Stay Connected

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Making a Master List of the Least Expensive Foods Available in Winter Months

The other day, I was brainstorming ways that I could save money on groceries in this new year. This is what I came up with. 
  • shop more at discount stores, such as Grocery Outlet, check all clearance sections of other stores I frequent
  • cook meals from scratch
  • prepare snack foods at home in place of commercial snack foods (this is a critical downfall for me)
  • concentrate on creating menus from the least expensive foods available in winter
The last item on this list side-tracked me and prompted a look into the least expensive foods in winter, based on basic food group or nutritional need. 

So, just what are the least expensive foods? Obviously, marked down foods in any category can beat the price on foods that fill a similar nutritional need. For now, I'm looking for foods that would be available to most folks during the winter.

Here's the start of my list. As I was brainstorming, I added some ideas for how I could use some of my least expensive foods for our family meals. I've included those notes as well.

What else can we add to the list?

least expensive sources of protein
  • milk -- use milk to scratch-prepare yogurt, pudding, cottage cheese, white sauce
  • eggs -- frittatas, baked, scrambled, fried (as is or to top other dishes, like beans and rice or ramen soup), boiled (egg salad, deviled, or chopped and sprinkled over other foods to boost protein)
  • peanut butter
  • canned tuna
  • dried beans
  • chicken legs/leg quarters
least expensive winter vegetables
  • fresh cabbage
  • fresh carrots
  • fresh onions
  • fresh winter squash
  • fresh celery
  • canned pumpkin
  • canned tomatoes
  • canned green beans
  • homegrown sprouts
least expensive winter fruits
  • fresh oranges
  • fresh grapefruit
  • fresh apples
  • fresh bananas
  • canned applesauce
  • frozen concentrate 100% fruit juice, such as orange juice
least expensive starchy foods
  • fresh potatoes -- baked, mashed, oven fries, hashed, cubed/sliced in casseroles
  • rice -- pilafs, desserts, plain as hot side dish or hot breakfast cereal
  • oats -- hot cereal, granola, baked oatmeal, breakfast cookies, desserts
  • wheat flour -- white and whole wheat to bake quick or yeast breads, blend half white/half wheat when making muffins, biscuits, pancakes, quick breads, or for making yeast breads and rolls
  • popcorn kernels -- pop in a pan on stove or in an air popper
  • cornmeal -- cornbread, polenta/cornmeal mush
  • simple pasta shapes, such as spaghetti and macaroni. (I buy both at Dollar Tree in 24 oz packages -- so 67 cents/lb. In contrast, I find ramen in 3 oz packages for 20 cents, or $1.07/lb. It's less expensive to make a noodle soup using spaghetti noodles, homemade chicken, turkey, or ham stock, salt, and a bit of onion powder, garlic powder, and soy sauce.)
  • canned corn
least expensive cooking fats
  • leftover fat from cooking meat, such as ham, turkey, bacon, chicken, pork, or beef fat
  • vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn, safflower (We do buy and use olive oil, but mostly reserve it for dressing salads or for finishing soup or pasta.)
  • vegetable shortening and/or margarine (My family has chosen to limit consumption of hydrogenated vegetable fats, but I do buy Crisco-style vegetable shortening to use for pie pastry and greasing baking pans.)

inexpensive flavor and color enhancers

  • fresh radishes, green onions
  • bulk herbs, spices
  • lemons, limes, bottled lemon or lime juice
  • bulk onion powder
  • Worcestershire sauce

I originally made this list for my own purpose. I then thought this list might be helpful to someone else or someone else here could share their expertise with us and offer suggestions. As you share your thoughts on other least expensive foods, I'll add them to the above list.


  1. If I were to come up with a list, it would look almost exactly like yours! I don't have anything to add in the way of lists, but had a couple of thoughts on salty snack foods. I think I've mentioned this before, but potato chips made in the microwave (lots of recipes out there) are wonderful and you can make them with minimal fat. Also, last week when I made chicken tortilla soup, I added crunchy tortilla strips on top which I made by baking strips of tortillas in the oven, sprinkled with olive oil and salt. Easy to do and oh so good (and much cheaper than a snack you buy in the store). Just some thoughts!

  2. There might be another category called extras, to use for garnishes and flavor.In some stores radishes, green onions, and parsley are around $0.50 each and they add a lot to drab winter foods to brighten or add flavor and color. My local store has lemons and limes for about 3/$1 and that also adds flavor and variety.Bulk parmesan and herbs and spices would also fall in this group. Of course if the budget is very tight this would go but if you have an extra $1 or 2 these would really add to your meals.

