I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a tight-wad. Sometimes I look back on things and think, “Wow, was it really important that I saved that $15 and opted out of lunch with my friends?” Or something to that effect. Anyway, there is of course a healthy balance, but I am pretty frugal. So naturally I don’t like to spend a lot at the grocery store. It’s no secret that eating healthy costs a bit more than it otherwise would. It used to make me so mad as a college student that my options for spending a dollar on lunch were either one orange, or a couple tacos at taco bell. It’s a major issue that has a long way to go before it gets better, and unfortunately we just have to kind of swallow the cost. When I got on this health kick, I had to decide what I thought was most important. Did an extra $20 mean that much more to me that I would give up our current and future health? In my case, no. And you have to weigh the cost yourself. I’m not here to talk anyone into anything, or to judge, or scold. I am merely offering what has worked for ME, in hopes that it might help someone out there. You have to do what works for YOU and your unique situation. When you are ready, you will know.
Anyway, I am not sure what others spend per week, but my plan has changed over the past few months. When we lived in NY we spent about $80 per week, but we only had 2 adults (and The Mr. ate on the company a lot), a toddler, and a nursing baby. But NOW, I feel like I live with three teenage boys. We eat a LOT of food. I mean, a LOT. Sometimes I will go to the store, and by the next night I feel like all the food in our house is gone. Our current food budget hovers between $350 and $400 for a family of 4. Honestly, I don’t know if that is good, bad, or average, but that’s what we spend. It gives me enough room to buy mostly whole ingredients, lots of organic, and tons of produce, and not feel guilty about it. There are times when I pay more, if we have company, parties, special occasions, etc. I’m still trying to adjust the budget and the process I use, but so far, these are my philosophies.
+ Eat in Season: In the past I would flip through cookbooks trying to decide what sounded good to me, and then make a list and go shopping. After shopping at farmers markets and Bountiful Baskets this year, I discovered that produce in season tastes significantly better than off-season…and it’s cheaper!
+ Shop the sales: Before making a menu, I look at the grocery store circulars or online to see what specials they are running, and then try to look up recipes that have those as the main ingredients. This is a big time money saver.
+ Go vegetarian: We try to eat meat only once a week or less. So far, it’s been working great. The hardest part is finding menu ideas, but once you get going it gets easier. This week we’ve had 5 dinners all with vegetables as the main course. I’m learning so much about foods I’ve never even touched in the past, and discovering a whole new world of flavor.
+ Shop the Perimeter: Not only are the healthier foods in the perimeter grocery stores, but it saves money too. Produce, Grains, Dairy, etc. – It’s mostly food in its natural form. I do venture into the middle to get some things like peanut butter or maple syrup, but for the most part, the processed stuff I loved in the past I am learning to make from scratch.
+ Use What is In the House: There is nothing I hate more than throwing food away. Not only do I feel bad about wasting it, the cheapskate in me is crying that it wasted my money. At least once a day I am looking through the fridge and the pantry seeing what is about to go bad. Once a week or so we have a random last-minute dinner that was made from something about to spoil. Tonight it was breakfast burritos with veggies, because my peppers and potatoes and tomatoes were all about to bite the dust. I’ve found that if I always have a few items on hand, I can whip up several last-minute things (see below). I also take an inventory before shopping, in case I have something I need to use up, and then try to incorporate that into a menu that week.
+ Keep several items on hand: I usually try to keep the following items in the house for last-minute meals.
- chicken or vegetable stock
- limes and lemons
- a variety grains
- tomato sauce
- coconut milk
- a large variety of spices and herbs
- oils and butter
- frozen veggies
Most basic recipes won’t ask for more than that, and if they do, you can usually find a way to manipulate it.
+ Only plan 4 meals: This is my best kept secret. We always have leftovers, and we eat it the next night. Even eating this way, one of my planned meals usually ends up spilling over to the next week, because I didn’t end up making it.
+ Rice and Beans go a ridiculously long way: I make rice and beans once a week as a rule. It goes a long way, and we usually have leftovers for the next 2-3 days.
That’s pretty much it. I try not to go back to the store the rest of the week, and in the event that I ran out of food or had one of those crazy hectic days (anyone?) I use my list of emergency meals:
- pancakes or waffles
- burritos (you can always put something into a burrito).
- grilled cheese
- stir fry (from frozen veggies)
That’s it for my tips in frugal healthy grocery shopping. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful weekend!