prices. Combine that with pricier produce from the parched farmlands of California and you have a serious budget bummer on your hands.
You don't have to let all this steal your sunshine, however. Follow these tips to save on summer groceries and continue to reap the benefits of the season without going broke.
- Enjoy the season's bounty of produce and fish.
Summer offers access to fresh produce we've been craving all year, including cherries, strawberries, watermelon, bell pepper, corn cobs and more. Take advantage of this and snatch up all your favorite in-season fruits and vegetables by shopping the sales. Just be careful not to overdo it lest you can't consume everything before it goes bad. Popular seafood like tuna, halibut and salmon are also "in season," making prices more competitive compared to the rest of the year. Keep your eyes on store circulars and stock up come sale time!
- Mind the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen for organic produce.
For those shoppers who want organic produce but can't handle the price tag, know that not all fruits and veggies are equally susceptible to pesticides. Coined the "clean fifteen," produce with outer skins that you peel away need not be purchased as organic. This includes pineapple, avocado, onion and sweet corn. Produce you eat directly, skin and all, is better purchased organic if your goal is to avoid chemicals.
- Find alternatives to popular grilling meats.
Beef and chicken prices may be on the rise, but pork prices are actually on the decline. Embrace the "other white meat" and grill a pork porterhouse on the barbecue or cube up pork chops for a fresh stir fry. You can also give meatless a try once or twice a week to avoid the cost altogether. For example, a black bean salad contains tons of protein and fiber to fill you up, plus you don't have to turn on your oven or barbecue to prepare it!
- Double circular discounts on condiments and favorite sides.
One of the best ways to save money on groceries is to buy what's on sale. By reviewing store circulars online, you can plan your shopping route based on the current offerings at local grocers. However, if you want to save even more dough, use manufacturer coupons on sale items. Check outCouponSherpa.com for the latest in grocery store coupons, and use their search function to find such offers as $2 off Kraft Macaroni & Cheese or $1 off Cheerios.
- Avoid pre-made patties, bagged produce and fruit-filled pies.
Burgers, salads, fruit pies and other summertime staples all require a bit of prep work. It may be tempting to buy bagged salad greens or pre-made patties, but beware: you're paying a premium for convenience. ShopSmart Magazine recently detailed the markups and it's pretty shocking! Expect to pay 16% more for beef patties compared to ground meat, 55% more for pre-cut pineapple, and nearly 200% more for pre-cut green beans. Save your budget and buy these items in whole form and cut everything up yourself.
- Make your own marinade and dressing.
When grilling meat and vegetables or making a summer salad, the perfect marinade or dressing is essential for the best flavor. Top-of-the-line marinades can sell for as much as $30 and dressings cost anywhere from $5 to $10, while cheaper options lack flavor. Ultimately, nothing compares to the taste of fresh ingredients so concoct your own for a tasty marinade that costs less. A little oil and vinegar mixed with basic ingredients like salt, onion and garlic is often all you need! If you lack the culinary skills to create a signature marinade or salad dressing, you can find hundreds of recipes online at sites likeTablespoon.com.
- Pick up snack foods in bulk.
When headed to the beach or park for a day of fun in the sun, packing favorite family snacks is a great way to reduce dining costs. While snack-sized bags of chips and pretzels or single-portion containers of hummus and peanut butter are convenient, you can save money by purchasing these food items in bulk and making your own snack packs. Head to a warehouse store like Costco to pick up oversized-packages of favorite treats and then use zip lock bags or mini food storage containers to create single serving-sized snacks for a fraction of the cost!
- Opt for frozen when possible.
Whether you're baking apple pie for July Fourth or whipping up a quiche for a backyard party, frozen fruit and vegetables are less-expensive but still tasty ingredients for your summer cooking. Another benefit: you don't have to worry about these foods going bad and you always have it on hand for last-minute needs! Compare prices between brands as most basic, unseasoned frozen fruits and vegetables are created equal.