Plan your shopping trip.
Before you shop for groceries, make sure you have a plan. Try to do one big shopping trip a week, and then make a smaller trip if needed to refill on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Stock your pantry
Planning and cooking meals is much easier if your pantry is stocked well. Keep staples, favorite spices, and canned and frozen vegetables handy and you’ll always be able to make healthy meals.
Include healthy items like these in your pantry:
- Brown rice
- Dried beans and lentils
- Quick-cooking grits
- Low-sodium canned beans
- Low-sodium canned tomatoes
- Olive oil (best is extra virgin)
- Nonstick cooking spray
- Low-sodium broth
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Frozen vegetables
- Favorite spices such as black pepper, chili powder, cinnamon, clove, cumin, curry, garlic powder, ginger, nutmeg, and tamarind
Not sure what to cook?
Try these sample 2-week menus for eating on a budget. These recipes use MyPlate as a guide and have everything you need to cook healthy meals for your family.
Make-ahead dinners for busy nights
Think about your family’s schedule before you go shopping. If you have a busy night coming up, make meals ahead of time that can be pulled out when you need them. Your family can eat a healthy meal at home instead of fast food on the go. That saves you time, money, and keeps your family healthy.
Check out the MyPlate Pinterest board: Prep now, eat later for make-ahead recipe ideas.
Before you shop
- Make a shopping list. This helps you stick to your budget.
- Plan your meals and how to use leftovers.
- Look for coupons, sales, and store specials.
- Sign up for store discount cards.
Make your own meal plan.
Download a Meal Planner form for creating your own weekly menus.
While you shop
- Don’t shop when you are hungry. If you are hungry, you will probably buy things you don’t need.
- Try store brands. They usually cost less.
- Compare products for the best deal.
- Check “sell by” dates. Buy the freshest food possible so it lasts longer.
- Look at the per-unit price on the shelf price tag. This tells you the price per serving.
Vegetables and salad
- Buy large bags of frozen vegetables.
- Buy full heads of lettuce or spinach for salads. Avoid pre-bagged salad mixes. Uncut fresh vegetables will last longer and can cost less than bagged salad mixes.
- Buy fresh fruits in season when they often cost less. Farmers markets will have fruit that is in season.
- Frozen and canned fruits are a smart choice all year-round.
Low-fat milk products
- Buy fresh, low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese in the largest size that you can use before they go bad. The large items will save you money.
- If you are not going to use all of your milk or cheese, freeze it before it goes bad.
- Ultra-pasteurized milk won’t spoil as fast.
Meat and beans
- Dried beans and peas are a good source of protein and fiber and last a long time.
- Chuck or bottom round roast has less fat and costs less than sirloin.
- Look for deals at the meat counter. Buy meat on sale to save money.
- Buy meat in large bulk packages to save money. Freeze what you might not use right away to keep it from going bad.
Breads and whole grains
- Look for bread that is a day old. It costs less, but is still good to eat. And don’t forget, 100 percent whole grain bread is the healthiest choice.
- Buy regular brown rice and oatmeal. Instant rice and oatmeal cost more and have more sugar and calories.
Buy what’s in season.
Fruits and vegetables always taste better and cost less when they are in season. Check the table below to know what to buy when.
Visit a farmers market.
Farmers markets are a great place to buy locally grown food that is in season.
To find a farmers market near you, go to USDA Farmers Markets Directory Search and enter your zip code.
If you get SNAP food benefits:
- Find out which markets accept SNAP benefits by clicking on the “Payment Accepted” tab in the same search tool. Check the box for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).”
- Be sure to click the link to the market’s website to see if they offer double-dollar days, when you can get twice as much for the same price (usually $20 for $40 of food).
- When you arrive at the farmers market, go to the organizer's tent. They will swipe your Lone Star card and give you coupons or tokens to use at any of the booths. Each market may be different, so find out about the one in your area.
Grow your own food.
Planting a vegetable garden is fun, good exercise, and a great way to have fresh, healthy food for less money.
You don’t need a lot of room or even a yard to grow your own food. Many vegetables can be grown on a patio in pots. If you do have a yard, try planting your garden in a raised bed. Learn more about gardening with raised beds on Agrilife.
Easy vegetables to grow
- Broccoli (PDF, 764 KB)
- Carrots (PDF, 698 KB)
- Cilantro (PDF, 828 KB)
- Collard Greens (PDF, 455 KB)
- Cucumbers (PDF, 323 KB)
- Green Beans (PDF, 329 KB)
- Melons (PDF, 2.6 MB)
- Okra (PDF, 384 KB)
- Onions (PDF, 384 KB)
- Peppers (PDF, 432 KB)
- Irish Potatoes (PDF, 738 KB)
- Radishes (PDF, 324 KB)
- Rosemary (PDF, 506 KB)
- Spinach and Other Greens (PDF, 623 KB)
- Squash (PDF 501 KB)
- Sugar Snap Peas (PDF, 501 KB)
- Sweet Corn (PDF, 940 KB)
- Sweet Potatoes (PDF, 472 KB)
- Tomatoes (PDF, 813 KB)