Saturday, June 14
How To Eat Well on a Budget - Part One
The other day, a facebook friend wrote a post about not being able to afford organic food on a $400 dollar a month grocery budget. I don't normally participate on subjects that I think might spark a debate - I have better ways to spend my time. Sorry, but it's the truth. Anyway, I like this person and I feel pretty strongly about the subject and felt the need to chime in. I'm glad I did, everything ended on a positive note. But that got me thinking - she can't be the only person who feels this way, so maybe it's worth writing a post about.
So here's my problem. I get so overly excited about food, and cooking, and budgeting and health and, and, and.... exactly. I have a really hard time organizing all my thoughts on this subject in a way that will come out clearly, concise and easily understood. I also wanted to provide actual resources. I have spent the last 4 or so years of my life eating fairly well, in my opinion, and doing it inexpensively. The catch though, is that in order to save money, I need to shop at different places. I also don't have the time, energy or gas money to be driving all over town or the town over every week - so planing is involved.
Thus, my dear friend, a series is needed. For fear of overwhelming you, or my A.D.D. kicking in (no really) or my kids burning down the house in an attempt to pry me from the computer, this subject needs to be broken up into segments.
Here's the plan...
Part 1 - Meal Planning
Part 2 - Grocery and To Make List
Part 3 - Sourcing your items inexpensively (if you live by me you're in luck! I'm giving you all my "places")
Part 4 - Freezing
Part 5 - Avoiding Waste
Phew! I'm exhausted just looking at that. I can promise you this, however, at first it will seem like a giant pain in the ass, because, well, it is. But, after a couple weeks, it turns into second nature. The biggest pay-off is you'll be eating super healthy most of the time, not to mention the money not spent. Change the way you think about your money. Instead of thinking "How much money will this cost me?", think "How many hours of my life do I need to exchange for this?" I use this with my kids when they're begging to go out to eat (which is at least 4 times a week - we go out about once a week - they are not deprived). I explain that one meal out is sometimes all the money I make in a night waiting tables. So, would they rather spend an entire night with me home and the whole family together, or would they rather go eat that meal that more often than not leaves them with a bellyache. I was honestly scared the first time I asked my kids this question, but thankfully they chose quality family time over a dinner out.
Ok, on to the good stuff. Let's start with meal planning. It's really easy to eat well on a budget as long as you plan your meals. Truly, I believe this makes up 80% of your total expenditure. So just getting this part down will save you lots of money. Now, I'm about to ask something of you that might make you want to throw in the towel - don't do it! Stick with me, it gets better I promise! I want you to plan your entire month's worth of meals. Yes, that's right, a whole month. It might seem intimidating at first but let me break it down for you. You technically only really need two weeks worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. That's 14 days. Sound a little better?
Think about what your family actually enjoys eating at these meals. Don't try and drastically overhaul your food choices yet, that's another series all in and of itself. I tend to keep my breakfasts and lunches really simple, which keeps costs low and my sanity in check.
Here's an example of our low-cost breakfasts:
Scrambled or Fried eggs and fresh fruit
Yogurt and frozen fruit smoothies (I throw greens in there if we have them)
Pre-made-my-me Waffles, Pancakes or Fruit Tarts pulled from the freezer & popped in the toaster
Homemade Granola with dried fruit & whole milk
Breakfast tacos using El Milagro corn tortillas (3 ingredients in these babies - corn, water & lime)
Cracked Wheat with berries and cream
And now our lunches:
Open-face sandwiches with a side of chopped fresh veggies & butternut squash hummus dip
Salads make with mixed greens, whatever meat scraps we have leftover from a previous meal, any on hand veggies & homemade dressing
Extras from non-frozen leftovers (I'll explain in a moment)
Eggs any way with toast and butter
Tortilla pizzas (again using El Milagro tortillas or homemade ones - whichever I have on hand)
Now comes the biggest part. Dinners.
We have a pretty hectic schedule and three to four nights of the week, we're running from camps to practices or to the sitter's so I can work and so on. I do my best to plan out two bigger, more involved dinners, and then keep the rest super simple and inexpensive. Any time I cook anything for dinner, I double the recipe. This is where my sanity is saved. I immediately pack up and freeze the extra meal to use either the following week or week after. By doing this, I technically only have to cook dinner two weeks out of the month. If you have the freezer space and the motivation, you could easily make three or four times the amount and save yourself (and your energy bill) that much more. My family rarely finishes an entire recipe, so what's left from the original meal becomes lunch for the next day. If, by chance they do finish it all, I use one of our easy fill in lunches listed above. As I write this (late Saturday night), I have just finished up a week's worth of cooking meals, so next week all I have to do is remember to pull out our meals from the freezer the night before and let them hang out in our fridge until they need reheating for dinner.
Many times, by Friday or Saturday, we start to run low on pre-made dinners/left-overs. I've found a quick, easy and inexpensive solution to this problem. Left-over casserole. Love it! I cook up some rice with any remaining chicken stock I have or water if I'm out, make a simple white sauce using milk, butter and flour (recipe coming soon) and toss in any left over or about to turn veggies or meat from the fridge. Mix it all up in a casserole dish and sprinkle cheese on top, toss it in the oven until the cheese is melted, and there's dinner.
I hope I didn't overwhelm you. I also hope I gave you a good starting off point to start saving on your grocery bill. I realize I left out the buying organic info, I'll tackle that in the next post - Part 2 - Grocery and To Make List.
Have a great weekend! And if you're a dad, happy Father's Day!