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An Honest Guide to Saving Money on Food

An Honest Guide to Saving Money on Food

When everything is getting so expensive

Xueci Cheng

Xueci Cheng

Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

Money is always a sensitive topic, even in food. There is a common belief that a bigger budget means better quality ingredients and more delicious food, or that the word "cheap" is not the language of a food editor. There’s some truth in it, in fact, I was lucky to be able to have a generous food budget living in Berlin. This year, however, every grocery trip leaves me in shock over how much basic ingredients cost.

Surging food prices and food shortages are a global challenge that many are facing, especially those less privileged. That’s why at Kitchen Stories, we felt obligated to round up some tips on how to save money on food. Because it’s possible: it is more about choosing smartly than only eating cheap food. We want to save money while eating well (and in the process waste less!) I asked around in our team and got many great tips, so here is how to save money when shopping, cooking, and eating!

Tips for shopping smartly

Grocery shopping with a plan

Don’t go shopping hungry is proverbial and proven true. My advice is don’t go shopping spontaneously either. Plan before your grocery shopping: prepare a grocery list and find a frequency that suits you. Families might opt for a big shopping trip once a week;  however, for a single-person household, I prefer to shop more often (twice or three times a week) and shop less each time. This proves to be more economical and avoids food waste. 

Where you shop matters too: I shop for Asian ingredients (such as tofu and bok choy) in Asian grocery stores as they tend to be cheaper. If you live close to a Turkish or Arabic supermarket, that’s a gem - it’s always great to get fresh lamb and vegetables here.

Shop seasonal ingredients

Eat vegetables and fruits when their taste peaks. They are at the lowest price and maximum flavor when in season. Eating seasonally all year around benefits not only your taste buds but also your wallet.

Don’t sleep on canned and frozen food

Canned and frozen food can provide similar nutritional value and are less expensive than fresh produce when chosen right. They’re handy, cheap, and have a long shelf life, so why not include them in your cooking routine?

Here I’m talking about canned fish, chickpeas and beans, tomatoes, and frozen fruits and vegetables rather than readymade pizzas or desserts. Choose the canned food stored in water instead of syrup, and read the label to make sure there’s not too much added sugar or salt.

Choose natural protein alternatives

I’m admittedly a crazy tofu fan and cook with it at least once a week. It’s great for budget saving: a block of tofu costs less, stays longer in my fridge, and is more environmentally-friendly  than meat. The same goes for other plant-based protein sources, such as nuts, seeds, beans and pulses - dried beans cost even less!  

Tips for cooking with less waste

Store your food properly

Learning how to store your food properly (that includes herbs and spices!) is probably the most basic but often overlooked kitchen knowledge. Once you arrive home from grocery shopping, you should organize them as soon as possible - some vegetables and fruits go bad faster than you think. 

Your freezer can be a great helper. I use it to store meat, dumplings, and bread at home. In the office, we always portion out the leftover meat to save in the freezer. It's not only for leftover meals, but also odds and ends such as chicken bones and vegetable peels. Put them in the freezer, and make homemade stocks later. The ice cube tray is the perfect place for stock (utilize your ice tray with these tips). Overripe bananas or berries? Throw them in for smoothies.

Meal prep, or big batch cooking

Meal prep is helpful for families and saves overspending on delivery or convenience food. We have a detailed guide for meal-prep beginners and a guide for non-meal-preppers on how to be flexible with a plan. If you’re daunted by the idea of preparing 20 Tupperware boxes, think of meal prep as a mindset: cook more at once and enjoy later. I always do this with pesto, curry, bolognese, and noodle toppings.

No-waste cooking is the new black

I read once, that food wasted is money wasted. Over the last years at Kitchen Stories, I’ve learned and enjoyed recipes that focus on parts we often throw away: do you know that broccoli stems taste amazing when baked with cheese? Or carrot green makes nice and fresh herby gremolata or salad dressing? (Lisa wrote a whole guide on how to turn kitchen scraps into pesto) Or that when cooking with chicken, the leftover carcass and rendered fat can be repurposed?

Preservation is a genius method, too: kimchi or sauerkraut for cabbages, homemade jam for leftover in-season fruits, preserved lemon and pickles are flavor enhancers in any meal.

Look for substitutes

As a food editor, I am theoretically not supposed to advise you "don't follow the recipe". However, if you’re a (confident) home cook, there’s room for adapting a recipe. Use what you have in the pantry or fridge instead of buying something completely new. Here is some kitchen wisdom on how to substitute ingredients.

More tips on eating and living!

Homemade is worth it

A lot of food we love can be homemade (and good news, we have recipes for them!): from bubble tea to iced coffee, kimchi to spice blends. Homemade chicken tikka masala or a crispy Japanese katsu can taste better than takeout. A brunch or a dumpling party at home make better bonding experiences than going to the restaurants.

(Re)Grow your herbs

Regrowing scallions is a life-changing trick I learned during the first lockdown. If you’re using a herb regularly, such as basil or chive, consider growing a small plant on your windowsill, which will save trips to supermarkets, packaging, and money.

Dining out with intentions

The disadvantage of working in a food company is that you spend too much money dining out because you keep getting recommendations from fellow food-enthusiastic colleagues. However, I try to set a budget and equally important, intentions. Instead of going to mediocre restaurants when I don’t feel like cooking, it should be the opportunity to explore new things.

Revisit your food expense regularly

Going through your food expense at the end of each month or quarter will help you spend your budget more wisely. Two years ago I realized I was spending too much on buying coffee and then I invested in a burr grinder and started to make pour-over at home. Same quality, but less money!

Recipes with low cost but great flavors

The easiest way to start? Browse our budget-friendly recipes and get some delicious ideas! 


What’s your secret tip to save money on food? Do you want to see more budget-friendly cooking tips in the future from Kitchen Stories?

Published on August 14, 2022

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