It’s not your imagination. Food has been getting more expensive at the grocery store. In fact, Americans were spending 10.4% more on food at home in December 2022 as compared to a year earlier, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We have seen lots of fluctuation … with food prices and food shortages, and the name of the game to deal with this is flexibility,” says Melissa O’Leary, who publishes recipes on the Keeping It Simple blog.
In some cases you may be able to substitute a less expensive ingredient, but some foods aren’t easily replaced. In those cases, you may need to adjust your eating habits.
“Look beyond your typical grocery list,” advises Merissa Alink, who blogs at Little House Living.
Here are some foods whose prices have risen the fastest in the past year, followed by some alternatives you could use instead. Data comes from the BLS.
— Butter and margarine.
— Canned fruits and vegetables.
— Salad dressing.
— Roasted coffee.
— Processed meats.
— Breakfast cereal.
12-month price increase: 59.9%
Substitute: Applesauce, flaxseed, silken tofu
No food compares to eggs when it comes to price increases. The cost of this breakfast and baking staple has risen nearly 60% in the past year. Several factors, including fuel costs and inflation, have contributed to rising egg prices. What’s more, some 58 million birds were infected with avian flu last year, which hindered egg supplies.
“Eggs are really easy to substitute in baking, but not so much for scrambled eggs,” Alink says. She suggests using applesauce, bananas or additional oil in place of eggs for baking.
Another option for baking is to use a flax egg, according to Kimberly Nanninga, a registered dietitian who provides services at kimberlynanninga.com. “Use one tablespoon of flaxseed with three tablespoons of water which is the equivalent of one egg,” she explains. “Let it sit for five minutes to create a gel (which) is also the equivalent to one egg.” A similar method can be used with one tablespoon of chia seeds and 2.5 tablespoons of water.
For breakfast, tofu can replace eggs in dishes such as breakfast burritos and scrambles.
Butter and Margarine
12-month price increase: 35.3%
Supply issues have caused both margarine and butter prices to rise significantly during the past year. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted the supply chain for ingredients used in margarine while farmers thinned their dairy herds to reduce costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there is less milk available now for butter production.
Oil is a natural substitute for butter in many applications such as baking and sautéing. “A little bit goes a long way,” Nanninga says.
You can also use oil to make the butter you have last longer. Alink whips her butter with some vegetable oil to increase its volume. This approach also makes butter easier to spread, she notes.
12-month price increase: 24.9%
Substitute: Other frozen or fresh greens
Much of the nation’s lettuce comes from the Salinas Valley in California, but crops there have been battling a virus for years now, which has decimated the harvest. Romaine, iceberg, red leaf and green leaf lettuce are among the varieties that have been affected. Fortunately, there are other options available for your salads.
“Baby spinach, arugula and other leafy greens are great alternatives to lettuce,” O’Leary says.
In recipes for soups, smoothies and casseroles, frozen spinach or kale can also stand in for fresh lettuce. “They last longer and do not spoil as fast,” Nanninga says.
12-month price increase: 23.4%
Substitute: Oats, reduce consumption
Ukraine is a major producer of the world’s wheat supply, and flour prices have been on the rise ever since Russia’s invasion of the country. That’s unwelcome news for both professional and hobby bakers.
It isn’t easy to replace flour since most substitutes are more expensive, although Nanninga suggests blending oats into oat flour as an affordable alternative.
A better way to save money might be to cut back on baking at home. That said, Alink points out that even with higher flour prices, it’s probably cheaper to make baked goods yourself rather than purchase them from the store.
Canned Fruits and Vegetables
12-month price increase: 18.4%
Substitute: Seasonal produce
There doesn’t seem to be any single obvious cause for the rising price of canned fruits and vegetables, although transportation costs and tariffs may play a role. While still a relatively affordable way to stock a pantry, the cost of these goods has risen more than 18% in the past year.
Those who want to cut this expense may be able to do so by purchasing seasonal produce that is grown locally. “You can buy fruits and veggies fresh and freeze them yourself if you want the convenience of the produce lasting longer,” O’Leary says. “Just make sure they are fully dry before freezing.”
For best results, some vegetables need to be blanched with a quick dip in boiling water. An internet search can provide more specific details on freezing whatever fruit or vegetable you have on hand.
12-month price increase: 18.3%
Substitute: Homemade dressings
Rising ingredient prices and supply chain issues may explain why salad dressing prices have risen more than 18% during the past year. Fortunately, making your own at home is easy and economical.
“Salad dressings are really expensive, but they can be made for pennies depending on the ingredients,” Alink says. She estimates that most people could make a vinaigrette dressing for less than 50 cents a bottle.
In fact. Alink says she makes all her family’s condiments. Not only is it cheap, but most of these items are easy to make and store.
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12-month price increase:
Substitute: Instant coffee, shop around
It’s hard for some people to imagine starting their day with anything other than a cup of coffee, but that morning pick-me-up has been getting more expensive in recent years. Drought in Brazil, followed by frosts, have stunted the country’s coffee harvests for 2022-2023. Supply chain and labor issues have also played a role in rising prices.
Although not the same as roasted coffee, instant coffee may be a more affordable choice. While roasted coffee prices are up 15.5%, the BLS reports instant coffee prices have risen a bit less, at 10.8%.
Another option is to shop around for better deals rather than purchase at the grocery store. “What we have started to do is price shop online with Amazon and have found tremendous savings with our brand of coffee,” O’Leary says.
12-month price increase: 14.7%
Substitute: Beef, peanut butter
The BLS says prices for “other meat,” the category which comprises processed meats, have risen 14.7%. Within that category, frankfurters have seen annual price increases of 18.2% while lunchmeat costs have gone up 15.1%.
“Peanut butter and other nut butters along with cheeses are great alternatives to lunch meat,” O’Leary says. She also points out that sandwiches made with sliced tomatoes, vegetables and cheese can be delicious without lunchmeat.
As prices of hot dogs rise, consider whether it makes sense to swap them out for other meats at mealtimes. While most food prices rose during the past year, the cost of beef actually dropped 3.1% in 2022, according to the BLS.
12-month price increase: 13%
Substitute: Oatmeal, homemade granola
Inflationary pressures, including the rising cost of flour and other ingredients, may be partially to blame for the rising price of breakfast cereal. Transportation and labor expenses are up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well.
Swapping out cold cereal for oatmeal is one way to save on the first meal of the day. The cost is typically less per serving, and oatmeal’s fiber content may help you feel full longer. For the greatest benefit — to both your health and your wallet — select old-fashioned rolled oats or quick oats over the instant variety.
Or you could try making granola breakfast cereals yourself. “It’s really easy to make at home with really simple ingredients,” Alink says.
12-month price increase: 12.5%
Substitute: Dry milk, yogurt, water
In 2022, the dairy industry grappled with increased feed and labor costs, and milk supplies tightened, driving prices up.
The situation has improved since last summer when raw milk prices were up more than 47% year over year, but people still may be paying more than they like. To reduce costs, consider using dry milk or plain yogurt for baking.
“Try using a plant-based milk instead,” Nanninga says. “It also has a longer shelf life.”
For drinking, nothing is cheaper than water from the tap, assuming you have a safe and clean local water system.
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Food Prices Rise For These 10 Items: Here Are Alternatives to Buy Instead originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 02/07/23: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.