When is the time to check your food budget????
When we talk about your food budget, this includes your typical run to the grocery store each week as well as eating out. When your food bill is almost the size of your mortgage – its time to take a look at your total food budget, and maybe make some adjustments.
Like you, I considered my food budget a necessity, so this was not an area of spending that I really critically looked at. Then I looked….we are a family of 3 and were eating out multiple days a week and spending almost $1,000 per month eating out – keep in mind that I feed a teenager and ultra runner, so our spending is on the high side for a family of 3.
Life happens, we are all busy with work, school projects with the kids, afterschool activities. When we stop looking, we stop thinking and that is when overspending can occur.
Why should I care? Well, when you go to the grocery store for your normal groceries and then eat out – what happens to those groceries? I am embarrassed to say that we were throwing away produce and sometimes meat. Food waste is costly, and just wrong.
As I was looking at this problem, I found the solution to be meal planning. This does not have to be complicated though – I am not talking about cooking up 20 chicken breasts and eating the same food all week, but here are a few tips to meal prepping that I found helpful when I started doing this a few years ago.
1- Keep it simple. I don’t look through my cookbooks and make elaborate meals every day of the week. I know what my family likes, and keep the staples in my fridge and my pantry such as couscous, rice, stock, and seasonings so when I am planning our meals, I just have to pick up the perishables for those meals. If you don’t cook you can still meal plan by buying a roasted chicken, cucumber, tomato and bag of mixed greens.
2- What’s on sale? It takes a few minutes to either look through the weekly ads printed or online. I use the ads to find my proteins of choice for my meal plan. I pick at least 3 different protein sources so my family has some variety, but starting here helps me start planning those meals. Also, what vegetables are on sale? Vegetables can be expensive as well, and some meals can easily swap out one veggie for another. On a really tight budget? Don’t overlook frozen vegetables.
3 – What do you have on hand? Rice, potato’s, or a box of cornbread can be transformed into a casserole for Tuesday. Use what you have before it expires, rots or goes rancid.
4 – Make a list. I spent hours and hours in years past wandering around the grocery store trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Planning out the week, making a list of the necessary items to pick up help you stay on task and budget at the grocery store. Pro Tip…I include my teenager on the meal planning because if I am making food she doesn’t care for, it will not be eaten.
5 – Plan out your week. I write out my meals for the week as everyone knows their busier days, whether that is your child’s activity, HOA meetings, or your volunteer activities. I plan a quick and easy meal for those days such as chili in the crock pot, or I pull out my Instapot for a Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken). I leave the longer meals for a Friday night in with my family. Pro Tip…When I have the time, I actually make two meals in one night if I know the next day will be rushed.
6 – Be flexible. Planning is great, but sometimes your week changes and you may not be able to stick to the plan. You have to be able to shift your plan – sometimes that whole chicken staring at you that was going to be roasted, gets cut up and goes into a stew instead. The point is to use what you have in your fridge – it will be healthier and more cost effective than eating out.
Now get in that kitchen, get planning and get cooking…