Cheap Food Items to Buy When They’re on Sale

Ten-dollar cartons of eggs. Seven-dollar gallons of milk. Two-dollar apples. Everyone — even Cardi B — is feeling the pain of jaw-droppingly high food costs driven by inflation and a flurry of other factors. It’s scary to see your grocery bill skyrocket, but while no one can predict what’s going to happen to food prices in the coming year, stocking up on certain ingredients when you spot them at a lower price can help you save significantly. We talked to a few budget experts and several New York Times editors and writers about what items they buy and how they make the most of them.

  • You may be new to budget shopping. If so, embrace grocery store circulars (you can use the Flipp app to track them). Make a list before you go, and if your grocery store has an online presence, compare prices.

  • Take a tip from Ali Slagle, a recipe developer and New York Times Cooking contributor, and stroll by your staple ingredients whenever you visit a store. You might discover a surprise sale.

  • Finally, the key to budget grocery shopping is being open to sacrificing convenience for a lower price. Consider visiting a couple of different stores to take advantage of sales. It can be worth it.

1. Cheese: Can you freeze hard cheeses like mozzarella and Cheddar? The answer is “yes” if you plan on melting it. (The thawed texture might be a bit weird for eating out of hand.) Krysten Chambrot, an associate editor for New York Times Cooking, chops up fresh mozzarella and freezes the slices on a sheet pan, then pops them into a resealable plastic bag for quick pizzas. “It keeps us from ordering in and keeps waste down for two people,” she said. Buy shredded cheese (or block cheese and shred it yourself) and freeze it.

Recipes: Pizza Margherita | The Original Nachos | Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

2. Butter: Genevieve Ko, a deputy editor for New York Times Cooking, freezes butter or, if she has the time, turns it into cookie or pie dough, or fully baked treats, and freezes them to enjoy later. (Keep an eye out for sales around major cooking holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

Recipes: Chocolate Chip Cookies | All-Purpose Biscuits | All-Butter Pie Crust

3. Milk: Natasha Janardan, a social video producer for New York Times Cooking, buys milk at a Brooklyn dollar store, where she can get a gallon for $4.19 instead of $7. Consider ditching dairy milk altogether if you don’t use a lot of it to begin with. These days, alternative milks are typically cheaper, and “a half gallon of oat milk lasts longer than whole dairy milk,” said Caroline Lange, a writer, recipe developer and tester in Brooklyn. You can also freeze milk. The consistency will change slightly, but it still works perfectly fine in baked goods. (The same goes for yogurt and buttermilk.)

4. Eggs: Don’t be afraid to buy a few cartons if you spot them at a good price. They keep for three to five weeks in the fridge (or longer). You can also freeze beaten eggs in ice cube trays, then pop the cubes into a resealable plastic bag to thaw for later use in baked goods or for scrambled eggs. Or, make a couple frittatas — or bake mini frittatas in muffin tins — and freeze them for busy mornings.

Recipes: Loaded Baked Frittata | Best Scrambled Eggs Recipes

5. Ground meat: Alli Powell, creator of The Grocery Getting Girl, an Instagram account dedicated to budget shopping and cooking, buys ground meat in bulk or on sale, then divides it into half- or one-pound portions for freezing. Genevieve Ko suggests making meatballs, samosas or dumplings, which freeze well and can be cooked straight from the freezer.

Recipes: Korean Barbecue-Style Beef Meatballs | Keema Samosas | Pork Dumplings

6. Stew meats: Stock up on bone-in chicken thighs, beef chuck, short ribs, pork or lamb shoulder. Genevieve Ko makes big batches of stew and keeps containers in the freezer and in the fridge for future fast meals.

Recipes: Old-Fashioned Beef Stew | Air-Fryer Chicken Thighs | Brown Stew Pork Shoulder

7. Fish: Nicole Donnell, the creator of Black Girl Budget, a financial coaching service dedicated to teaching Black women the benefits of budgeting, buys a large piece of fish and cuts it into pieces to freeze instead of buying individual, vacuum-sealed servings. If you score a couple of pieces of fresh salmon, but you’re not quite ready to eat them, you can marinate them for up to two days before cooking.

