The Cost of Food Is Rising. Here’s How an Expert Says I Should Prepare My Family for Winter

published Sep 28, 2020
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Credit: Grocery Bag: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

Like many Americans, I watched in dismay as food supply chains faltered in the spring. I panicked when experts advised that families should only venture to the market once every two weeks. Our family of five lives paycheck to paycheck, so that meant a significant change to our already tight budget. Fortunately, we were able to dip into our savings to keep our cupboards from going bare until things picked back up again. But now, as the second wave of the pandemic looms, and with what some experts predict will be the darkest winter in modern history on the horizon, I’m starting to look for ways to avoid another round of food grade sticker shock by slowly stocking up on food staples now. 

I spoke with YouTube creator Aja Dang, whose instructional videos teach basic budgeting to her nearly half a million fans, to find out the best way to stock up and offset the rising cost of food

Only buy what you’ll eat

In my quest to stock my pantry, I looked at staples like red beans and rice. Things that would stretch my budget further and last longer. The only problem: I’m the only one in my house who likes red beans and rice. “The most important thing to remember is to only buy food items that you’ll eat,” Dang says. “So, think of what foods you love: pasta, soups, sandwiches, etc., and base your pantry to fulfill those needs.” In her family, Dang says those foods would be Asian cuisine like pho and Vietnamese salmon. For my family, it would be a whole lot of Spaghetti-o’s and pizza (hey, we have three kids). 

Shop by the season

I asked Dang if there were any tricks to getting good deals, and she said the best way to score deals is to buy fresh produce when it’s in season. “Fruits and veggies are ‘in season’ during the time they would be naturally harvested in your area,” she says. Foods like berries will always be cheaper in the summer, and root veggies will always be cheapest in the fall. And the best place to get them is, you guessed it, the farmer’s market. “Not only will you be supporting your local community and lowering your environmental footprint but you can meet the farmers and workers who are growing your food,” she says. Her pro tip: if you go an hour before the farmers market closes, you can haggle your way to a more affordable price. 

Credit: Ahanov Michael | Shutterstock

Freeze what you don’t eat

Animal protein has seen the largest percentage increase in cost, Dang explains, so substituting inexpensive vegetarian options like beans, tofu, or legumes for meat is a good way to cut costs. “Also remember the freezer is your friend: if you find protein or produce on sale, buy more and freeze some for later—some proteins can last up to 8 months in the freezer while you can stretch your frozen berries for up to a year.”

Check out Asian markets

“Besides the farmers market, I really love Asian markets,” Dang says. “They are significantly more affordable for produce and proteins and they have a wider selection of items than you would normally find at a big chain grocery store.” For anyone with a dietary restriction (like a gluten intolerance), she suggests checking out online stores like Thrive Market, where they offer wholesale prices so you can save money on things like, say, gluten-free granola. 

Grow your own greens 

If you have the space, Dang suggests starting your own garden. “I live in an apartment so I have a small herb garden that saves me a ton of money, but I have friends with full-blown food gardens to where they don’t have to buy produce ever again,” she says. “Sometimes the best way to control rising food costs is to take matters into your own hands.”