“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch” – Orson Welles
Eating on a budget. A phrase that strikes fear in the heart of EVERY foodie I’ve ever known. Visions of “Beans and Rice, Rice and Beans” (hat tip to Dave Ramsey) or Spam casserole lurking (not dancing, LURKING) through their heads. If you want to eat on a budget, your food MUST be cheap, right? Truth is, eating well and being frugal does NOT mean eating cheap. I can remember several years ago I invited friends over for dinner and suddenly realized I had very little money and 12 (gulp-TWELVE!) hungry mouths to feed. I had 3 rather large boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my freezer and enough money in my pocket to buy some sides to go with them. I grilled the chicken breasts, cut them into bite sized pieces, and bought the ingredients to make a giant salad. Lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, and a couple of dressings. Along with a loaf of crusty bread, I created a salad bar for everyone to customize their salads to their taste. Those 3 chicken breasts fed my crowd a healthy meal and no one left hungry. To this day that meal is a staple in my house.
The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion publishes Cost of Food Reports stating what the average family should be paying for food on a weekly and monthly basis. The list is updated monthly and includes data in 4 separate cost levels. You can find the reports here.
Most of you have probably worked out your method of grocery shopping so what is about to follow is probably not new to you. If you think you’re spending too much money on food, however, it’s a worthy exercise to revisit your meal planning and shopping strategy. Here we go…
Meal planning on a budget is not rocket science but it is something that takes a little work to get good at. In my case, having a guy with Autism (or, as I prefer to call it, AWEtism) living with me makes it not only easy, but necessary. I developed the habit many years ago to make a menu to stem the flow of inevitable, “WHAT’S FOR DINNER?” queries. (And, yes, I meant to shout!) The menu is written and hangs on the refrigerator where everyone can see it. Before I sit down to write it, I make a mental note of what I have on hand. I also make sure I have a copy of my local grocery store’s sale flyer on hand for reference.
Once the menu is written it’s time to make the list. Don’t forget your breakfasts and lunches you can take to work (yes-we’re taking our lunch to work!). Be sure to write down EVERYTHING you think you’ll need. If something’s on sale and you have it in your budget, go ahead and stock up on that item providing you have room to store it. Be sure to include your family in the list making process so they can let you know if they need something. I keep a pad of paper with a pen in the kitchen, so they can write items down as they find they need them. This is important, because once the list is done, it’s DONE. Fini. Basta. No adding to it when you get to the store and see something shiny!
I’m sure y’all have heard this many times but it bears repeating. If you want to eat well and not spend a fortune, do not (I repeat, do NOT) enter any grocery store if you’re hungry. If you’re anything like me, you’ll fly through that store like Sherman stormed through Atlanta, no food will be safe, and your wallet will cry. I broke this cardinal rule recently and, if not for free samples, it would’ve gotten ugly REALLY fast!!
It’s probably not a good idea to shop with someone who can’t (or won’t) stick to a list because you WILL be sticking to that list. I used to allow my Sonny to add items to the cart at will. It was quite a shock to him when I actually made him put something back on the shelf that was not on the list. I believe the word he used was, “rude”. Yes, that was it. Rude. He quickly got over it when he saw I was serious. He’s actually a very good shopper and his eyes light up when he sees something he needs ON SALE! It makes him happy so it makes ME happy!
A word about coupons…where I live, at least, grocery stores are constantly changing their coupon policies. Double coupons used to be a wonderful thing, but you’d be hard pressed to find a store that offers double coupons now. Many manufacturer coupons force you to buy only certain items in their line or in strange quantities. It’s to the point where I don’t clip them much anymore although the store where I shop still allows stacking (Thank you, thebalanceeveryday.com!), which is nice.
So, what are some of your strategies for shopping for food on a budget? Do you have any favorite stores? Some good, healthy, budget friendly recipes? Leave a comment with some of your favorites!
Be well and God Bless-until we meet again…