DIY milk and seasonal meats: Some clever ways to save on food

Anna Weggel
Public Insight Network

The global drought, which has affected more than half of the continental United States, is expected to drive up prices on many grocery items in the U.S. by next year — which could lead consumers to reevaluate how they shop for food.

Corn and soybean prices are at record highs, other grain prices are surging — and the cost of food around the world jumped 10 percent this summer, according to the World Bank.

Here is some advice from people in the Public Insight Network about ways to save on food and, in many cases, eat healthier in the process!


Josie Sianez, her husband David son Nahualli at the Grower's Market in Fuquay-Varina, N.C. (Photo shared by Josie Sianez)

Josie Sianez, her husband, David, and their son, Nahualli, at the Growers Market in Fuquay-Varina, N.C. (Photo shared by Josie Sianez)


Josie Sianez, a stay-at-home mom and small-office manager from Angier, N.C.:

“I’ve started making more of my own food, and not just meals, but staple products. Peanut butter, almond milk, bread, applesauce — anything I can make.

“We’ve watched our grocery budget get blown out of the water these last few months, and I’ve had to cut corners wherever possible to make the money stretch til the end of the month.

“That’s how it started:  We ran out of soy milk and I needed something for my cereal. Making my own ‘milks’ was easy enough. Then I decided: Why not make other things? Nut butters, cashew cheese, applesauce followed.

“One day when we were out of money and bread I dusted off the old breadmaker and put it to use. Recipes and directions abound online, and I’ve found them to be very simple and delicious.

“We have our own garden, but it’s modest. Next year we plan to double or triple the amount of what we grow.”



Marilet Zumaya, a child care worker from Athens, Texas:

“Well, the techniques I use are what you might call ‘copied’ from family members. Being Hispanic, we seem to share everything. …

“I get the specials from other stores in my area and look for bargains. I also try to get as many coupons as possible from cereal items to laundry detergents. Once I have acquired both, I go to Wal-Mart and do their “price match” (which in my personal opinion is fantastic) to get the bargains at the other stores’ prices.

“For example, a Cheerios box is approximately $3.56 or so at Wal-Mart, but on the weekly ad at another store they have the same box for $1.99 , add to that a coupon for “save $1 for two boxes” and I get the two boxes at a cheaper price than the cost of one.”



Bryan Wing, a technical support manager from San Jose, Calif.:

“When I was laid off three years ago, I went from paying $16 for a pound of Peet’s coffee to $16 for 3 pounds of Costco coffee.  That habit didn’t change even after I was re-employed in December 2009.

“We eat less meat.  I don’t think we’ve bought beef steaks since 2009.  We buy groceries on sale as much as possible.”



A.C. Sutherland, a small-business owner from Kirkland, Wash.:

AC Sutherland walks with her dad (left) and a friend (right) on her dad's apple and cherry orchard in central Washington state. (Photo shared by AC Sutherland)

A.C. Sutherland (middle) walks with her dad (left) and a friend on her dad’s apple and cherry orchard in central Washington state. (Photo shared by A.C. Sutherland)

“Growing up with access to great produce from our own farm and also as a child of the 70′s (hippie health food) I have been a healthy, mostly vegetarian consumer since my teens.

“Vegetables and beans and lentils are really inexpensive. Lentils cook up quickly and are very nutritious. I never buy canned beans either — more for taste than price, but dried beans and lentils are dirt cheap.

“I also eat lots of fruit and cereal — whole oats mostly — and buy our local fruit, which is phenomenal in summer, and our apples and pears are reasonably priced in the winter months. I buy Greek yogurt and other dairy from Costco.”



Sandra Caruba, an attorney and part-time law professor from La Selva Beach, Calif.:

“I avoid processed and prepared foods; I buy “whole” foods: produce that’s in season and on sale, whole grains and legumes from bulk bins, and (relatively little) meat cuts that go into soups and stews.

“I’ve actually been cooking this way for a long time, so increased prices don’t affect my habits too much (except that I joined Costco last year, and buy a lot more large packages than I used to).

“My shopping habits are pretty stable, but I’d like to start a garden — as much for freshness and knowing where my food comes from as price.  The only barrier is finding the time (I work a lot of hours most days).”


A typical Thai lunch prepared by John Mayer’s wife. (Photo shared by John Mayer)


John Mayer, a retiree from Fort Collins, Colo.:

“Recently I married a Thai woman, and my diet has changed to where I am eating more greens and more noodle-based dishes, with noodles made from beans.

