Living with less is freeing in a lot of ways. But how do you deal with what to eat tonight and the rising food prices? Unhealthy fillers are not the answer. Here are ways to help you save dollars.
This is part of my series on ‘living with less’. I also wrote a list of 101+ ways to save money — frugal and free.
Tips for shopping at the grocery store
Because of our busy lifestyles, we look for convenience and instant gratification. This often transfers across to what we eat. And, it can cost us far too much, especially with rising food prices.
What we need apart from some speedy cooking appliances are foods that keep us in top condition without wrecking our budget.
Not knowing what to cook at the end of the day after working in the office, on the shop floor, or in the outdoors, so grabbing something quick and easy at the counter or staring into your refrigerator is not the answer.
Here are ways to cut your food bill dramatically so you can stay true to your core values and live with less but still stay on top…
1. Plan Your Meals
Why plan, it takes time?! Well if you don’t, the ‘What to cook tonight?’ gets you moaning…right?
You go shopping with good intentions of eating healthy foods. You have a loose idea of what you want and buy a whole heap of healthy food.
The problem is…you end up with missing ingredients for your ad-hoc meal ideas.
And, then you’ve got a bunch of wilted greens and out-of-date products in the refrigerator or pantry at the end of the week or fortnight.
Most of us throw away 1 bag for every two bags of groceries we buy. That’s such a waste of valuable resources and so planning meals makes sense even more.
2. Write the meals for the Week
Write up a menu for the week! With this, consider the ingredients you already have, e.g. meats, dairy products, and vegetables.
Plan meals in advance. Find recipes that suit. Choose recipes for your meals based on your preferred diet and fresh food in stock.
Look at incorporating some plant-based meals, which will reduce your grocery bill.
Write down the menu on paper or on your phone for easy access. You’ll find plenty of healthy dinner ideas online or in recipe books or magazines.
Tip: You can do up to four or more of your own meal plans and alternate them.
3. Write Out The Ingredients You Need
Tip: Make sure to check the pantry and refrigerator first to avoid doubling up. It will save you dollars and avoid food waste.
Believe me, if you are willing to spend the time and effort planning ahead to make savings, you will enjoy the benefits later and it’s worth every bit of the effort. It will be so much easier come time for cooking dinner at the end of your working day. And, it will cut your grocery bill.
You won’t be opting for fast foods, and THINK there will be dollar savings and health benefits for you and your family.
Put the Plan in Plain Sight and Stick with It!
Put that plan somewhere you can’t miss it. On the refrigerator perhaps! Or as a screensaver.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to think about what to cook when you have a plan to guide you and it includes the recipe, right?!
A downside of deciding on meals on the run is that when you do your grocery shop, you miss items or overbuy, which inevitably leads to food waste. This harms not only your budget but also the natural environment.
5. Take stock Of what you already have
Check out your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for the food stock you have already. Look at the used-by-dates and see if what you have is still okay. Get rid of anything no longer safe to eat.
Tip: Have a magnetic shopping list on your refrigerator and add the essentials when they run out. You’ll be better organised come shopping day.
Now take stock of the food you already have before heading out to the shops or making that online order to buy more of the same, unless you really need it. Also, have a look at what you have already that you can use as a substitute for another ingredient in recipes in your meal plan.
6. Go Shopping With a Shopping List
Use your meal plan and write down a detailed shopping list of ingredients you need for the menu you’ve selected.
This will limit impulse buying.
I always check the Best-By or Use-By Dates when I shop to get the most value out of what I buy. Then, make sure to schedule your meals accordingly. This will ensure you get the most value in nutrition and less waste from your purchases.
Tip: Consuming what you buy within use-by-dates avoids food waste as well as the hit on your wallet.
If Possible, Buy Local Produce That’s In Season
Look for local markets where you can make savings on organic fruit and vegetables grown locally.
This is better for your health as these fresh foods should have fewer preservatives and higher content of nutrients than those shipped in, especially from overseas. They would be better for taste as well.
Tip: Fruit/vegetable markets and stalls, local butchers, and fish markets are where you can buy local. This helps support your community also.
Buy in bulk where you can to save the costs of grocery bills.
7. Use the LeftOvers
Store meal leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use them within a day or two for another night. Store them, so they keep fresh. If they can be frozen, look at that option.
They can make great lunches the next day or you can modify them, into a frittata, use it to top a potato in its jacket or add rice or pasta for another main meal.
Check out resourceful apps and books for using leftovers:
- ‘Love Your Leftovers’ (App)
- Sam the Cooking Guy: Recipes with Intentional Leftovers*
- The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z*
- River Cottage Love Your Leftovers*
* Amazon link to book
8. Cook meals In Advance
Freezing food for the future helps reduce costs when you don’t feel in the mood for cooking later. These meals in your freezer mean you don’t have to spend extra on ordering in or eating out.
You can also do simple things to save money on groceries, like make soft bread crumbs from bread that’s lost its freshness…
- Put stale bread in a slow oven for one hour, then crumble to make dry bread crumbs –– too easy.
While we’re on the subject of bread, you can freeze sliced bread loaves and break off slices as you need them. You’ll find bread doesn’t take long to defrost and you’ll have fresh bread. This is one way to avoid the wastage of bread through it going stale or mouldy.
9. Food From The Garden
Add fresh herbs or greens from your garden to increase the vitamins and minerals of quick and easy meals.
Growing herbs helps with those extras or for quick easy meals. An example is cooking a spud in its jacket and topping it with herbs. There are easy ways to grow your own. You can try growing your own produce, but herbs are an easy start.
If you grow your own fruit or vegetables and have a surplus, there are many ways to preserve food, including freezing, pickling, and sauce and jam-making.
I find this helps me save dollars at the supermarket.
You can also barter what you grow. Try growing some herbs, fruits, and vegetables and any extras you could trade with other growers. You can have chemical-free produce if you choose to garden this way. Good no-fuss examples that I have grown include lemons, tomatoes, parsley, basil, sage oregano, chives and rosemary.
10. Extend meals
You can extend meals with cheaper ingredients such as rice and pasta. Fried rice is an inexpensive meal that can be nutritious with added ingredients.
Take steps to eat well every day.
Steps to help the grocery budget
- –> Take Stock of Foods In Pantry & Refrigerator/Freezer
- –> Make a Meal Plan for the Week
- –> Go Shopping with a Shopping List
Plus, stress-free cooking is what we want after a big day doing whatever it is you do in life. It takes just a little investment in planning but the payoff is worth it to have healthy meals every day of the week and enjoy the savings.
If you miss fast food, then give yourself a break and plan to have it one night of the week.