While there is a lot of advice on how to save money on groceries and cut costs with coupons and sales cycles, one will find less information on saving when it comes to fresh foods. In today’s post, things you can implement immediately to eat fresh and real food on a budget.
One of the things our members email us most about is how to eat real food on a budget when “seasonal produce” is nearly impossible. I mean, what’s readily available in California, is not the same as what fills the produce section in the middle of January in Michigan. The seasons are different, and farmer’s markets are not always an option for many.
The lack of options can be one of the most frustrating things depending on where you live. And, while it might take a little preparation, it’s possible to eat real food on a budget.
There is no way around it, if you want to eat well and spend less, you are going to have to sit down and create a meal plan for the week. Can’t come up with low-cost food options? Check out our Budget Dinner Plan where we’ve put together five family dinners for about $50 per week (on average, prices will vary by location and ingredient availability, of course).
What’s the difference between a lower cost plan and a classic plan? Not that much when it comes to our plans, on average, about $20 per week difference, but it matters to our members.
When meal planning, it’s important to use up as much of the ingredients purchased for the week as possible. Leftover tortillas can be used up for lunches, leftover beans from tacos can be used up on salads and so on.
Cook big, use often.
Why not cook extra rice, pasta, and proteins to make extra servings for other meals? By repurposing an ingredient into sides or using it up in school lunches, you not only save money on pre-cooked sides but also eat healthier. Beans can also be cooked in larger batches, from bulk, and frozen in 1 ½ cup measurements (about the same as a can of beans). Not only will you save time but also money, since dry beans are about ⅓ of the cost of canned beans.
When buying a rotisserie chicken (or cooking your own), why not cook (or buy) two? This ensures that you have additional protein for other meals and save time in food preparation. Cooked chicken and cooked beans are some of the most versatile ingredients you can have on hand to eat healthy on a budget.
Buy in bulk.
Healthy, natural ingredients are always less expensive when bought in bulk. Ingredients like oatmeal, for example, are way cheaper when purchased in bulk than in those single packets. Plus, you can make the single packets at home like this and save a ton!
If you have a large family, a membership to a club store (Costco, Sams Club, BJs, etc.) might be a good idea. The larger packages are great for bigger families even though it seems like a cart full is almost as much as an entire paycheck. The key to buying at a membership store is to only buy the items you know you’ll eat without having to throw away a lot of the foods.
Of course, a big container of spinach is much cheaper at the club store; but what if you never get through eating the spinach and end up throwing it away each week? That’s not good. What you can do, however, is freeze the spinach for smoothies or other meals and stop the waste.
For bulk, pantry items, specialty diets, and organic specialty ingredients we love Thrive Market. The membership fee pays for itself in about two orders for my family and I’m able to save on my favorite brands each time. First time members also get 15% and free shipping on their first order.
Stick to your list.
Ok, so you are planning your meals and yet, when you get to the grocery, you are overspending. It seems like each week your favorite store has a sale on something you might need in the future, so you stock up. I know how tempting this is but if you want to stick to a budget you are also going to have to stick to your list. Better yet, make sure you bring your list with you when you leave for the grocery!
Buy store brand and generic items.
Many store brand items are up to 25% cheaper than the leading brand, leaving you with more money in your pocket in the items you purchase regularly. Some great generic items are bulk and canned beans, rice, bulk grains, canned tomatoes, bread, specialty milk, frozen vegetables, and cereals. Of course, quality will vary by brand and food preferences but when it comes to most of the above, the store brand isn’t a bad idea.
Cut out the meat a few times per week.
The average American family eats meat four times per week. This can include pork, beef, chicken and poultry, and fish. Switching out animal protein for a plant-based protein or beans can reduce your grocery budget by about 30% or more.
While many families have “meatless Mondays” I place, going meatless a few times per week will help reduce the food budget significantly. Simply switch out the pound of animal protein for a pound of plant-based protein –even eggs are a less expensive protein alternative.
What are your favorite ways to save when eating fresh and real food on a budget?
I am currently unable to eat more than 30g of carbs at each meal due to gestational diabetes. Do you have tips to reduce cost but keep the meals/sides low-carb? I love your site and appreciate the simplicity of the ingredients and recipes! Thank you for sharing your blessing with the world. :)
Hi A! well, you are in luck! 30g of carbs per meal isn’t too difficult. I typically would look for paleo recipes and many of them are naturally low carb. When you don’t rely on grains in meals, you definitely have to get a bit more creative but I do this without issues. I think shopping in bulk and freezing more vegetables will definitely help. Vegetables are often less expensive than fruit pound per pound.