When it comes to eating real food, it’s can be difficult to justify the cost of eating well. There’s no doubt that food can be more expensive, but there are a few things we can do to eat well on a regular basis and maintain your budget.
First figure out your budget.
So what is your budget?
Some people I talk to about this issue say they can’t eat well within their budget and then when I ask if they have an actual budget for their groceries they say no.
Establishing a budget is key to staying on track with eating well.
Now you might find this a bit of a pain, but the best way to establish your budget is to go back and track your food spending for the past two or three months.
Alternatively you can track your next two or three months, but the key is to really hone in on how much you’ve been spending on food on a weekly and monthly basis.
If you haven’t been tracking your food spending in the past you might be in for a surprise when you start… I know I was when I did this exercise.
It was a real eye opener for me and it will help you move forward with figuring out how much you and/or your family needs to spend on food in a given month.
This weekend I challenged people on my facebook page to shop their kitchen before they went to the store.
“Shop my kitchen?”
Yes! If you’re anything like me, you have a cupboard full of things you haven’t used in a while like rice, beans, lentils, flours etc. and you always forget to use them.
Have a look at what you have in the cupboard and start to build a couple of meals around those items.
For example. Last week I had a butternut squash and a leek so I made butternut squash leek soup.
I also had some bone broth I made from roasting my chicken from the week before so I used it—it’s not necessary though as this can be an added expense for some people. Plain old water will do with any spices you have in your cupboard.
I added a tablespoon of curry powder, but you could also use dried basil, oregano, and thyme or smoked paprika and cumin. Either of those options is going to yield a fantastic soup.
This soup cost me about $10 to make. You could make your soup go a bit further by adding red lentils which will increase the protein and nutrient density and which also means you won’t need to eat as much of it (you will be full quicker!), and you will have more leftovers.
A 900-gram bag of red lentils is about $3.29, you’d need about 1/2 a cup of red lentils per pot of soup which adds about .60 cents to the cost of your soup.
And because you bought a big bag means you get to use those red lentils for another meal at another time (red lentil dal – yum!). Win-win.
This might seem like a lot of money to spend on a simple soup, but I’m going to state my case for this one:
- You know every ingredient in your soup because you put it there.
- You made your soup with love (I hope!).
- This soup yields enough for 5 or 6 servings or more versus one can of soup (around 1.5 servings) from the store and more than an expensive container of soup from the specialty section.
Now back to those ingredients.
I went to Loblaws and found a container of Butternut Squash Maple Soup from the specialty section and it’s full of ingredients you wouldn’t likely consider putting in your homemade soup at home:
WATER, BUTTERNUT SQUASH, APPLE SAUCE (APPLES, ASCORBIC ACID), MAPLE SYRUP, ONIONS, CANOLA OIL, CREAM (MILK, CREAM, SODIUM CITRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, CARRAGEENAN, DEXTROSE), MODIFIED CORN STARCH, SALT, NATURAL FLAVOUR, SPICES.
This is why making real food at home is so important to me. We can do better with simpler ingredients and stay within our budget.
Yes this topic is close to my heart, but it just makes so much sense to me. Meal planning your meals makes it easier to control what you’re buying and how much you’re buying.
You could even stretch your meals over the course of the week so for example if you’re roasting a chicken (yes buy the whole chicken – it’s cheaper!) for one meal, use the leftovers for tacos, cook the bones to make bone broth or a delicious soup for another meal.
When thinking of meals, think of nutrient-dense food first.
I talked about this a bit already, our bodies work best with nutrient-dense foods and when we eat nutrient-dense food we actually don’t have to eat as much of it, which means you don’t have to buy as much of it!
What is nutrient-dense food? That’s real food, my friend! I talk about my definition of real food here.
Shop in season and sales.
One of the best ways to save money is to shop in season and shop sales.
In the summer, take advantage of your farmers’ market because those prices tend to be lower. Now, this depends on where you go to the farmers’ market. It might be more expensive in a fancy neighbourhood so take that into consideration.
In terms of sales, always be on the lookout for sales in the store flyers. Many times there are bananas that are close to spoiling – get those and freeze them for the next time you want to make banana bread.
One woman I heard from mentioned that she gets her staples like canned tomatoes, pasta, and rice from No Frills which tends to be cheaper than Loblaws for example.
If you start paying attention to the individual prices of items you’ll know right away if something is too expensive or is a good deal.
If you don’t think you’re going to eat it, freeze it.
You may not realize that you can freeze a lot of food!
If you have some spinach that is going to go soon, put it into a smoothie or make a pesto with it then freeze it in small batches for the next time your make fish, pizza or pasta. This is a great post about what can be frozen.
Freeze your leftovers too! If you don’t think you’re going to eat your leftovers for lunch, freeze them so you have food for another meal down the road.
Start making meatless meals.
High-quality meat can be expensive so why not implement several meatless meals throughout the week?
Items like dried lentils, chickpeas, and other beans and legumes are extremely cost-efficient, especially if you buy them dry in bulk, cook them in big batches and freeze them for later use. I like to use the slow cooker for this.
Keep Meals Simple.
Remember that meals don’t have to be complicated.
Not everything (or anything for that matter!) has to look like a Pinterest picture. Keep meals simple.
There is nothing wrong with having an egg on toast for dinner one night. My kids love ‘eggs and toast night’. Simple is best when you’re trying to save money.
To recap, here are my tips on eating well on a budget. The takeaways are:
- Create a budget.
- Shop your kitchen so you’re using what you have first.
- Meal plan so you don’t overbuy food.
- Make nutrient-dense food so you don’t have to eat as much of it (it keeps you full for longer!).
- Shop in season and take advantage of sales.
- Freeze food you don’t think you’ll eat.
- Make meatless meals a few times a week.
Do you have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them.