Recipes: Miso-Glazed Fish | Gravlax

8. Rotisserie chicken: Take it from Vaughn Vreeland, a supervising producer for New York Times Cooking. “Never underestimate the power of a rotisserie chicken (especially if you live alone).” His grocery store has them on sale for $8.99 every Monday, so he eats some for dinner, then shreds the remaining meat and uses the bones for stock. Half of the shredded chicken gets turned into chicken salad, and the other half goes into soup. (Here are even more ways to use a rotisserie chicken.)

Recipes: Turkey Barley Soup | Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup | Easiest Chicken Noodle Soup

9. Fruit: Once you’ve eaten your fill of fresh fruit, make muffins, cakes, quick breads or pie filling that you can freeze to enjoy later. Or slice and freeze berries, stone fruits, pineapple and mango on a sheet pan and store in a resealable plastic bag to use in smoothies or baked goods. You can also make jam or preserves. If you have a surplus of apples and pears, which don’t freeze well, turn them into applesauce.

Recipes: Jordan Marsh’s Blueberry Muffins | How to Make Jam | Cinnamon Maple Applesauce

10. Hearty vegetables: “If you buy a big cabbage, it will feed you forever,” Ali Slagle said. Opt for vegetables with a long shelf life, like root vegetables, onions, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage. Then, make quick pickles with past-their-prime sturdy vegetables: Submerge them in leftover pickle brine and refrigerate. In a few days, they’ll make a great giardiniera-like topping for sandwiches and salads.

Recipes: Hearty Cabbage Recipes | Roasted Sweet Potatoes | Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts

11. Dark leafy greens and herbs: If you spot them on sale — or you have a big bunch that are about to turn — Genevieve Ko suggests cooking them down or turning them into sauce to keep in the fridge or freezer because they take up so much space otherwise. And if you have a bag of greens just about to turn slimy, no need to wilt if you’re in a rush. Toss them into the freezer as-is and grab a handful to use in smoothies or soups.

Recipes: Braised Collard Greens | All-Purpose Green Sauce | Basic Pesto

12. Frozen foods: Look for deals on frozen fruit and vegetables, especially for out-of-season produce that your family loves. It’s flash frozen at peak freshness, so the taste is comparable especially when used in soups, baked goods, stews and stir-fries. And most are already chopped, so you don’t have to prep. Try serving your kids frozen fruit — berries, peaches, mango or pineapple — when they want something sweet but not sugary.

14. Beans: “Buy dried beans,” Ali Slagle said. They cost about the same as a can of beans but will yield four times as much. Drain most of the cooking liquid, and freeze in airtight containers to use for future soups, veggie burgers, hummus and bean salads.

Recipes: How to Cook Beans | Big Pot of Beans | Slow-Cooker Beans

15. Canned tomatoes: A can of tomatoes goes a long way, so it’s never a bad idea to add more to your pantry. Make big batches of tomato sauce, minestrone or tomato curry, and freeze them.

Recipes: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce | Quick Minestrone | Butter-Roasted Paneer With Tomato Curry

16. Bread: Instead of leaving bread out on the counter, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. Use stale bread to make croutons, French toast, bread pudding or bread crumbs. Krysten Chambrot revives old bread by spritzing it with water and putting it in the oven at 350 degrees for about five minutes.

Recipes: French Toast | Bread Pudding | Torn Croutons

17. Cereal: How can something made from mostly flour be so expensive? If you spot a good sale on your favorite, stock up! Unopened, it’s good for at least a year, and opened, for about three months. You can also freeze any opened cereal in a resealable plastic bag. If you have an excess, make cereal treat bars or press-in pie crusts. You can also use crushed, unsweetened cereal like cornflakes as a stand-in for bread crumbs.

Recipes: Rice Krispie Treats | S’mores Crispy Treats | Milk and Honey Pie With Cereal Crust

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