Food Budgeting Tips: How We Eat Well On Less

homemade pizza (not yet baked)

Plan ahead

Planning ahead means we'll be less tempted to turn to expensive, prepared foods, or want to go out to eat. It's easy to get in a habit of not planning, and then at the last minute say, "Can we just order pizza?" Problem solved... until the next night's dinnertime arrives... and there's still nothing planned. When you plan a meal, start it in plenty of time. For example, season the chicken for oven-roasted chicken and have it in the fridge, all ready to pop in the oven the next day; or, make a dish of lasagna in the morning so that when your children skip their afternoon naps you don't run behind schedule.

Plan some basic menus. I have written up a few menu-planning tips here. If you're just getting started with menu planning, you can do a simple one-week menu. My main "rule" is to know what I'm making for meals at least one day in advance. I've done menu planning in a variety of ways. Try different ideas until you find a system that is easy for you. Then stick with it until you come across a new idea or system you want to try! I like variety, so I am constantly trying new recipes and methods of meal planning. :)

Shop for sales

You can also save by planning ahead and getting store specials. Find out what you use the most of, and stock up when it's on sale. It may take a little practice to not over-buy or under-buy, but eventually you will be getting just the right amount of things and be paying significantly less for your groceries than if you just shopped randomly. I always get my meat and cheese on sale. Most other items are found on sale or at Aldi's. It's not actually cheaper for us to drive to a Sam's Club/Costco type of place, plus pay membership dues, just to get lower everyday prices, since we can get sale items at local stores. But your situation may be different. The idea is to take what resources you have available and put them to the best use for your family. :)

Use more

Use more of what you -- not me, or someone else you know -- can get for less. Try to utilize ingredients that you and your family actually like to eat and that you can find affordably. For us, that means we get to eat cheese, which we love, because I get it at a low sale price about once every 6 weeks. We buy chicken breast at a sale price every 2-3 months, and try to get enough to last until the next sale.

When we have fresh garden produce, we eat a lot of whatever we have. Last year we had an abundance of onions and green peppers from the garden, and in order to use them before they went bad, I fried them with ground beef and put it in the freezer.

My menus probably won't work perfectly for your family, because things that are easy to get or inexpensive for me might cost a lot for you. Try to think of (tasty!) uses for things that don't cost you much. :)

Don't waste

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it actually takes some planning. I can't even remember the statistics for how much food the average family in the United States wastes every year, but it's a lot. I never intentionally waste food. I always tell myself that if YHWH provided food for us, I need to be a good steward and not waste any of it... not even a bite! But, neglect and lack of planning can lead to waste. We've probably all cleaned out the refrigerator and found a container of mold that, two weeks ago, could have been a good portion of a meal, or at least been some part of lunch. Sometimes I put off using something until it goes bad, and then I don't feel so guilty about throwing it away.

But developing some good habits can reduce waste. For example, first, notice what it is that you are wasting.

Are you simply forgetting what's in your fridge, and then finding rotten food weeks later? Then try labeling your containers (use a  thick black marker and some masking tape, and CLEARLY label your leftovers with name and date). I try to "clean out" my fridge just about everyday. I know that sounds extreme, but it's really not a big job. I just look through what's in there and try to make sure it's organised. Personally, I have leftovers and opened jars of things (the most easily-forgotten things) on the top shelf; the middle shelf holds eggs, tortillas, lunchmeat, etc., and the bottom shelf has produce, milk, and butter. If a shelf looks dirty, I wipe it down. I also wipe down the door handle if it needs it. I usually do this after dinner each night, and use my dishrag. It only takes a couple minutes and helps me remember what we have already open to use up. It's a habit now... when I wash dinner dishes and put away the leftovers, I clean out the fridge. It's amazing how disorderly it can get in just one day's time!

Sliced peppers and onions (for fajitas)

Do you shred too much cheese at a time, and it gets moldy before you get it used? Shredding a lot of cheese or cutting extra lettuce all at once saves time and dishes, but be sure to balance it with how much you can realistically use before it goes bad. The same goes for making large batches of meals. If you don't want to eat bean soup every day for lunch one week, make a smaller batch. Or, freeze some. Look to see what you need to use up before it spoils, so you can incorporate it into your meals. If you have a gallon of milk that is about to expire, make a big batch of corn chowder, and freeze the leftovers.

