Tag Archives: shopping on a budget

piggy bank with vegetables

How to Budget for Feeding Your Family

Budgeting for meals is an extremely important part of managing a household. But how do you know what a good amount is for your family? There are a few shortcuts to help you set a food budget that meets the MyPlate recommendations, evaluate the cost of recipes, and save money at the grocery store. Continue reading

shopping at the farmers market

Price of Food at Farmers Markets

Farmers markets offer a wide variety of fresh, local fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, baked goods and more. The quality of produce is generally unbeatable, as most fruits and veggies are picked at the peak of ripeness just days or even hours before you buy them. And many farmers selling at the market follow organic practices. Animal farmers tend to have smaller operations and use smaller processing facilities. All of these factors add up to higher prices, right? You might be surprised. Continue reading

National Farmers Market Week 2015

Happy National Farmers Market Week! I hope you’ve had a chance to visit your local farmers market and taste the delicious fresh, Virginia Grown™ food available there. All summer long, we’ve been encouraging you, our loyal readers, and participants of our program to Eat Smart, Move More at Farmers Markets. Using SNAP at farmers markets is a great way to eat smart, support your local community, and even increase your food budget (more on that below). But you don’t have to take my word for it. Today, we are featuring the advice of one of FNP’s farmers market interns as well as a SNAP recipient who shops at the farmers market.

Continue reading

Shopping in Bulk

When you use unit pricing to compare costs of different foods, you quickly learn that larger sizes are often a better buy. But there are a few things you should think about before you bring home that 30-pound bag of rice and case of canned tuna.

Buying in bulk can help save money.

Is It Worth It?

  • Storage space– If you don’t have the space to keep it, buying a huge amount of food and supplies is not a great idea. If you do have space, remember the LIFO Rule– Last In, First Out. Figure out a system to make sure you use older stuff first. Writing the purchase date on the package can help.
  • Membership fees– Warehouse clubs (Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, etc.) charge membership fees in order to shop there. These stores all accept EBT, so if you think the savings outweigh the membership fees, which start at round $50 a year (based on my quick web search this morning), you can stock up on your Better Pantry staples.
Warehouse clubs can be a good place to stock up on staples, if the savings outweigh the membership fees.

Warehouse clubs can be a good place to stock up on staples, if the savings outweigh the membership fees.

  • Fresh products– Only buy what you can eat before it goes bad. Wasted food is never a good buy, no matter how great of a deal you got when you paid for it. In general, non-perishable foods, those that last a long time at room temperature or in the freezer are the best items to buy in bulk.
    • If you are willing to put in a little extra work, you can freeze or can extras to use later. But be sure to weigh the extra time and effort against the cost savings. Compare the price of commercially frozen or canned items with how much you would end up paying to do it yourself.
  • Nutrition– Don’t get sucked in by the low prices. You still need to read labels and make smart choices when shopping in bulk. While buying a “sometimes” treat at the normal size probably fits in a healthy diet, buying that treat in bulk might cause you to eat it more than you should. So skip the jumbo bag of chips and get your crunch from unsalted nuts or whole-wheat pretzels.
  • Necessity– Similar to the temptation of low prices to buy unhealthy foods, make sure that you are only buying what you truly need. A meal plan and a grocery list come in handy here. No matter how much you’ll be saving, if you don’t need it, it’s not a good buy. The point is the warehouse club is not the best place to try a new and unusual food. Unless you want the other 24 servings of the dried papaya your kids won’t eat haunting your pantry for the next year.

Do you ever shop at these bulk stores? What are some of your recommendations of good items to buy in bulk?

Dietetic Intern Courtney’s SNAP Challenge- Meal Planning and Shopping

Meal Planning & Shopping 

By planning meals then sticking to the plan, you’re not only guaranteed to achieve your goal, you eliminate the uncertainty about meals and the need for on-the-fly judgements about what, when, and how much to eat…” ~John Walker

I love this quote from John Walker in his book The Hacker’s Diet from 1991. In my case, the goal is to eat a well-balanced diet under $32. The uncertainties that I hope to eliminate by implementing a plan include, “Will there be enough food?” “Can I have snacks?” “Will I be able to maintain my activity level?” “Will I stay under $32?” “Will I be tired of eating the same thing?” “Will I have to go without coffee?” Meal planning is a tool that I used to ensure that there will be a variety of nutritious food provided for each day of the challenge.

