How to rein in your grocery bill


By Margaux Laskey, The New York Times

Ten-dollar cartons of eggs. Seven-dollar gallons of milk. Two-dollar apples. Everyone — even Cardi B — is feeling the pain of jaw-droppingly high food costs driven by inflation and a flurry of other factors. It’s scary to see your grocery bill skyrocket, but while no one can predict what’s going to happen to food prices in the coming year, stocking up on certain ingredients when you spot them at a lower price can help you save significantly. We talked to a few budget experts and several New York Times Cooking editors and writers about what items they buy and how they make the most of them.

Before You Start

— You may be new to budget shopping. If so, embrace grocery store circulars (you can use the Flipp app to track them). Make a list before you go, and if your grocery store has an online presence, compare prices.

— Take a tip from Ali Slagle, a recipe developer and New York Times Cooking contributor, and stroll by your staple ingredients whenever you visit a store. You might discover a surprise sale.

— Finally, the key to budget grocery shopping is being open to sacrificing convenience for a lower price. Consider visiting a couple of different stores to take advantage of sales. It can be worth it.

Dairy and Eggs

1. Cheese: Can you freeze hard cheeses like mozzarella and cheddar? The answer is “yes” if you plan on melting it. (The thawed texture might be a bit weird for eating out of hand.) Krysten Chambrot, an associate editor for New York Times Cooking, chops up fresh mozzarella and freezes the slices on a sheet pan, then pops them into a resealable plastic bag for quick pizzas. “It keeps us from ordering in and keeps waste down for two people,” she said. Buy shredded cheese (or block cheese and shred it yourself) and freeze it.

2. Butter: Genevieve Ko, a deputy editor for New York Times Cooking, freezes butter or, if she has the time, turns it into cookie or pie dough, or fully baked treats, and freezes them to enjoy later. (Keep an eye out for sales around major cooking holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

3. Milk: Natasha Janardan, a social video producer for New York Times Cooking, buys milk at a Brooklyn dollar store, where she can get a gallon for $4.19 instead of $7. Consider ditching dairy milk altogether if you don’t use a lot of it to begin with. These days, alternative milks are typically cheaper, and “a half gallon of oat milk lasts longer than whole dairy milk,” said Caroline Lange, a writer, recipe developer and tester in Brooklyn. You can also freeze milk. The consistency will change slightly, but it still works perfectly fine in baked goods. (The same goes for yogurt and buttermilk.)

4. Eggs: Don’t be afraid to buy a few cartons if you spot them at a good price. They keep for three to five weeks in the fridge (or longer). You can also freeze beaten eggs in ice cube trays, then pop the cubes into a resealable plastic bag to thaw for later use in baked goods or for scrambled eggs. Or, make a couple frittatas — or bake mini frittatas in muffin tins — and freeze them for busy mornings.

Meat and Fish

5. Ground meat: Alli Powell, creator of the Grocery Getting Girl, an Instagram account dedicated to budget shopping and cooking, buys ground meat in bulk or on sale, then divides it into half- or one-pound portions for freezing. Genevieve Ko suggests making meatballs, samosas or dumplings, which freeze well and can be cooked straight from the freezer.

6. Stew meats: Stock up on bone-in chicken thighs, beef chuck, short ribs, pork or lamb shoulder. Ko makes big batches of stew and keeps containers in the freezer and in the fridge for future fast meals.

7. Fish: Nicole Donnell, creator of Black Girl Budget, a financial coaching service dedicated to teaching Black women the benefits of budgeting, buys a large piece of fish and cuts it into pieces to freeze instead of buying individual, vacuum-sealed servings. If you score a couple of pieces of fresh salmon, but you’re not quite ready to eat them, you can marinate them for up to two days before cooking.

8. Rotisserie chicken: Take it from Vaughn Vreeland, a supervising producer for New York Times Cooking. “Never underestimate the power of a rotisserie chicken (especially if you live alone).” His grocery store has them on sale for $8.99 every Monday, so he eats some for dinner, then shreds the remaining meat and uses the bones for stock. Half of the shredded chicken gets turned into chicken salad, and the other half goes into soup.


9. Fruit: Once you’ve eaten your fill of fresh fruit, make muffins, cakes, quick breads or pie filling that you can freeze to enjoy later. Or slice and freeze berries, stone fruits, pineapple and mango on a sheet pan and store in a resealable plastic bag to use in smoothies or baked goods. You can also make jam or preserves. If you have a surplus of apples and pears, which don’t freeze well, turn them into applesauce.

10. Hearty vegetables: “If you buy a big cabbage, it will feed you forever,” Slagle said. Opt for vegetables with a long shelf life, like root vegetables, onions, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Then, make quick pickles with past-their-prime sturdy vegetables: Submerge them in leftover pickle brine and refrigerate. In a few days, they’ll make a great giardiniera-like topping for sandwiches and salads.


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