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8 ways to spend less money on food

You don't have to break the bank to eat well. There are plenty of options to eat good food, even on a tight budget. Try these simple swaps to help you spend less money on food.

Woman shopping at supermarket, paying at checkout

1. Try online shopping

Online shopping can help you stick to your shopping list and only buy what you need. You’re more likely to spend within your budget because you can see the cost of groceries add up as you go. Most supermarket websites let you display items ‘on special’ first so that you don’t miss any bargains.

Choose to pick-up your groceries so you skip the delivery fee.

Woman looking at online shopping on phone

2. Consider freezing foods

A great way to save money is to make the most of your freezer. You may need to have a clear out to make some space. Lots of frozen foods will keep well in your freezer for up to 6 months.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Frozen chicken
  • Frozen fish
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Frozen fruit

Plenty of fresh foods freeze well too like bread, fresh meat and chicken, hard cheeses, milk and spinach.

Top tip: Cooking a whole chicken or chicken pieces from frozen is one of the cheapest ways to eat meat.

3. Stock up on canned foods

Just like frozen foods, buying canned foods is another good way to save money. They’re convenient and last a long time in your food cupboard.

Stock up on canned foods when you see them on special. Here are some cupboard staples:

  • Beans and legumes (chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans, lentils)
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned fish (tuna, salmon and mackerel)
  • Canned vegetables (beetroot, corn and asparagus)

kidney beans, sweet corn and peas in cans

4. Swap from processed foods to whole foods

When you buy fresh whole foods use these two rules to help you save money: it’s got to be in season, or on special.

Whole foods include vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, meat, chicken, fish and dairy. These types of food are not only better for our bodies, but they can sometimes be cheaper than processed foods. For example, processed cheese slices are more expensive per kilogram than a block of cheese.

Whole foods also keep you full between meals, so you’re likely to eat less overall.

5. Swap to buying foods in bulk

Buying some foods in bulk can save you money so look out for specials on foods you use often.

Grains are cheap and will keep for a long time if stored in an airtight container. Look out for specials on rice, pasta, flour, couscous and oats.

Buying canned foods, other dry goods and even cleaning products in bulk can save you money in the long run too.

Different types of cereals in sacks

6. Swap to meal prepping

Eating the same food more than once will not only save you money – but your precious time too!

Meal prep is making meals or dishes in advance and portioning them to use throughout the week. Consider meal prepping breakfasts, lunches, dinners or snacks.

This can be as easy as chopping up fruit and vegetables as a snack in advance. Or using some of your Sunday to batch cook a few different meals for the week.

Make it easier to cook large batches of food by choosing simple recipes. Using a slow cooker or trying oven tray bake recipes will also help.

Rice, broccoli and meat in tupperware containers

7. Swap meat to other types of protein

Eating less meat is another good way to save money. Try to have at least 1-2 days a week where you use other protein sources.

Alternative sources of protein include:

  • lentils
  • chickpeas
  • tofu
  • canned fish
  • eggs. 

These foods are all cheap options, nutritious and easy to prepare.  

Using different protein sources adds variety to your meals. It also reduces the total cost of your groceries if you regularly buy meat too.

non-meat protein sources in bowls. Chickpeas, lentils, nuts, beans

8. Swap from throwing it out to using it

Reducing the amount of food you waste is one of the most important ways to stay under your food budget.

There are plenty of vegetables that you can leave skins on, like carrots. There are also lots of vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower that you can use from tip to stalk. Broccoli stalks are great in a stir-fry or curry.

Before you throw something out consider whether you can freeze it to prolong its life or whether it can be used in your dinner or lunch the next day. Sometimes all you need is a bit of creativity!

Take a look at the Love Food Hate Waste golden rules of food storage.

How can you make cheap food taste good?

Cheap food doesn’t need to taste bland. To add flavour to cheap food you could:

  • use dried and fresh herbs 
  • add garlic 
  • add lemon zest or squeeze in lemon juice
  • add dried or fresh chilli
  • add toasted seeds like sesame or sunflower seeds. 

Marinating seasonal vegetables, cheap cuts of meat, or tofu is another way to add extra flavour.

What can I cook on a tight budget?

Cheap Eats is a collection of recipes designed to feed your family for less than $3 per serving, without losing taste, quality or nutrition.

Download the recipe book

Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.