Thanks for tuning in to part 2 of eating healthy on a budget! Last week, I introduced a little bit of our own personal journey towards eating less packaged foods without breaking our bank!
This week, I'd like to share with you how menu planning and strategic shopping helps us to be able to eat healthy on our budget.
I must preface this with letting you know that I am a type-A person... I like to make lists, I like to plan and organize, and I'm frugal by nature. I was raised in a money-saving, reduce/reuse/recycle, make-it-yourself household, and these experiences are what I draw upon as we strive to eat healthy on a budget.
The very-same money-saving mindset that couponers have is what's needed to save money while making healthy food choices. Rather than clipping coupons, we apply the same price-matching, stockpiling approach... with just a few modifications.
Step 1: Weekly Inventory
What is our week going to be like?
This is the most essential step for us in making eating healthy work for us. If we have Life Group on Thursday night, and we have 30 minutes from the time we walk in the door until we have to leave, dinner has to be something quick.
I start by laying out our week, noting evenings with tight schedules. These nights I often deem "leftover" night, because re-heating leftovers takes only minutes. Then, I know that the night before "leftover" night needs to be a meal that will have leftovers and will reheat!
Step 2: What's on Sale?
While shopping the perimeter of the grocery store doesn't usually lend itself well to coupons, there are weekly sales in the produce, dairy, and meat sections! The key to saving money for us has been to take advantage of these sales.
Are mushrooms on sale?
How about zucchini?
Or cottage cheese?
Determine what's on sale that your family eats and circle these items in the ad. The act of circling, for me at least, helps me stay on track (and not get sidelined by "great" sales on pre-packaged items).
Step 3: What's on the menu?
Now that you know what's on sale, think about the recipes your family enjoys that use these ingredients.
For example, last week, asparagus was on sale. We really enjoy asparagus, and so I went through our "asparagus" recipes to determine what I'd like to make.
I chose a recipe based on what other ingredients I already had on hand, and what the other sale items were. We ended up trying a new recipe with asparagus because we had some Italian sausage in the freezer and we had lots of fresh bell peppers. I could have chosen our favorite asparagus lasagna... but we didn't have any ham in our freezer, and ham was not on sale.
I fill our menu with recipes based off of what's on sale in the perimeter of the grocery store, and place them on our menu on days that allow me the time I need to make them for dinner.
Step 4: Pulling Recipes
As I pick my recipes, I pull them from my recipe box, or bookmark them on my computer. This way, they are all ready to go for the week.
I scan over the ingredients of the recipes, and make sure that these items get on to the grocery list.
Step 5a: Making the Grocery List
Now that I have my menu planned, and the necessary items (hopefully all on sale) that are needed to complete the dishes already on my grocery list, I revisit the grocery ad that I circled earlier.
Beginning with the produce, I generate a list of produce I can buy to either use as side dishes for meals this week, or produce that I can buy on sale and store for later use. This is the stockpiling mentality... only with fresh fruits and veggies.
Stockpiling fresh fruits and veggies can be done!
Some fruits/veggies will store in the fridge for a couple of weeks:
- Apples, peppers, zucchini, carrots, celery, oranges, broccoli/cauliflower, etc..
- Blueberries/raspberries, asparagus, green beans, broccoli/cauliflower, and bell peppers, etc.
After I've gone through the produce and generated a list of sale items I can stockpile, I do the same thing with the other perimeter items. Cheese, butter and meats also freeze well.
Finally, my last stop is the baking supplies. Brown sugar, yeast, and even flour can be frozen! So, if there's a good sale, I stock up! That way, I have the necessary supplies on hand to aid in cooking/baking from scratch. I rarely buy flour, sugar, yeast, etc., when it's not on sale.
Occasionally I'll take a gander at the other products on sale (read: Cheeze-Its) -- but I've found that by circling the non-packaged foods, I am more likely to stick to the healthy foods.
Step 5b: Use Coupons, if you have them
Sometimes, there are coupons for perimeter items. Our local grocery store offers online coupons... and they often have produce coupons. I scored 8oz organic mushrooms for 50 cents using their coupons! Check coupons for flour/sugar as well -- combine these coupons with sale items for maximum savings.
I regularly use coupons for frozen veggies -- we use frozen veggies often, and with coupons and sales I can usually get these for 50 cents a bag.
So, check out your coupons along with the ad, and make a note on your grocery list of coupons that you have, and how many items you need to buy in order to use the coupon (e.g., $1 off 2 cans of chicken broth).
I should also mention that we use coupons for non-food items... we happen to like the soap, shampoo, conditioner, put out by P&G... and they have regular coupons that can be paired with sales!
Step 6: Scale Back
When we buy 1 lb. of ground turkey, or 1 lb of Italian sausage, that entire 1 lb. does not go into one meal. We've found that we can decrease the amount of meat that goes into a given dish and stretch it over multiple meals. Right after purchase, I often separate the meat into smaller serving sizes and freeze, ready to be used in any dish we desire.
We recently ate 3 yummy meals out of one package of breakfast sausages!
Step 7: Stick to it!
The first couple of weeks or so before your healthy cooking stockpile is built up, your grocery bill might increase a little bit because you'll find you need to buy more items to complete meals you hope to cook. However, after a couple of weeks (once you have your stockpile set), we found that shopping sales and using those perimeter sale items to plan our menu helped decrease our grocery bill.
That's what's working for us right now... we are strategic about what we buy -- only buying what's on sale, and stockpiling produce and baking products. Having a healthy stockpile allows us to plan meals around sale items and using our pantry to complete the rest. Is ricotta cheese on sale? Then, we're having our favorite three-cheese ziti, since we already have pasta, spinach and spaghetti sauce on hand. Are potatoes on sale? Then, we'll probably enjoy potato soup, and if we have ham in the freezer, crockpot scalloped potatoes and ham!
After a few weeks, you too will know what your family favorites are and know what recipe to go-to when there are certain sales at the store. This approach has helped us get a good cycle of our meals (sales on produce tend to cycle) and also helped us to eat in-season a little more.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end... hopefully there were some helpful tidbits of information in there for you. Please let me know if you have questions! Either leave them in the comments, or drop me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.