As the leaves begin to change and temperatures fall, I know this is the time of year when I can save money on groceries. Soups, stews and casseroles become the norm and meals can be stretched and start to roll into one another.
My goal is to do this using seasonal, fresh produce, local meats and food preserved throughout the summer months. My grocery list will supplement what I have at home and purchase through our local Farmers Market. My goal is to spend a maximum of $150 a week. In other parts of the US this can be done for less, however, I live on an island and well, things cost more here.
How can I do this?
2) Create a meal plan for the week and follow it.
Include all three meals and snacks. Plan to have a special dinner night each week where you try out a new recipe or splurge on a special treat. One of the nicer aspects of meal planning is that you don’t have to think about what you are having for dinner each night and you can mix it up if your calendar changes.
A helpful planning idea is to designate two nights a week for family favorites, perhaps Taco Tuesdays and Pizza Fridays. For the last year or so, I have been using Pinterest to gather ideas for dinner and then I share my “What’s for Dinner?” board with my family and let them choose a couple. To save money, try to incorporate at least two veggie nights each week.
3) Buy produce and meat through CSA or Farmers Market and supplement at grocery store.
Buy more when there is a sale and fill that freezer. This is why you should always check the freezer first before you start planning. There are weeks when I don’t have to buy meat at all and I can just work from my freezer.
4) Make your own bread.
We easily go through two loaves a week in our house. At almost $5 a loaf, that is $40 a month on bread alone. Imagine how much organic flour you could buy for $40 and honestly, nothing compares to fresh bread. While you are making your bread you can crank out some pizza dough for Pizza Friday and throw it in the freezer. One of my busiest working mom friends even manages to pull this off, read about her reason and a post about a family paradigm shift.
5) Avoid boxes and cans.
A BPA-free can of organic beans can be close to $3 depending on the type. Buy dried beans, they really are so simple to make (see #12 below). In addition, most cans tend to bring health concerns with them. Good news: Muir Glen canned tomatoes are now BPA-free!
Boxed foods tend to be processed. You will get more bang for your buck going fresh.
There are items that are inescapable, just think before you throw an item into your cart.
6) When you buy items in boxes or cans, buy in bulk.
Ask your local grocery store if they will give you a case discount. When I can, I buy packaged items by the dozen and receive a 10% case discount.
8) Freeze leftovers.
Is Lasagna deja vu leaving your family listless on Day Three? Freeze leftovers after they have been in the fridge for two days. Chances are they will be forgotten and then thrown away after a couple of days, so keep them and use them for a “You Pick” night.
9) Go berry / apple / pear / plum picking.
Head to local farms or to friends’ fruit orchards and have a picking fest with your family when fruits are ripe. If you have a reliable freezer, freeze for desserts, smoothies and oatmeal toppers throughout the winter months when seasonal fruit is limited and expensive. If you can’t freeze reliably, invest in some canning jars and keep that summer freshness all winter long.
10) Make your own jam.
Remember how much bread we consume? We go through a jar every week to week and a half. At $6+ per jar for organic jam, we save a bundle when we pick and make our own jam. It has a lot less sugar as well. This summer I calculated that our homemade jam cost us about $1.85 a pint.
If you don’t want to crank out 40 jars of jam at once, prep and freeze your fruit and then make 4-8 jars at a time. This made a HUGE difference for us this year.
11) Drink more water.
This may sound silly, but it is true. Dilute your juice or just offer water. It is better for our kids to have less sugar and it saves money as well. And please do not buy bottled water, filter your own or drink tap water. Straight up and simple.
12) Make a crock-pot of beans once a week.
Beans are healthy AND inexpensive. This is one of the easiest and cheapest meal supplements you can make to fill in the gaps throughout your week. All it takes is sorting, rinsing, and then pop them in a crock-pot with a 2-1 ratio of liquid to beans and let her go on high for 3-4 hours. The taste is significantly better than out of the can and the sodium content is extremely lower. You can use one variety or mix it up. The recipe possibilities are endless and the meals are quick to fix, filling and full of flavor. Good for your heart. Good for your pocketbook. Easy choice. Here is our crockpot… I love it.
This is a start and while this is our ideal, we are human and the Good Apple will do just about anything for Stove Top stuffing.
It would be dreamy to live like Barbara Kingsolver in “ Animal, Vegetable, Miracle“, but this is within our reach. This will work for us at this time because I am not teaching, so perhaps that is the best way to start. I would love to can my own tomatoes, however, we live in a climate where it is tricky to grow them and expensive to buy them. Last summer I canned tomatoes and when all was said and done, I calculated that they cost $5.75 a quart. Ouch. Now we are huge Muir Glen tomato fans (BPA-free cans). We do what we can.
During the summer with my husband’s long hours at work, we splurged a little more than we should have and now it is time to get back in gear.
When I was teaching, pre-kids, we were spending approximately $1200 a month on food. Yes, just for the two of us. Mind you, we were enjoying great wine and eating out a lot; however, now that I am staying home, meal planning has cut our budget by at least half, we are eating much better meals and more responsibly than before. We are saving at least $75 a month on bread and jam alone! The little cuts here and there really add up when you look over the course of a month or a year.
Enlist your kids to help, it is the best gift you can give them.
Buying organic: The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15
What is reasonable for your family given the amount of time you have?
Can you list 5 goals to keep your family eating responsible, healthy and affordable meals?
ABOUT VAL: Val Curtis is the CEO and co-founder of Bonbon Break and the creator of the Food & Garden site Mental Chew. She is a former middle school science teacher who put her career on hold to be at home with her two babes.
When Val breaks away from her keyboard, she enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking, camping, tidepooling, sailing and potlucks. She gets a kick out of combing the web for recipes and then adapting them for her husband, family and friends to enjoy. Through her love of organic cooking, she became interested in growing her own produce and Mental Chew gave her the chance to combine her love of food and gardening as well as explore her new passion of photography.
This post contributed by Val Curtis on December 29, 2012.