We’ve all been there: you get excited to make a delicious, homemade meal, but by the time you leave the grocery store you realize you’ve spent more money on just one meal than it would cost to get sushi delivered. Twice. Isn’t cooking at home supposed to be cheaper?
The good news is that you haven’t been lied to all these years: it is less expensive to cook your own meals at home. The bad news is that where you shop for what matters.
While the convenience of a one-stop supermarket trip is alluring, that big name grocery store in your neighborhood won’t usually have the best prices on most fresh things, including salad and bowl ingredients. But with a little local exploration and some initial purchases, you’ll have a well-stocked pantry and rarely have to buy much more than fresh greens each week.
So in the spirit of shorter receipts and fuller wallets, here are my winning places for inexpensive and delicious healthy ingredients:
The Best Place to Buy Produce
LOCAL FARMERS’ MARKETS
Turns out you don’t need a Subaru (or a yoga teacher certification) to shop at a farmers’ market. Food at farmers’ markets is often surprisingly cheaper than your area’s chain supermarket (check the price per pound on items). Since farmers are selling what is in season and most abundant (in the summer they basically hand out zucchini for free), the farmer’s market is a great place to score produce, the star of Loveleaf salads. Find one near you here.
Bonus items: Quality (local, organic, grass-fed, etc.) meat, cheese, and eggs and artisan pantry items like honey and maple syrup.
WHOLE FOODS MARKET
Like everything, produce can be expensive at Whole Foods Market. If you’re trying to save time or don’t have a salad spinner yet, Whole Foods’ 1 lb box of organic spring mix is a great salad base option that will last you a full week of lunches.
I don’t love Trader Joe’s for fresh vegetables, but they have some good frozen vegetables, tofu and tempeh, inexpensive fresh herbs (cilantro, dill, parsley, scallions, etc.), and an (unexpected) but usually unbeatable price on cauliflower. Weird, but true. (And don’t skip their large and affordable cheese and wine selections – a meal prep necessity, imo).
The Best Place to Buy Pantry Staples
SPECIALTY GROCERY STORES
(think: Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Thrive Market)
Believe it or not, I find most of my staple pantry ingredients at these three locations. The trick? Stick to the “house” brands, such as the 365 Everyday Value at Whole Foods. Items like tahini, vinegar, mustard, and olive oil are always a good deal and I also like their bulk bins for nuts, seeds, dried beans, lentils, rice, quinoa, and spices since you can buy just what you need.
I love Trader Joe’s for basic ($1.99!) spices and basics like extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, and honey. They also carry pantry staples, like canned tuna, coconut milk, organic peanut butter, and almond butter. Their prices are hard to beat on dried fruit, nuts, and seeds (and their $1.99 bags of sunflower seeds are a great option for adding cheap crunch to salads).
Thrive Market is my favorite online shop for well-priced, high-quality groceries, staples, household cleaning supplies and more. It’s kind of like Amazon meets Costco meets Whole Foods. Get your favorite Organic and Non-GMO brands delivered to your door. Loveleaf Co. readers can save an additional 25% off your order when you click here.
The Best Place to Buy Protein
WHOLE FOODS MARKET
With meat, I really try to focus on quality; it’s better for you, the animals, and the environment. Though meat can be expensive at Whole Foods Market, you’re paying for the good stuff. My biggest tip is to keep your eye out for sales! I often buy grass-fed or pasture-raised meat on sale and freeze for later use (…yeah, I’m the girl with 10 organic chickens in her cart).
Local farms will often have quality meat. Search Eat Wild to find good sources near you.
Butcher Box is a monthly service that sends you high quality (think grass-fed, free-range) meat to your door. Check it out here.
The Best Place for Unexpected Delights
INTERNATIONAL GROCERY STORES OR INTERNATIONAL FOOD AISLES
(Asian, Indian, Latin, Halal, etc.)
Though I used to drive by these gems without a second thought, smaller ethnic grocers (or even the international food aisle at chain grocery stores) have great prices on items like rice, beans, lentils, coconut milk, tahini, rice noodles and (most importantly!) Sriracha.
Spices are usually sold in larger quantities for a fraction of the price. At chain grocery stores, inexpensive spices can often be found in the International food aisles, just a few feet away from the more expensive selection.
Bonus items: International grocery stores can carry good produce too, especially items like onions, garlic, ginger, peppers, and fruit. Find quality dairy products at Israeli or Greek markets (authentic feta!). And don’t forget about hummus.
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