Thursday, November 6, 2008

Eating Well for Less

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    When I became a stay at home mom two and a half years ago, I was inspired by the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy to lower our grocery bill. At the time, I was spending about $150 per week on groceries and eating out a few times a week. To live on one income, I needed to make some adjustments but I did not want to sacrifice the quality of the food I was feeding my family.

    I was able to cut our grocery bill down to about $100 a week, including diapers and personal care items, mainly by planning my meals around the sale items, stocking up on staples like meats during sales and cooking more from scratch. Interestingly, we were spending less but eating better.

    Over time, I have discovered the benefits of menu planning and additional resources like MoneySavingMom. Using her CVS shopping tips I have lowered our cost for diapers and personal care items to almost nothing. I now keep our grocery budget around $70 per week.

    Given the state of our economy, I thought it would be a good time to share some of what I have learned, starting with general menu planning and shopping tips here, followed by a weekly "Eating Well for Less" recipe idea to help you stretch your grocery budget that I will share as part of Frugal Fridays. I realize that I still have a lot to learn and none of these ideas are particularly new or revolutionary, but I hope that you will find an idea or two that is useful to you.

    So how can you spend less, but still feed your family well?

    The single most important thing you can do is plan a weekly menu that takes into account sale items, what you already have and your schedule for the week.

    Easy enough. Now for some practical tips:

    • Set aside time each week to plan your menu and make a grocery list. I find Sunday night works well for me and participating in Menu Plan Monday helps me stick to that schedule.

    • I do much better sticking to my budget if I make only one shopping trip a week. Make a list, get what you need and get out before that ice cream tempts you.

    • Choose to make simple dishes well instead of cutting corners on fancier dishes. I would much rather serve a moist, flavorful, perfectly cooked chicken than a bad steak.

    • The most important sale item to look for? Meat. It is expensive, the sale price is often half the regular price and it can be frozen for future use. Plan your menu around what is on sale and what you have in the freezer.

    • When planning your meals for the week, plan to use leftover meat in a new dish such as a salad, quesildilla or panini. And don't forget breakfast for dinner or an bean dish as inexpensive alternative to meat.

    • Choose seasonal vegetables for the best flavor and value. And don't feel like you need elaborate recipes. Almost any vegetable is delicious roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

    • Potatoes and bananas. Lots of nutrition for not a lot of money, available year round.

    • Plan quick, simple meals for nights when some family members have late activities. This can be as simple as egg salad sandwiches and carrot sticks, but having something planned keeps me from just grabbing take out. Having a plan also keeps me from buying food that just ends up going bad because I don't get around to cooking it.

    • Don't drive yourself crazy trying to plan every breakfast, lunch and snack but do stock up on these staples when there is a good sale. For me, breakfasts are generally Cheerios, homemade pancakes, granola or yogurt. Lunches are generally leftovers, peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese sandwiches.

    • Avoid convenience foods. We are so accustomed to many convenience foods that we don't even think of them as convenience foods any more, but that precooked rotisserie chicken is about four times the cost of a raw chicken. Per pound, those peeled baby carrots are twice the cost of a bag of raw carrots. Even that tiny can of soup is expensive when compared to the cost of making up a big batch of your own chicken noodle. I could go on and on about this one, but my point is to give a little thought to the real value of that extra packaging and processing before you buy.

    • Another way I cut the cost of snack foods? Snack less. Kids do need snacks, but many of us are snacking more than we should. I keep basic snacks like yogurt, cheese, pretzels and seasonal fruit on hand for the kids and skip the expensive crackers and processed goodies that provide nothing but empty calories.

    And just as important, here are some things I do not skimp on:

    • Milk and eggs. It means an extra stop, but the milk and eggs at our local dairy farm are fresh, hormone free and no more expensive than what is available at the big chain store.

    • Produce. Nothing beats local, seasonal produce in terms of both flavor and nutrition. Frozen is the next best thing.

    • Cheese. I always buy cheese and not "cheese products" that contain all sorts of strange sounding artificial ingredients. Cheese should be made of milk, cheese cultures and salt. Period.

    • Butter. Again with the artificial ingredients.

    • Organic yogurt. Again with the artificial ingredients

    Again, this list certainly is not particularly new or revolutionary. These are simply the things that over time have worked for me, and I hope might be useful to you to.

    Coming next week....
    Roast Chicken- Budget Friendly Comfort Food

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    1. That's GREAT Beth, I loved all those ideas. I am in the same boat and also read Miserly Moms!! Groceries are a bit more expensive up here, so I am in awe that you are doing $70 a week - good for you! I am much better than I used to be but am always looking for ways to do better. I have definitely come a long, long way in the past 8-10 months in cooking and baking more from scratch at home. We buy far less pre-packaged foods, so we spend less and eat much better.

      A neighbour gets her milk delivered from a dairy outside the city . . . I've been considering it for a long time but have to investigate the cost. It probably isn't more than the organic milk I buy in the store . . .

      GREAT post :-)

    2. I am going to check out that book! These are great ideas. $70 a week is super!! I am just starting to seriously look at how to trim the budget because we've decided to make the switch to organic meat, so I have to trim elsewhere. Thanks for the ideas!

    3. Great list! I love your recipes too! Thank you for the ideas and assurance that it can be done and to not feel bad for having just the basics for breakfast vs. elaborate menus.