We have all been there: you get really 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. What gives? 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 the Loveleaf-tested winning places for inexpensive and delicious salad and bowl 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.
The Best Place to Buy Pantry Staples
SPECIALTY GROCERY STORES (think: Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s)
Believe it or not, we find most of our staple pantry ingredients at these two 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 we also like their bulk bins for nuts, seeds, dried beans, lentils, rice, quinoa, and spices since you can buy just what you need.
We love Trader Joe’s for basic ($1.99!) spices and dressing bases 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 your salads).
Bonus items: You’ll pay a premium for meats and produce at these stores, but keep your eye out for sales; meat can be frozen for later use. If you’re just starting out (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.
Trader Joe’s has 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. Ok, wine isn’t exactly a salad ingredient, but nothing beats a good Sunday afternoon meal prep sesh with some music and glass of vino.
The Best Place to Buy Protein
WAREHOUSE CLUBS (think: Costco, Sam’s Club or BJs)
If you have space in your house, there are some good finds at warehouse clubs (just don’t fight over the Nutella samples). Though they do require a yearly membership (usually about $50), you can score some significant savings on salad ingredients, including organic meat like chicken breast, ground beef, and pork. Though we can’t recommend their fresh or frozen fish, they have great deals on pole and line caught canned tuna and canned wild Alaskan salmon.
Bonus items: All locations carry pantry staples: rice, quinoa, nuts, dried fruit, extra virgin olive oil, maple syrup, honey and peanut and almond butter. Other salad ingredients worth looking at are organic tofu and cheese (we’ve seen organic and grassfed cheese at Costco). Skip produce that you won’t use within the week; overbuying = slimy veggies = money in the trash (or compost).
The hassle of warehouse clubs might outweigh the savings, especially if you’re cooking for one or two people in a small space.
The Best Place for Unexpected Delights
INTERNATIONAL GROCERY STORES OR INTERNATIONAL FOOD AISLES
(Asian, Indian, Latin, Halal, etc.)
Though we 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.
Looking for more grocery shopping tips? We got you.
How to #Own Your Grocery Budget
The Loveleaf Guide to Greens
Fully Stocked: Essential Ingredients for the Pantry