How to curb food costs and make money-saving meals as inflation rises

Batch cooking, pantry staples and eating what's in season can all help.

April 15, 2022, 4:05 AM

With inflation at a 40-year high and food costs continuing to rise, it's time to take stock of how we approach cooking to make the most of our money in each meal.

What's the issue

Labor and supply shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic have continued to add a strain on wallets when it comes to price increases on food. Whether it's picking something up for lunch or cooking at home, both index categories have seen steady rises in pricing that has been passed onto consumers.

In March, the overall increase in the food index was one of the three largest contributors to inflation, according to the latest Labor Department report.

PHOTO: The price of groceries is displayed on a register in an undated stock image.
The price of groceries is displayed on a register in an undated stock image.
STOCK IMAGE/Shutterstock

The food at home index, which includes groceries, saw a 1.5% jump in the last month. Plus, fresh produce climbed another 1.5% this month after an already 2.3% increase in February for fruits and vegetables. Since the same time period last year, the food at home index has jumped 10% annually, also marking the biggest increase since 1981.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), monthly grocery budgets depend on three factors: The number of people in the household; age and gender of each person; and monthly household budget. The average cost of groceries for U.S. households was $4,942 annually or close to $12 per month, based on 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As people continue to cook more at home amid the pandemic, the demand for ingredients and cost-effective meals has also skyrocketed.

How to curb costs

Leslie Ghize, a consumer strategist expert and executive vice president at business development firm Doneger TOBE, explained to "GMA" that inflation influences can be broken up into three main categories: "Indicators of sentiment, behavioral changes in consumers and business responses," she said.

For example, the rise of cost on groceries and food has been a catalyst for content creators on TikTok to share smart home cooking hacks.

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"TikTok has become a destination for money-saving tips and tricks. While thrifting proliferates on FashionTok, food influencers offer penny-pinching ideas like recipes that only require a few ingredients and techniques to help produce last longer," Ghize explained. "Think: storing mushrooms in a paper bag and keeping lettuce in a glass jar."

Recipe for successful at-home meals that stretch your dollar

Savyy home cooks and food creators, cookbook authors, grocery experts and more will curate recipes and food launchpads to iterate on an array of money-saving meals with "GMA" Food.

Highlighting one main ingredient that is cost effective -- like a bulk pack of chicken thighs -- is the perfect opportunity for recipes that use cooked chicken thighs in three variations to ultimately deliver multiple meals with different flavors and techniques. Like this recipe from cookbook author Ali Slagle that feeds four people with chicken thighs and uses other smart money-conscious ingredients like frozen peas.

PHOTO: A customer views packages of poultry for sale at a Safeway grocery store in Scottsdale, Ariz., Oct. 18, 2021.
A customer views packages of poultry for sale at a Safeway grocery store in Scottsdale, Ariz., Oct. 18, 2021.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Additionally, if the cost of a particular ingredient category, such as pork or beef, is on the rise, expect to find a recipe that instead embraces seasonal produce items that are abundant and more cost-efficient paired with pantry staples like grains and beans.

From buying the right foods in bulk and using an ingredient in its entirety -- stems to leaves -- to purposely cooking more of one dish in batches that can be transformed into a different next day lunch or dinner, these money-saving meals will make the most of any budget.

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