I don’t know about you, but I always see posts on saving money on groceries. I see claims that people are only spending $200 or $300 a month on groceries for 5, and I wonder how that’s even possible. Then I realize it’s not REAL food I want to buy…
Once upon a time, I did “couponing”, but I realized I was getting cheap food, and I don’t mean price. I mean cheap, ‘should be eaten with extreme moderation’ food that’s packed with preservatives. I like the occasional bag of Cheetos (I am human), but my body kinda’ demands real food from me. The trouble is, coupons favor things that are cheap and easy to produce. That unfortunately doesn’t seem to cover spinach.
Still, I love to save money on groceries.
In fact, it’s a hobby of mine, but it must include 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily (organic whenever possible if we’re talking good, better, best here). And while there are lots of ways to get the grocery bills down, it still is quite an expensive line in your budget. Now, I live in an area where the cost of living is high, and I do follow a gluten free diet, which also happens to cost more.
How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
So here are my top strategies for saving money:
1. Plan out groceries for the week.
I know, I know, you hear this every time, but that’s because it is key, and people don’t do it. Without a plan, food goes to waste (unless you’re planning to play a home version of ‘Chopped’… which admittedly can be quite fun). Plan on browsing the week’s ads to use what’s on sale.
2. Tweak the plan…Make your food stretch effectively
If you want to have chicken on Monday, consider roasting it whole and using the remainder for shredded chicken in a salad on Tuesday, and roasting and boiling the carcass for soup on Wednesday. If you are boiling potatoes one day, consider also baking bread and using the potato water in place of water or milk (this is an old tip from the depression era).
To you creative cooks out there, you can make a whole chicken last for quite a while. I always have my butcher spatchcock mine (Yeah, ask your butcher to do that if you’re in the mood to look strange. This is a British term, and a lot of American butchers won’t know what you are talking about. I used it once and my butcher loves the term now. He even asked the lady ahead of me if she wanted her bird spatchcocked).
SPATCHCOCK: I’m not kidding, it’s a word. Take out the backbone and flatten bird. Pretty easy to do at home, actually.
- Flattened chickens roast much faster (in about 35-40 minutes) and retain a lot more of their juiciness.
- Marinade for a few hours
- Roast right on the rack at 450 degrees, about 20 minutes on each side.
TIP: Make sure when planning that you use your most perishable fruits and vegetables first.
3. Make a list of necessary ingredients, and buy only those items at the store.
Tricky, I know. And of course there is an exception to this (stock up on your staple items when they are on sale). But it saves you so much to skip impulse purchases!
I track best prices on a spread sheet, so I know when the price bottoms out. For items such as rice, beans, oats, flour, etc. I check out the LDS church cannery site (you don’t need to be LDS for this). They have the best prices anywhere; even lower than the Asian markets, and it ships right to your door (check it out here).
4. Check out your local farmer’s market.
I love to go to the farmer’s market Saturday morning. I love meeting amazing people in my community. The produce is fresher, and the prices are lower. Check around your community for options like this (or local farmer stands).
5. Buy in bulk from your local butcher.
Our local butcher is quite new, but I have grown a love for the fresher meat. Once you have fresh sausage, you won’t go back. Our local butcher sources locally, and he offers a discount when buying in bulk.
NOTE: Meat from a butcher does cost more, however the difference is stark. When my budget allows, I love to purchase locally sourced, organic, free range meat.
6. If your produce budget is stretched a bit thin, these fruits and vegetables are considered more save if not organic, also known as the “clean 15“:
- sweet corn
- sweet peas
- kiwi fruit
- sweet potatoes
- sweet onions
These dirty dozen are the ones I always try to buy organic:
- domestic blueberries
- sweet bell peppers
- spinach, kale and collard greens
- imported grapes
7. Use beans to stretch a protein.
Beans used to be quite a staple in this country. They are dirt cheap especially when purchased dried, and they make an excellent protein source. Sure you have to plan ahead a little and let them soak, but with a menu plan, you can be totally on top of that.
TIP: Consider adding white beans to your pasta to add protein; you can’t even taste it. You can also use garbanzo beans in place of chicken in curry recipes.
8. Bake your own bread, bagels, and treats.
This is not only a good skill to learn, but very cost effective. Make pancakes, waffles, and chicken nuggets from scratch (not only cheaper but can taste so much better). There are many more examples, but these ones are easy, and they taste much better.
I will post recipes for all of these in coming weeks. (You don’t want to miss my bread and chicken nugget recipes, they are to die for!)
9. Make your own spice mixes.
I mix up a large batch and store them in little jars; recipes for these to follow as well.
10. Make a Date of Cooking rather than Eating Out
Everyone likes a break, but that break shouldn’t be all the time. Making food with your spouse can actually be a lot of fun (if they’re up to it and you can let some control go). Instead of eating out, make a fun date of eating in and trying out some interesting new cuisines. My husband and I love to cook together, and we have honed some mad skills. One thing we love is sushi, so we started making this a monthly ‘date’. And it pays off.
Way way cheaper than going out for it, and oh so delicious. It was fun to do together, and we have also loved learning something new (thanks Youtube!). We’ve also done Indian recipes, French, and authentic Mexican (more than just Salsa… but yes, also Salsa).