When it comes to groceries, there are ways to save money without sacrificing quality. Food is one of the top items in our budgets and it’s easy to spend too much. One of the ways to save money is to shop less frequently, like once a week. This involves some planning, but will definitely help stretch your food budget. Here are some other ideas.
MAKE A LIST
Prepare for shopping by looking at what is in your refrigerator and in the cupboards and make a brief list of those items. Then write down five to seven supper menus. From these menus, make a list of the items you need for the meals you’ve planned. Add some items for breakfast and lunch, but sometimes lunch can be soup from the night before.
If your budget is tight, review the meals to estimate that what you’ve planned will not exceed your weekly budget. If necessary, take a calculator to the store to add up how much you are spending to stay on budget. Also, make some of your menus general so you can take advantage of sales or lower priced items. For example, a menu might just be fish, veggie, salad and you can fill in the specifics at the store.
Make the menus by looking through cookbooks, food magazines or online sites for ideas or thinking of dishes you’ve liked at restaurants. I subscribe to two online food newsletters that often give me ideas. Use categories of meals to help inspire you. For example:
- soup or stew
- stir fry
- quiche or pie
- meal in a salad
Hodgepodge is what I call a meal that makes itself from everything left in the refrigerator. It’s one of the most fun meals.
Try to use items that you already have on hand and, to save money, plan meals according to the season. Sometimes, of course, there’s a new dish you want to try that doesn’t fit this criteria or an idea that comes up at the last minute. However, planning menus for the week saves you from trying to figure out what to eat at the end of the day when you’re tired and hungry. And, you can always abandon the planned menu for another meal that fits the ingredients you have on hand.
HAVE A SHOPPING STRATEGY
Make a list of the ingredients you need from the menus you created, minus anything you already have on hand, and take this to the store. Plan on moving quickly through the aisles: the more time you spend in the store, the more money you spend. I find that when I run into people I know in the store and stop to chat, I tend to lose focus and buy something impulsively. So, it’s important not to dawdle at the store, to get what’s on the list and get out. Easier said than done.
Be careful about staying too long in the center aisles of the stores, where the more expensive packaged items are. You will save money and eat better when you buy mostly from the outer aisles with the fresh produce, dairy and perishable foods.
FOOD IN ITS MOST NATURAL STATE
Buying food in its most natural state, that is its least processed state, is a good way to eat healthy and save money. And, it’s more healthy and less expensive to eat locally produced food. Interestingly enough, the definition of local varies. I understand that Whole Foods considers anything grown within 800 miles to be local. Our food co-op defines local as anything that is grown within 400 miles. I tend to think local is somewhere I can drive to and back in the same day. It makes sense that food will be fresher if it doesn’t spend a lot of time in a truck and be less expensive the closer your access is to the farmer.
Check out your local Farmer’s Market and find out about the farms that offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) where you receive a weekly distribution in exchange for a modest upfront fee. Maybe you some of your own vegetables or can buy them from a friend. See if you town allows backyard chickens. If you have some fresh fruit and vegetables on hand and can add them to the staples of beans, seeds, rice, onions, potatoes, flour, tortillas, pasta, cheese, and yogurt you have on hand, you can make some good meals without spending too much money. If you have more to spend, add a piece of fish and meat or use it as a “condiment” rather than the centerpiece of the meal like in a soup or curry rather than as a centerpiece.
Here are five tasty and money saving menus:
- Guacamole salad or sliced avocados
- Cilantro rice
- Pinto beans
- Cheese and onion enchiladas with red chili sauce
- Tomato sauce made with chopped zucchini, mushroom, onion, and basil.
- Bibb lettuce salad with shallot vinaigrette (see below)
- Garlic Toast
- Roast Chicken (or Stuffed Peppers)
- Baked Potatoes
- Green Beans or veggie in season
- Chicken Vegetable Soup (from leftover chicken and carcass) or
- Hearty Vegetable Soup (broth of parmesan rind and garlic)
- Cole Slaw
- Biscuits (see below)
- Stir-fry with seasonal vegetables, nuts, and tofu
- Rice or rice noodles
- Cucumber salad
Save money by making your own salad dressings, soups, beans, spaghetti sauce and biscuits. Make the soup and bean meals on the days you have the most time. Try making your own bread (in five minutes a day!)
- 2/3 cup mild olive oil or oil of your choice
- 1/3 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced finely
- 1/8 tsp. Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Refrigerate and shake well before serving
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and position rack in center of oven.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 TBL sugar or other dry sweetener ( if using wet sweetener, add with the buttermilk)
- Cut 5 TBL cold, unsalted butter into bits and blend butter into the dry mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Add 1-cup well-shaken buttermilk and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms.
- Drop dough in 12 rounds onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, Hollyhock and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please sign up for my email newsletter on parenting, activism, and healthy living.