“We usually only buy meat that is on sale and buy large quantities of it and freeze it. We also buy fruit when it is on sale. I also look at the weekly ads of the three major grocers in our town and buy milk at whichever one has it on sale.

“Also, my wife will pick edible greens that she sees in vacant lots or fields.”



David Scantland, a writer, graphic designer, and teacher from Marietta, Ga.:

“We shop seasonally — that’s when things are not only abundant (and, therefore, more likely to be on sale) but often at their peak quality.

“This is especially true of fruits and vegetables, but applies to animal proteins, too: Think about wild salmon, summer pork, or even about how rib roasts always go on sale over the end-of-year holidays (and, we’ve noticed, around Father’s Day). That’s how we can afford some of the more luxurious foods at lower cost.

“We also consider yield. Pork tenderloin, for example, isn’t cheap — it hovers around $5 per pound — but it’s almost 100 percent meat. Contrast that with spare ribs at half the price — but also about half the amount of meat per pound. This idea comes into play with respect to finfish and shellfish, too. They’re expensive these days, but often have high yields compared to land animals.”



Shannon Motter, a librarian and graduate student from Titusville, Pa.:

I shop the outer aisles of the grocery store and I buy local (local veggies are usually cheaper from the roadside stands).

“A bunch of bananas are $1, a bag of chips are $4, so I don’t buy junk food. I limit my meat purchases.

The road leading to Shannon Motter's house in Titusville, Pa. The field on the left is where her family grows the grass for their cows. (Photo shared by Shannon Motter)

The road leading to Shannon Motter’s house in Titusville, Pa. The field on the left is where her family grows the grass for their cows. (Photo shared by Shannon Motter)

“I have learned where the better deals are and I shop there when possible (but I do NOT drive to buy cheaper food; it’s too much money for gas). I use fuel perks from the grocery store. I watch specials.

“We have fish or steak or whole chickens when it’s on sale. I use all leftovers. Yesterday’s baked chicken is today’s chicken noodle soup.

“I share food purchasing with extended family. We buy larger quantities when possible and we freeze what we can for later use. My family also shares foods that we’ve grown in our gardens (all the veggies often ripen at the same time and the individual family cannot use them all).

“We can foods. I make foods from scratch. We prefer it and it’s cheaper. I have learned to cook everything that we eat. If we want wings, pierogies, steak, chicken nuggets, pizza, I can make better versions of these than I could ever buy. But I also make sure that we do have steak once in a while.

“I buy myself a latte a couple times a month, even though I cannot really afford it. Food purchases often go on my credit card.”



Joanne Mikol, a nurse from Vancouver, Wash.:

“I buy less meat and use more eggs and beans as protein.

“Instead of meat as the main protein five or six times a week, I now plan meals that use meat only two or three times.  Hard boiled eggs on a salad instead of bacon.  Lots of veggies in tomato sauce instead of ground meat.  Beans in soup for a hearty dinner.

“When I do buy meats try to buy whole cuts that can be used as leftovers for several meals.”



Erica Mooney, a cafe and grocery worker from Ypsilanti, Mich.:

“I am a member of my local food cooperative, which gives me a small discount on most of my groceries.

Erica Mooney working at her food co-op's farmer's market booth at the Depot Town Farmer's Market in Ypsilanti, Mich. (Photo by Dayna Sprentall submitted by Erica Mooney)

Erica Mooney working at her food co-op’s farmers market booth at the Depot Town Farmers Market in Ypsilanti, Mich. (Photo by Dayna Sprentall shared by Erica Mooney)

“I also order in bulk things I use a lot of, and sometimes I split very big orders with friends to get the best price on staples like oats, rice, and honey.

“I have started to cook everything at home.  Before I used to make food at home when I had time and then eat on-the-go takeout or freezer meals. Now I make time to cook and it goes by much faster. I can whip up a nourishing whole food meal cheaply every night.

“Also I used to go to farmers markets for social interaction and to buy special things, now I plan my menu and other shopping around what I know I can get cheaper at the market.”

>> Tell us how YOU save on the cost of food, or may start saving in the coming months. Share your story here.



Anna Weggel Analyst
Public Insight Network

Anna Weggel is a Public Insight Analyst, which means she spends her time crafting questions about upcoming story topics to send to sources in the Public Insight Network and then produces web, audio and video content featuring those sources.

Before finding her home at APM in 2008, Anna received her B.A. in journalism, was the editor in chief of The Minnesota Daily, and internship hopped through Mother Jones, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, and the Downtown Journal. Anna's non-work life is held hostage by the stage -- where she performs improv comedy and shows with her lady bluegrass band.