  3. My list would have looked exactly like yours quite a few years when all the kids were home. Today, it looks much different. I use some of the same things but I only keep a little bit of each on hand. I still have stocked pantry but not nearly the variety I once had. My freezer is full but not nearly the variety there either.

    I did have lots of dried beans but my preference is to cook and freeze them. Same with all the fresh winter food--most are home grown and frozen. Winter fruits are limited to frozen applesauce (homemade), fresh apples and bananas. Same with potatoes--I made a bunch of mashed potatoes and froze them. I make a big batch of steel cut oats and using an ice cream scoop place them on a cookie sheet and freeze. Hubby eats quick oats. More frozen things are homemade broth, bacon fat and leftover lemons.

    My trend is to put a lot in the freezer. Anything I can freeze is put there. I have bags of oatmeal and pretzels in my freezer also. Oh, also bags of sugar and flour. Tomatoes, butternut squash, meat.

    Both of us always look for discounted meat and put it in the freezer. We meal plan around what we find discounted. Once in a while we buy a small bag of potatoes, carrots, celery for the fridge but as they get older I freeze them.


  4. Thank you for your tips, Kris.
    Do you have any special method for slicing the potatoes to make into chips? We made homemade deep-fried potato chips a few times and I found they needed to be sliced very thin.
    I love your idea to do the "fried" tortilla strips in the oven. I'll do that next time.

  5. Hi there,
    the idea for an "extras' category is a good one. I'll add that above. I would add to your ideas -- bottled lemon juice, bottled lime juice, and onion powder. I use all three of those to perk up the flavor of so-called boring dishes. Our Walmart neighborhood market has had bunches of cilantro for 48 cents all winter. My daughter bought some to use in a recipe and froze what she could use that day.
    Thank you for your suggestion.

  6. Hi Alice,
    I love your idea to freeze cooked steel cut oats in scoop portions. That would work for my family too. Next batch I make, I am stealing your idea!
    I can see how your shopping and meal planning would morph into what it is now. So many changes in your house in just a few short years' time. I do the same with any produce that is beginning to soften -- freeze. I've got some yams from the fall that were developing soft spots, so I trimmed them up, diced, and frozen them in meal-size containers. I'll be able to use those later this winter.
    Thanks for your thoughts, Alice.

  7. Hi Lili--

    I use a mandolin to slice the potatoes into thin slices. I got my mandolin from Aldi and it isn't a high quality one, unfortunately.

    In your new "extras" category, I also find that Worcestershire sauce, herbs, and spices can add a lot of flavor.

  8. My cost saving approach is a general one and is employable everyday of the year, mainly because we do not have seasons. I guess because I am low maintenance, I save money from that perspective alone. I keep my life as simple as possible to free up energy for my craft endeavors. In fact I spend all day crafting, and very little doing other things. So meals are simple, my clothes are plain, our possessions limited. I joked with my husband that I was a poor college student, now I am a poor retiree. That doesn't bother me, in fact I have no time to be a spendthrift consumer. More stuff requires more time and maintenance, and money.

    For food, because we eat simple, wraps has been our "go to" food in between our planned entrees. Even eating out is done cheaply. Yesterday, since I had a doctor's appointment, we planned on using a Groupon voucher ($16 for $40) at a Thai Restaurant. Since carry out was allowed, we planned a car picnic at a beach park, bringing cooked rice and vegetables from home (easy). There was a lot of leftovers so we are using the fish and chicken in our rice paper wraps for the next couple days. I think it breaks down to an average $5 per day (we eat only lunch, no dinner). Not bad for treating ourselves to Thai food. So saving money is done on several fronts. I know our food bill will never be very low, but I think it is good enough for living in the most expensive state.

    Have a good evening,

  9. Oh, a mandolin would definitely help with the slicing, Kris. I'll keep an eye out for one. Thanks.

  10. Hi YHF,
    you've found what works for you, and that's what counts. I love how you used your Thai leftovers. Wraps sound so delicious.
    We share meals or sides and bring water bottles or coffee in thermoses to quick serve restaurants. In the warmer months, many quick serve places have outdoor seating, which not only makes the experience that much more pleasant, but it helps me not feel awkward about bringing a water bottle or thermos of coffee/tea.
    Have a great day, YHF!


Thank you for joining the discussion today. Here at creative savv, we strive to maintain a respectful community centered around frugal living. Creative savv would like to continue to be a welcoming and safe place for discussion, and as such reserves the right to remove comments that are inappropriate for the conversation.


Be a voice that helps someone else on their frugal living journey

Are you interested in writing for creative savv?
What's your frugal story?

Do you have a favorite frugal recipe, special insight, DIY project, or tips that could make frugal living more do-able for someone else?

Creative savv is seeking new voices.


share this post