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For years, eating at home was one of the best ways to save money on food. But food inflation has become a very real issue for families in the United States. In fact, the cost of food at home increased by 13.5% in 2022—the largest 12-month increase since 1979.

To further complicate matters, a new study shows that dollar stores are now the fastest-growing food retailers in the U.S. limiting families’ access to fresh food—especially when these retailers are their only options for groceries.2 In fact, as many as 54 million Americans live in areas with low access to food, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“With inflation leading to tightened wallets, parents are seeking out smarter ways to spend and save across retailers and brands,” says Jean Ryan, a retail analyst and vice president of strategic advisory for Daymon. “While the need to save is a key purchasing driver, parents are not looking to compromise on the health, lifestyle, and dietary needs of their families.”

If this scenario resonates with you—wanting to save money on groceries without compromising on nutrition—keep reading. Below, we not only take a closer look at the study on dollar stores but also provide tips on how to shop for groceries on a budget.

Dollar Store Grocery Shopping On The Rise

Dollar store grocery shopping is not new, but it is on the rise. According to the study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, dollar stores nationwide were responsible for about a 2.1% share of household food purchases as of 2020. What’s more, in rural and low-income areas, people tend to spend more than 5% of their food budget at such retailers.

While dollar stores are certainly filling an important need, researchers indicate that this trend to get groceries at dollar stores could impact a family’s nutrition goals—especially since the food and beverages stocked by dollar stores tend to be lower in nutrients and higher in calories. These stores also often lack fresh produce and meats.

The researchers also found that as a family’s income decreased, the share of food they purchased at dollar stores increased. For this reason, learning to shop on a budget—and stick to a budget—is increasingly important when trying to meet your family’s nutritional needs.

How to Shop for Groceries on a Budget

When it comes to shopping on a budget, it’s important to note this is not going to look the same for every family, says Kristi Ruth, RD, CNSC, LDN, a registered dietitian with Carrots & Cookies. Not only does each family have different nutritional needs and goals, but they also may have different options for where they can shop for food. Some may be limited to dollar stores in their area, while others might have access to a number of different retail options.

“[Plus] high grocery costs can put a lot of pressure on families,” adds Ali Bandier, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian and founder at Senta Health. “Parents want the best for their children, but it is important for them to remember that healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of budget-friendly options…if they know where to look and how to plan their trip.”

Here are some general tips on how to stretch your dollar when shopping for your family.

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By Sherri Gordon, CLC