The cost of groceries has increased significantly in the last year. Food and soft drinks increased 7.9% in the year to May, with the largest increases in dairy products (15.1%), breads and cereals (12.8%) and processed foods (11.5%).
The cost of meat rose by 3.8%, but the absolute increase was large, with a kilo of fillet steak costing up to AUD 60 per kilo.
Australians spend around 15% of their weekly food budget on meat and half (7.4%) on dairy products.
Around 43% of households say food prices are a cause of financial stress, with half looking to cut back on spending.
So how can you save money on meat and dairy without skimping on nutrients?
Read more: How to save $50 on your food bill and still eat tasty and nutritious meals
Meat is a good source of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.
Recommendations are for up to three servings of cooked lean red meat per week. This includes beef, lamb, veal, pork or kangaroo, with a portion of 65g cooked, which equals 90100g raw. This means buying 270300g per person per week.
Check online prices and weekly offers. Less expensive cuts include oyster blade, chuck or rump steak ($22-$25 per kilogram). They can be tougher, making them better for casseroles or slow-cooked recipes, like this beef stroganoff.
An exception is mince because higher-star, lower-fat, more expensive products shrink less during cooking than regular mince, which shrinks by 2530 percent.
Extend casserole and chopped dishes by adding vegetarian protein sources, such as dried or canned beans and legumes.
A 400g can of red beans costs about $1.50 and contains 240g of cooked beans, equivalent to 1.6 standard servings. Add a can of any type of legume (black, adzuki, cannelloni, butter, chickpeas, four bean mix, brown lentils) or use dried versions that don’t need pre-soaking like dried red lentils at about $5 per kilogram.
This adds nutrients including protein, B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and dietary fiber.
Read more: Love meat too much to be a vegetarian? Become a “flexitarian”
Dairy products are important sources of protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and vitamins A, B2 and B12. Australian recommendations are two to three servings a day for adults and four servings for women over 50. One serving is equivalent to a cup of milk or 40 g of cheese.
Fresh milk costs between $1.50 and $3.00 a liter depending on the type and brand, while UHT milk is cheaper, around $1.60 a liter. It’s even cheaper to buy powdered milk ($10 per kilogram pack, which makes ten litres), equivalent to $1 per litre.
Making yogurt at home costs about $56 per kilogram using a powder mix and a yogurt maker ($25). Once set, divide into smaller tubs yourself. Use as a cream or sour cream substitute.
Fresh yogurt ranges from $11 to $18 per kilogram, with individual portions and flavored varieties more expensive (but not always). Compare prices per kilogram or per 100g and check out special offers.
Cheese prices vary a lot, so compare prices by the kilogram. As a guideline, block cheese is cheaper than pre-sliced or shredded cheese. Home branded products are cheaper than branded ones. Aged cheeses are more expensive and processed ones less expensive. But if you cut the cheese into chunks very thick, you end up using more of it. Blocks of cheese range from $15 to $30 per kilogram, while packets of pre-sliced cheese range from $18 to over $30.
Pre-shredded cheeses range from $14 to $30 a pound, with most around $20, and processed cheese ranges from $10 to $15. Extend shredded cheese by mixing it with shredded carrot (about $2 a pound) and use it as a topper for tacos, wraps, pasta, and pizza. Use slices of processed cheese for toasted sandwiches. Most recipes work by adding less cheese than specified.
A high-calcium alternative to cheese in sandwiches is canned salmon, but at $15-$30 per kilogram ($6-$7 per 210g can) add variety but you might not save money.
Read more: Eggs are so expensive right now. What else can I use?
3 tips to save on your food bill
1. Have a family food budget
Make sure everyone agrees on saving money on food and drink.
About 50% of household food dollars are spent on takeout, eat-out, coffee, alcohol, food delivery services, and extras, so budget for discretionary food items. This is where you can make big savings.
Your family may need an incentive to stay within budget, such as voting on which discretionary items the food dollars are spent on.
2. Have a rough weekly meal plan
Use your meal plan to write a shopping list. Check what you already have in the pantry, fridge and freezer.
If you don’t know where to start, check out our No Money No Time, whether for one person or a family with young children.
3. Avoid food waste
Australians waste 7.6 million tonnes of food every year, yet 70% is edible. Before you go shopping, check your refrigerator.
Turn leftovers into tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. When you clear the dinner table, put leftovers straight into lunchboxes so they’re grab-and-go in the morning (or freeze for days when you’re too busy to cook).
Use our No Money No Time resources for ideas on how to help your food dollars go further. If you need food help right now, the Ask Izzy website can locate services in your area.
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