3 Ingredients This Registered Dietitian Always Buys to Stretch Her Grocery Budget

updated Nov 3, 2020
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I wake up every Sunday morning thinking about my meals for the week ahead. I know, I know, it’s kind of silly, but I love getting myself hyped up over everything I plan to eat. (We all need something to get excited about these days, you know?) 

Another sort of nerdy thing that I get excited about? I play this mental game with myself to figure out how to get maximum satisfaction from my food at minimum cost. The most important question: How can I get the most bang for my buck each week? (You might remember I spend just $50 a week on groceries!)

As a Registered Dietitian, the practical side of me knows that the best way to be cost-conscious and make smart nutritional choices at the grocery store is to think ahead and make a list. Over time, I have figured out specific ingredients to buy that help me win the game every time. You probably already know some of the obvious penny-pinching staples (canned beans, tuna, and eggs), but here are my top three maybe-more-surprising picks for getting the most out of my grocery budget.

1. Legume Pasta

Although legume pasta is more expensive than white or whole-wheat pasta ($3.99 for Banza, $1.29 for Barilla), you will still end up saving on your grocery receipt, I promise. You see, pasta made from chickpeas and lentils is my favorite two-for-one food because it contains both carbohydrates and protein. All you need to add are vegetables and a sauce for a complete meal. With 22 grams of protein per serving, legume pasta contains just as much protein as a serving of meat, poultry, or fish, so it helps me cross an extra (and usually pricey) protein off my grocery list.  

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Peanut Butter

I eat peanut butter just about every day and go through jars and jars of it. It’s extremely affordable (only $1.99 a jar at Trader Joe’s!) and markedly less expensive than its other nut butter counterparts, including almond, cashew, and pecan. 

Peanut butter is an incredibly versatile pantry staple that you should always have on hand. Not only is it the perfect spread for toast, fruit, or celery, but it’s also a great addition to any bread, cookie, or bar recipe. You can also whisk together soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and a couple tablespoons of peanut butter to make a creamy and flavorful sauce. There you have it, folks: Peanut butter can be for breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Whole Vegetables 

Those packaged pre-cut vegetables on display at the grocery store may look awfully tempting to meet all your easy meal prep needs. But have you ever taken a look at the price tag compared to their intact counterparts? While they might take you a few extra minutes of prep, whole vegetables are much easier on the wallet. At my grocery store, a whole butternut squash is only $.99, whereas the pre-cut cubes cost upwards of $4. (Not to mention they spoil much quicker if not used right away.) I use this same philosophy with most veggies. When I can, I buy whole carrots with the greens and use the greens to make a pesto. That way, I reduce waste and end up with another ingredient I might have otherwise had to buy.