Food prices are going up: Here's how to get your food bill down

Shopper scanning receipt
Eat Well For Less co-host Michael Van de Elzen and other budgeting experts share their tips. Photo credit: Getty Images.

As food prices are going up, it's becoming increasingly important to find ways to get food bills down.

The Statistics New Zealand food price index released on Tuesday shows in one month (from April to May) food prices rose 0.4 percent. Year-on-year, food prices are up 1.8 percent.

Meanwhile, households throw a considerable amount of food away. Love Food Hate Waste estimates 15,174 tonnes of bread goes into landfill each year: a retail cost of over $62 million.

As food costs account for a large chunk of household budgets, Newshub asked budgeting experts and Eat Well For Less co-host Michael Van De Elzen how people can save money.

1. Plan meals before shopping and cook in bulk

When life gets busy, it's easy to skip this step. But financial commentator Janine Starks says shopping without a list can easily lead to overspending.

She suggests shoppers look at what's already in their pantry, fridge and freezer and plan to use them up.

"Plan meals before shopping and shop with weights of ingredients...many times we buy two of something because we're unsure how much the recipe requires," Starks says.

For shoppers in a hurry, Starks suggests taking a photo of the inside of the fridge, freezer and pantry on mobile before heading to the supermarket.

Cooking in bulk will save money on both food and electricity.

"When we cook one meal, leftovers often sit in the fridge going green… why not double it and freeze one meal," Starks suggests.

2. Spot a true special by keeping a price record 

Dishwasher tablets, washing powder, shampoo, meat and nuts add significant cost to grocery bills.

By keeping a price record of these more expensive staple items, shoppers will know whether an advertised 'special' offers value and can stock up with confidence.

"As all specials are not created equal, knowing a top notch offer from a lack-lustre one saves money," Starks added.

3. Avoid (or limit) the mid-week 'top up shop'

It may be necessary to pop to the supermarket or dairy to top up on milk or bread. But shoppers may find themselves buying much more than they'd planned.

Eat Well For Less co-host Michael Van De Elzen said if meals are planned well, a top-up shop can be avoided altogether.

"Meals can be planned around when you do your shop: for example, salads or wraps would be best early on when veggies are nice and crisp, but a frittata or quiche is perfect for later in the week when veggies are getting a bit older," Van De Elzen said.

If a top-up shop is needed, as with a weekly shop, he suggests writing to a list and sticking to the budget, topping up on "anything fresh, like fruit, vegetables or dairy". 

4. Keep bread in the fridge or freezer 

Left on the bench, bread quickly goes mouldy - especially in warmer months. Stored in the fridge or freezer, it lasts much longer and slices can be defrosted or toasted as needed, Van De Elzen said.

Bread loaves can be also split in half, freezing one and using the other. Bread crusts can be grated into breadcrumbs and used as a topping for baked dishes, fish and in meat patties.

5. Turn old food scraps into new dishes

Parul Sood, general manager waste solutions at Auckland Council estimates food scraps account for up to 45 percent of kerbside rubbish bins (by weight).  Reusing this food helps reduce landfill while also saving money.

Members of the Cheaper Ways Facebook group suggest incorporating leftovers in quick and easy dishes such as stir frys, soups and frittatas.

"Meat scraps and leftovers are great in fried rice… veggies that are getting a little tired make hearty soups and if your celery is starting to look a bit sad, cut it up and fry it with onion and freeze, then add it to your pasta sauce to boost flavour," Samantha suggests.

Another member suggests "lazy mum pasta".

"Get some onions and garlic, throw all the [old] veggies in a baking tray, blend with your choice of stock and herbs," suggests Zoe.

For those who are spending over their budget, EnableMe founder Hannah McQueen suggests a "budget reset" where shoppers temporarily shop with cash to monitor where their money is going.

"Once you've tested what you’re capable of with cash, you have a new baseline and can set up an automatic payment to move a set amount each week into an account that’s designed solely to cover expenses like food - groceries, coffees, work lunches, takeaways," McQueen said.