food costsI am sure I am not alone in examining all parts of my budget during this time of economic strife. (In fact, this post was late because I am in the midst of epic research on how to cut down my phone bill.)

Since I believe so strongly in buying good, sustainably raised food from local purveyors, it can sometimes be a challenge to reign in spending. On the Eat Local Challenge website, we have talked a lot about eating within a budget and have proven that it’s possible — it just takes a little more planning than average, a little more cooking than average, and a little more preserving of food than average.

So how does one go about eating sustainably on a budget? I have a few ideas, but would love to hear what tricks you are employing to keep your family’s budget down.

Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season.

When fruits and vegetables are in abundance in the farmers market, the prices go down. There may be sales, and you are getting the vegetables at their peak of flavor. When you just have to have a bunch of asparagus out of season in August, you’re going to be paying top dollar for it. Right now, in the middle of asparagus season, you may find a deal.

Put foods up when you find a bargain.

Start working on canning, drying, preserving, and freezing your food as you find it on sale. There is nothing that’s better for the budget and the tastebuds than pulling a bag of peas that were frozen in their peak out of your own freezer, or using your own jarred tomatoes that were purchased in September and canned. Learning to can is a bit of a process, but the resurgence in interest means that there are a lot of resources available. Start with the Ball website for step-by-step instructions.

Menu plan.

You may remember that in January I mentioned that I would be menu planning in order to cut down on food waste as part of my 2009 resolutions. It’s been going quite well, and has in fact given way to a new project with a friend where we menu plan for the week and cook together. You can read the first part of the series on Serious Eats. I know that this is the key to keeping my budget in check, but I have to admit that it’s been quite a switch for me to menu plan and to eat at home as much as I have been.

Look for unpopular cuts of meat.

Meat definitely takes up a large percentage of my budget. I’ve taken to combing through a meat vendor’s selection for cuts that are less expensive — oxtails, tougher cuts of meat that need to be slow cooked, or different meats like goat — in order to find a bargain. It seems to be working out somewhat, and I am also cutting down on my meat consumption.

I’d like to ask you, readers: What have you been doing to cut down on food costs?

Though I’m making great strides in this arena, I feel like there are other things I can be doing to cut down on costs.

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Cutting food costs while eating sustainably: What’s your advice? 24 March,2009Jennifer Maiser

  • Great advice. I would also say cook whole foods. For example, buy an entire chicken and use all the parts for several dishes. I would suggest sharing meals with friends and neighbours, if you don’t have a big family. It doesn’t cost much more to cook for another person or two.

  • tanya

    Great Ideas! Especially buying in season. I would add to that to buy from the farmer’s markets, then you are not paying for packaging and advertising, and what money you do spend goes directly to the grower. Also for dry goods, buy in bulk, for the same reasons. Go to Rainbow Grocery where you can purchase staples like rice and beans in whatever quantity you choose, and not pay to support a marketing and packaging budget, at the same time reducing landfill waste. Regarding meat, it is most cost effective to follow a somewhat Eastern perspective, using meat for garnish and extra flavor, as opposed to a big chunk on the plate. Beans and rice feed much of the world’s population quite well, they are very inexpensive, and have endless variations!

  • Gladys Brown

    Thrift store bread has risen in cost, but it is still about half the cost of grocery store bread. I put several loaves in the freezer, as well as hamburger and hot dog buns.


Jennifer Maiser

“My passion for food began young.”

I am the editor of the influential website which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers.

I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003.

I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, which was released in February 2010.

I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what’s in season and chatting with farmers.

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