“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Ben Franklin
Just as my good old friend Ben Franklin says, preparation really is the key to sanity. I used to spend between $250-$300 a week on groceries for a family of 6. Even though I made a list, I was completely overspending and found that for a family of 6, we can eat well on a budget of about $120-$150 per week. Here is how I cut over $100-$200 off of my food budget by a little extra preparation and planning.
1. Plan weeknight meals out in advance
This is the big one. For a family of 6, I have found that it is really not that expensive to buy food for one week if properly planned. I pick 4 weeknight meals that I prep and cook on the weekend. One day, I usually recycle leftovers into something else. For example, if I make tacos one day, with leftover beans (yes, I like beans with tacos), I use the beans the next day with rice and also make quesadillas. That brings me to five days. Then, inevitably, there’s probably a pasta day in there on the day that we are the most worn out. Planning out the meals has been the single most important change I have made. On average, it costs about $10-$20 for one meal for a family of 6. For example, if I make lasagna:
- Ground beef: $8
- Tomato Sauce: $2
- Ricotta Cheese: $4
- Mozzarella: $4
- Parmesan: $2 (as this gets multiple uses)
- Noodles: $3
- Total: $23
- 2 days worth of meals
- Daily Cost: $11.50
For some weekly meal plans, click here.
2. Prep food on the weekend
This goes hand in hand with number 1. Food prep on the weekend ensures that you actually follow-through with your plans for meals during the week. Otherwise, if you are working, and get home tired, late, or other, even the best laid plans may fall by the wayside. I like to prep whatever I can on the weekend to make weeknights super easy. I also absolutely live by my crockpot and instant pot. Examples of food prep:
- Chop all veggies and put in freezer bags
- Create spice packs in plastic baggies
- Assemble baking meals (i.e. lasagna, stuffed shells) and store in fridge
- Wake up 20 minutes earlier and prep the crockpot or instant pot for slow cooking
Click here to see the easiest meals to prep
3. Get creative with snacking
I was drowning in snacks, snacks, snacks. My kids love cheez-its, goldfish, nutrigrain bars, cookies, chips, fruit snacks, popcorn, you name it. I have found though that beyond the basics, there is a lot that you can do to make snacking fun, recycling the same items over and and over into different uses. Peanut butter can be used on celery or apples. Add in chocoloate chips or raisins on top and you have just created 4 different snacks. Recycle the celery and replace the peanut butter with cream cheese (and a little paprika if you are adventurous) and you have a fifth right there. Some of my favorite snack ideas are:
- Apples with honey or peanut butter, with or without chocolate chips or raisins
- Celery with peanut butter or any other kind of nut butter
- Celery with cream cheese and paprika
- Sun balls (peanut butter, oats, chocoloate chips, and honey rolled into balls)
- Date balls (almonds, dates, and coconut oil in a food processor and rolled into balls)
- Make your own trailmix (nuts, raisins, chocolate chips)
- Roasted nuts
4. Use Ibotta to get cash back
I was pretty skeptical about Ibotta until I tried it myself. Ibotta is an app that will give you some cash back savings by scanning your receipt. Warning: It’s not completely automated, there is some work involved, and you won’t make that much money, but it is pretty much free money back for doing something that you do anyways. For me, I get on average $1-$2 back per shopping trip. However, I go to the store weekly, and that money adds up over time. Using Ibotta does require you to select the purchases that you bought that also match the deals available. It takes about 5-7 minutes to go through this exercise, and then you have to take a picture of your receipt. So at $2 back for 7 minutes of work, there’s really no reason not to do it. I’ve been using Ibotta for about 6 weeks and am up to about $15 in savings. I’m going to cash out at $20 and it’s $20 that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Check out Ibotta here.
5. Add sauces, toppings, and sides to dress up plain meals
I find that sprucing up meals with sauces, toppings and sides makes basic meals more exciting and satisfying. In fact, I actually use much less meat by trending meals away from one center piece and more to a set of different items. Examples of great sides include:
- garlic bread with pastalasagna or stuffed shells,
- fresh baked bread with soups
- naan or chapatis with Indian meals
- tortillas or taco shells for Mexican meals and on and on…you get the point.
- ricotta cheese on vegetables like baked broccoli or chickpeas
- plain yogurt and cilantro
- lemon butter with capers for fish dishes
- chimichurri sauce on meats
6. Keep your kids at bay at the grocery store…
I almost always bring my kids shopping. I am at work all week so want to spend as much time as I can with them on the weekends, which includes a shopping trip. However, the two boys can derail my best laid budget if I’m not careful. My secret strategy? Depends on the age. For the little ones, I bring a few lollipops and that distracts them. I also usually let them open one of the snacks we are getting in the store. Older ones, I mean besides just saying “no” I do usually get them one treat if they help unload the car and put the groceries away. I think it pays for itself. The key is to try to stick to the list and keep the kids otherwise occupied!
7. Check out your local Indian grocery store for cheap, fresh produce, beans, grains, and spices
If you can’t tell by now that I’m kind of obsessed with Indian food…I am. I always look to find a local Indian store wherever I live, and usually go there every other week. For one, the produce is usually dirt cheap, usually 99 cents for bundles of fresh herbs, greens or other vegetables. Also, they have aisles and aisles of beans, dal (lentils), grains, and spices. You can stock up on dried items for pretty cheap ($4-$8 for 3-4 meals worth of a beans/dal). Also, instead of wasting a small fortune on grocery store spices, you can buy spices in bulk and refill your spice containers. On average, I only buy spices once every 2-3 years unless I’m looking for something unique. Lastly, I always buy basmati rice in bulk for about $20, and use an old animal cracker container to house the rice. This often lasts me 1-2 months and we eat rice a few times a week. Bonus: if you’ve never tried Indian tea (masala chai, or ginger tea), this is my guilty pleasure.
8. Try beans or paneer cheese as the cheaper meat alternatives
I usually have one meal a week that has either beans, paneer cheese (I love Indian food!), or tofu as the main protein. Beans are super cheap and when combined with a few basics can make for a delicious, hearty, and satisfying meal. Combine beans with the sauces and sides that I mentioned above, and you have an extremely filling meal. And paneer. Well, if you’ve never had paneer cheese, you are missing out. First of all, it is one of the few cheeses that are recommended in Ayurveda and it is considered easy to digest and high in protein. It looks like tofu, but a bit more dense, but also less dense than a block of cheese. It’s indescribably amazing. It can be sauteed and added to some greens or made in a tikka masala sauce. Some of my quick and easy favorite cheap, but satisfying family meals are:
- Great Northern beans with carrots (and ham or bacon if you want meat)
- Black beans or Kidney and rice with a side of avocados, taco shells or quesadillas and corn
- Curried chickpeas with a side of onion naan
- Split pea soup with a side of a fresh sourdough
- Lentils with carrots with a side of naan or chapatis with a bit of plain yogurt and chopped cilantro to top
- Paneer tikka masala with a side of naan and yogurt/cilantro puree to top
These meals on average cost less than $10 and are super filling and sides with toppings to make them fun!
Also, I always use dried beans and pressure cook them in the Instant Pot, which, if you don’t have one, I highly recommend as it will pay for itself over the course of one week of savings. Amazon prices are reasonable and there are often specials. See here for the Instant Pot on Amazon. This is the model that I use and I probably use it 5 out of 7 days a week.