Earlier this year, I wrote down all of my expenses, everything from my monthly cell phone bill to my daily cup of coffee. I was SHOCKED. I spent nearly $800 on food (going out + groceries) in January 2011. I realized that the greater portion of that amount was due to going out to eat and drink with friends. So, during this past Lent, I gave up eating out. Instead, I started a self program called $40 homemade meals a week. I was only allowed to spend $40 a week to buy groceries and use those groceries as food for the entire week. From that rigid experiment, I learned how to grocery shop, how to build a menu for myself, and how to budget my food expenses. Now, I’ve loosened my budget up a bit but I’m still keeping my monthly food costs low. I was able to reduce my food costs in HALF from $800 to $350-$400 a month!
I found this video online yesterday while I was drafting this list below. It’s a GREAT video about feeding a family on $15/day, and I found that I enjoy doing these tips already to help cook healthily at home on a budget:
Here are my personal tips when shopping for healthy and inexpensive groceries:
(1) Make A List…and Stick To It!
Before you go shopping, plan out your meals and snacks for the week. This helps you create a solid shopping list and by sticking to it, it helps to prevent unnecessary purchases which can add up and break your budget. This list will help you reduce waste of food you won’t eat.
(2) Don’t Go Shopping When Hungry
I’ve done this a few times and let me tell you…coming home with 6 bags of Spicy Nacho Doritos was not my finest moment. Eat before you go to grocery shopping so you can focus on buying items for your meals for the week rather than trying to fulfill your temporary and impulsive cravings for sweets and other indulgences.
(3) Set a Moderate Budget
I usually go through all the advertisements at the beginning of the week to check prices. After going to the store regularly, you’ll know when you’re overpaying! Set your budget and stick to it! One piece of advice, don’t be SO rigid that you don’t allow yourself some moderate indulgence. Include some treats on your list so (1) you don’t go crazy from deprivation or (2) you don’t binge on a 10 pound bucket of ice cream for dinner one night.
(4) Fresh > Frozen
I know someone who eats primary frozen dinners. Are they all bad? Not at all. Get down with your bad self, Lean Cuisine! A lot of times, it’s so convenient to buy frozen foods and meals that are pre made. But when buying frozen foods, be wary. A lot of times buying fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are (1) cheaper and (2) fresher! Who wants to pay more for old food? Confuse me?
(5) Frozen > Fresh
Ignore Tip #4 here. A lot of times, frozen is a great alternative! I love fruit but I hate how fast it goes to spoil! That’s why I love frozen fruits. A lot of people are scared of trying frozen anything. Aside from certain texture changes, frozen fruits are still high in nutrients and are so convenient. Generally, these fruits are picked when they are extra ripe so they can have even MORE nutrients than fresh fruits that are picked before ripening. Make sure to check the ingredient list on the back to make sure there’s no added sugar and you’re good to go! OR you can make your own frozen fruits by cutting up uneaten ripe fruit, putting them in a bag, and storing them in the freezer. Fruit will always available to you at the snap of a finger. Great for my daily fruit and vegetable juices & smoothies.
(6) Buy Bulk
Buying bulk is great. You get more bang for your buck when you buy in larger quantities. This is highly recommended for items that store well for longer periods of time like whole wheat pasta, rice, dry legumes. These foods also have high satiety to fill you up and give you great macronutrients! Buying in bulk would not be recommended for things that spoil too quickly like fresh fruits and vegetables.
(7) Choose Versatility
When buying items, match your shopping list with your week’s menu. Look for items that you can reuse in many dishes. This will help you prevent waste and will encourage variety in your daily diet. Cheese, pasta, and produce can all be used in a variety of ways and create completely different dishes. Who can eat the same thing everyday?! Variety is the spice of life, my friends.
(8) Think Outside of the Store / Avoid the Aisles
A great way to navigate the grocery store is to avoid the aisles and instead shop around the aisles where the food is focused on raw foods that are generally not processed: meats, baked breads, fresh produces, etc. When you enter the aisles, you’ll get trapped into all the extra costs of packaging and tricks of marketing!
(9) Farmers’ Markets
Another great idea is to avoid supermarkets all together. On Fridays through Sundays, there are so many Farmers’ Markets that are open. Fridays (Downtown San Jose), Saturday (Saratoga & SF–The Ferry Building), and Sunday (Los Gatos & Downtown Campbell). My personal favorites are Saratoga and the SF–Ferry Building ones. The Saratoga focuses primarily on fresh produce and you get so much of it for relatively inexpensive prices! The San Francisco one is just gigantic and has so much variety, your mind would explode. The best part of Farmers’ Markets? Samples! You get to taste all the food and choose the BEST and MOST FLAVORFUL ingredients for your weeks’ meals. Make sure to bring cash!
(10) Try New Things
Try a new vegetable or something you’ve never tried before. Instead of buying a regular Russet Potato, try a Japanese Purple Potato instead. OR instead of a regular English Cucumber, try a refreshing Persian Cucumber. You’ll never know what you actually like unless you try it. That’s what being a foodie is all about: being adventurous and open minded enough to try new things!
Here’s something that I love to make!
Ingredients: Farfalle pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, eggplant, garbanzo beans, shredded chicken breast, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Servings made: 3
Cost: $1.83/serving = $5.50 total
It’ll be great for dinner for two tonight and a wonderful addition to tomorrow’s lunch!
I love going out with friends, but sometimes, I get lost in the regular routine of always going out and racking up that entertainment expense without eating as healthily as I can. Invite your friends and family over and enjoy a healthy and delicious home cooked meal. There’s a joy that I get from cooking and then sharing a meal with my friends and family. It’s a labor of love and generally I don’t cook for more than an half an hour to an hour. Good eating isn’t just for restaurants.