Use your freezer for leftovers! Freezing leftovers has been one of my main tickets to reducing waste. I love the convenience of making large batches of soups or taco meat, and then just freezing the leftovers in meal-sized (or two-meal-sized) portions. Then it's like a whole new meal, 3 weeks later, with basically no work. Yay! Now, a freezer can easily get as disorderly as a refrigerator (especially if you have a large one), so be careful. I always CLEARLY mark what I'm putting in. For example, "2 cups cooked ground round, fried with garlic, green peppers, and onions 8-1-06". Then there are no "mystery packages" that have to be made into soup. ;) I have also been known to write things like "GOOD!!!" or "Very Good" on a container of soup, to remind myself that I wasn't just freezing it to get rid of it... it was actually a delicious meal. :D

Another thing to do with leftovers is to make "new" meals from them. For example, leftover meat from taco salad can become chili, or incredibly easy taco pie, or enchiladas, or burritos, or... Leftover chicken meat can be cubed and used in meals that call for cooked chicken. Leftover grilled chicken can be used to top a lettuce salad. This way, you don't "feel" like you're eating leftovers at all! :) Here are some great ideas for meals you can make from leftovers.

homemade wheat bread

Cook from scratch 

And lastly, cook from scratch whenever possible. So many things are cheaper this way. Dried beans are much cheaper than canned ones... but you just have to plan ahead and soak and cook them in time. :) Make "real" oatmeal for breakfast rather than instant. Make homemade breakfast cereals, which are so tasty and would cost several dollars per pound if you were purchasing them. Make your own version of canned condensed soups, stuffing mix, taco meat seasoning, onion soup mix, and whatever else you buy that you use frequently, is expensive, or, is full of MSG!

This is just some of what we do to try to save money while still enjoying nice meals. I'm sure I've forgotten things... it's just such a huge topic! I'd love to hear some tips from those of you who are interested in budgeting and meal-planning!

Comments

I hate how they put it in everything. :P

Here is my "homemade can of soup" recipe:

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk
Celery (or mushrooms)
Onion

Melt butter. Cook veggies. Add flour. Cook for at least one minute. Slowly add milk. Done!

My Farmhouse Chicken recipe, which I use this in, will be the next one I send you, once I make it again and take a photo for you. ;)

I've found that my grocery store sells a bag of frozen chicken breasts for the "on sale" price! So I buy that, since I usually have to work to bag and freeze my chix anyway. ;)

I also find if I'm not planning ahead then I also have no lunch leftovers for my hubby. Ack!

...but I actually roasted a chicken today and plan to make my cream-of-chicken-soup tomorrow and then type it up. For probably half of my recipes, my "recipe" is just a list of ingredients or a mental "recipe". I've been trying to make everything and type up the accurate recipe while making it is still fresh in my mind. :) I think my recipe is a lot like yours, just with different seasonings and chicken broth instead of butter and some of the milk. :) But I will include your recipe with your Farmhouse Chicken recipe, when you send it! :) I can't wait! :)

I forgot to mention that this is really a recipe for white sauce. But I use it in recipes that call for you to add a can of condensed soup. You can really thank Betty Crocker. ;)

Chipped beef gravy is made the same way in our house. Maybe I can write up that one for you, too. ;)

You've probably heard of it, but a good reference for this topic is a book called Miserly Moms...sorry, I forget the authors name at the moment. I read it as soon as we decided for me to stop working and the tips are great! My husband was quite impressed what we could save just by applying a few of the principles...I'm not quite the pro-meal planner or scratch-cooker, but we're working on it!

Take Care,

Julie

Hi, Julie!

Yes, I have heard of Miserly Moms! I haven't read it though. I should check the library for it sometime. :)

We often buy whole chickens as opposed to breasts or parts. One of my favorite frugal tips is to be sure and make up some chicken broth with the carcass after you've removed the meat from your cooked/roasted bird. Throw the bones, skin, etc in a pot and cover with water. Bring it to a boil and then drop the heat and let it simmer until the broth is cloudy and substantial. This is excellent broth, and MSG-free. You know it is good broth when you put it in the refrigerator and it and it all gels (gets gelatinous). That is good for you and full of calcium and other nutrients from the bones and marrow, etc.

In the Depression era, people used to use all the bits and scraps -all the little bits of meat, the skin, liver, etc. that people usually throw away today. These bits can often make a great soup, or you can grind them up and add them to gravy. I tried it once. I took all of the stuff that I usually think is worthless or just gross, and pureed it. Then I added it to a gravy that I used with chili in enchiladas. It was actually absolutely delicious. Meaty and rich.

Krista

Krista, thanks for all that info! :) I should make better use of my chicken bones. I usually save the broth from my oven chickens, but don't use the bones and trimmings to make more. Chicken broth freezes well, too! :)

I have to laugh at myself the way I am so happy about using chicken bones. You should definately try it since it's so easy. And broth gets expensive if you use it often. I have read that it's a good idea to cook the bones with a tablespoon or two of vinegar (or in tomato juice) because the acid helps to dissolve and free up even more of the calcium. I haven't tried that because I was skeptical about the taste. Either way, it's good nourishment. :)

Does anyone have a recipe for onion soup mix, preferably one that is vegetarian (and doesn't rely on beef/chicken bouillon)?
Thanks!
~Michelle

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