When planning my meals, I began by choosing items that I knew I liked, were versatile, nutritious, cheap, and could remain edible for at least a week. These items included peanut butter, rice, oatmeal, bread, beans, milk, plain yogurt, eggs, bananas, and potatoes. From these foods, I took the recommendations for food groups in to consideration (6 ounces of grains, 2 ½ cups vegetables, 2 cups fruit, 3 cups dairy, and 5 ½ ounces protein.) Grains were covered, and if I opted for brown rice, I will be on track for a high-fiber diet this week. Super! Dairy is sufficient, although I would have loved to add shredded cheese, cottage cheese, and ice cream into that category. Fruit and vegetables are present, but extremely lacking in variety and sheer number – yikes! Protein is a little iffy – not sure if I can make 5 1/2 ounces per day out of it. Also, the recommendation for fish consumption is at least twice per week.

With these considerations in mind I added tuna, “meat of some sort,” and more fruits/vegetables on my list.  My shopping list was flexible and many specifics were yet to be determined based on availability and cost.  In addition, I knew that many of my long days would go a lot better if I had coffee, so I was determined to find cheap, instant coffee.


Condiments should be addressed because they are something I use daily and do not think cutting them all out of my diet this week is necessary.  In reality, I shop for condiments every once in awhile. When I run out of something, I buy it. If I have it, I don’t buy it. I am applying this concept to the challenge. For my meal planning this week, I could utilize mayonnaise for tuna and egg salads and margarine would be great for cooking, toast, and oatmeal, however, the containers in my fridge are almost empty. Therefore, I will include them on my list. Will I use up the entire containers? Goodness, let’s hope not! I would be able to use those items for weeks to come. If I were to spend $32 on next week’s groceries, I may need to buy ranch dressing and jam which are near the same price, but also things I would only need to buy occasionally. With that said, since I added condiments in my cost this week, I am going to use (at a minimum) other condiments such as lemon juice, salt, pepper, jam, salad dressing, honey, spices, and sugar.

Shopping for the Best Price

**Note – Maybe some of the items I found were cheaper at the store I shopped at, but the very next day, my husband found canned beans at a different store for $0.50 per can versus $0.68 per can that I paid. On the beans alone, I could have saved $0.32 somewhere else! Learning Moment #1: Be aware of which grocery stores have the best prices on items that I typically buy. It may not be what I assume! The ads that stores provide in local newspapers are a good resource to find good sales. I also realize that many people may not have the luxury of being able to choose where they shop for groceries if there is only one grocery store option.

My Purchases

After an hour of searching, calculating, and strategizing at the store, I bought the following items:

  • • Instant Oatmeal ($1.68)
  • • 2 Red Apples ($1.09)
  • • 1 Sweet Potato ($0.53)
  • • 1 Pound Ground Turkey ($2.78)
  • • 2 Bananas ($0.45)
  • • 1 Russet Potato ($0.28)
  • • Brown Rice ($0.78)
  • • 1 Grapefruit ($0.68)
  • • 1 Red Potato ($0.35)
  • • Margarine ($1.24)
  • • 2 Navel Oranges ($0.96)
  • • Bag of Spinach ($2.18)
  • • Plain Yogurt ($2.38)
  • • Mayonnaise ($1.98)
  • • Bread ($1.98)
  • • Peanut Butter ($2.28)
  • • 2 Cans of Tuna ($1.48)
  • • Bag of Carrots ($0.78)
  • • ½ Gallon of Milk ($2.36)
  • • Dozen Eggs ($1.78)
  • • Folgers Instant Coffee ($1.00)
  • • 1 Can Kidney Beans, 1 Can Black Beans ($1.36)


The items totaled to $30.38 which is $1.62 under the average Virginia SNAP benefit given per week ($32 or $128 per month). While I was shopping I was taking sales tax into consideration, so I was slightly modest. Later I was reminded that SNAP benefits are not taxed; I could have bought an additional $1.62 worth of food.

As you may have noticed, I purchased the smaller containers of most items such as mayonnaise, margarine, milk, peanut butter, oatmeal, etc.  Even though the unit price (price per unit) may have been more expensive than the larger containers, I had to keep in mind that this will be for one week only.  In that case the smaller containers are cheaper than the larger containers.  If I were to buy for a month at a time, I would definitely change my strategy by taking the unit price into consideration.

Canned Versus Fresh Produce

In addition, I would like to add this note about canned versus fresh fruit. I ended up trading a can of store-brand mandarin oranges ($0.99) for the 2 oranges ($0.96). It is not always true that frozen or canned vegetables are cheaper than fresh.

My Meal Plan

With the foods I purchased, I came up with the following *tentative* meal plan:


This is what I'll eat for a week. How does it compare to your usual meal plan?

This is what I’ll eat for a week. How does it compare to your usual meal plan?

I will be estimated the cost of each meal/snack and keeping track by adding the price in parenthesis after I mention them. At the end of the each day’s post will be a total or “cost per day” and I will also compare how my eating habits compare to the MyPlate recommendations for food groups.