Let’s face it, food is expensive but you have to eat to live. I have been often asked how to eat well on say $50 a week for a family of four. People seem to be under the impression that it’s not doable but I disagree when the question is posed to me. The most common mistake people make is putting a dollar limit on their food budget with no additional planning after that. It’s impossible to stick to any budget without a plan. For instance, we all have some idea of what our electricity bill will be and how to lower it by turning off lights, making sure the clothes washer and dishwashers are doing only full loads. We know how to keep control over phone bills by calling when rates are lower and talking less. Your food shopping budget is no different. It requires a plan just like your other expenses. It just isn’t possible to create a plan after you shop, it must be done before.
Any special dietary requirements aside, let’s take a look what is needed in order to come up with a workable meal plan on a budget:
Think of meat more as an ingredient rather than a main individual course. Casseroles and soups come to mind immediately with this idea. I’m not talking about a box of Hamburger Helper. I’m talking about making your own casseroles. Having a box of Hamburger Helper in the pantry is something I recommend to keep on hand for busy nights but as a staple in your diet, no. Casseroles and good soups can be made in the evening for dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day. They are double duty meals and that’s very important in your meal and food shopping plan. Anytime you can get two or more meals out of one is a great way to stretch out your food and your food dollars.
With meat as a main ingredient, you can still stretch it out quite nicely. If you are making a whole chicken for Sunday dinner, use leftovers for chicken salad for lunch the next day or a chicken casserole or soup in the same week. For a nice meatloaf, you can do sandwiches the next day or use the leftover meatloaf in chili or spaghetti sauce.
Think about how you can stretch your meat dollars.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
Buying fruits and vegetables in season is much cheaper than buying them off season and they taste better. It doesn’t make much sense to buy strawberries in December when they are triple the price they are in May and June. As an example, buy strawberries in bulk when in season and make jam. It can be canned or frozen and is the easiest thing. Even if you don’t think you can, try it, you might suprise yourself.
Another example is apples. They are very reasonably priced in the fall and can be made into so many dishes. Cakes, pies, incorporated into main dishes such as pork. Dehyrdating them makes an excellent snack.
Vegetables that are available year round for reasonable prices are also an excellent way to stretch your food budget. Potatoes, carrots, celery make excellent dishes such as scalloped potatoes, starters to soups, stews and casseroles as well as being able to use carrots and celery for a great snack with some dip or dressing. Again, many uses for one package of anything.
Eggs, cereal, bacon, sausage and oatmeal are all normall considered breakfast foods. Instead of the Fruit Loops, buy a box of corn flakes instead. Not only is it healthier, it can be used in more cooking. Crushed and then combined with a few spices, it’s a great coating for fish or chicken. Oats can be used as an ingredient in meatloaf. Don’t buy the individual oatmeal packets, buy a big container of oats or quick cooking oats. You can customize individual packets yourself with some brown sugar, cinnamon, etc. Bacon and sauage can be used in other dishes such as baked potatoes for the bacon as a topping or a homemade pizza for the sausage. Eggs can be used in about any dish from breakfast to dessert.
If you have cookbooks laying around, by all means, dust them off and take a look in them. Make a menu for the week with recipes you find. Alternatively, this is the internet and recipes of any kind are right at your fingertips. A good site for recipes is allrecipes.com or recipezaar.com. Both have thousands of recipes and advice. Kraft foods (www.kraftfoods.com) offers a free recipe book a few times a year. Get on their mailing list and these will come automatically when they are published.
In addition to all the above information, be sure to have staples on hand such as rice, beans, flour, sugar and the like. These can all be made into something else or incorporated into any meal plan. They are all inexpensive and easy to work with. When you get to the point where your food budget is under control, take the time to pick up an extra bag or can of beans or an extra box of rice from time to time. A full pantry makes a happy, healthy, full family.