Stretch Your Food Budget

by Kelly · 16 comments

in Thoughts On Food & Cooking

Here’s how bad the economy and purchasing power are getting: a friend of mine, who is anything but frugal, recently told me about her attempts to trim her grocery bill and waste less food.

“We used to throw away one fourth of the food we bought,” she said. “Now we’re eating leftovers and not going to out to eat as much. When we do go out, it’s to the pizza place down the street, not to a nice restaurant.”

I have also been making a conscious effort to waste less food. Here are the five things I do to help us eat every last scrap of food in the house.

1. I reverse menu plan. After going grocery shopping, I write down a list of all the meals we can make with the food that we have, and post the list on the side of the fridge. Then I loosely plan which meals we’ll eat on which nights, based on my schedule and who’s cooking.

2. My husband and I scavenge for lunch. He usually comes home for lunch and eats coldcuts and bread, while I take leftovers to school and heat them up in the cafe’s microwave.

3. We have leftover nights, at least twice a week. That’s when we finish the things that haven’t yet gotten eaten and I make the leftover fish sticks or hamburger patty, in order to finish the box. Everybody gets something different.

4. I make and serve smaller quantities. Instead of making a huge pot of stew for example, and eating it for days on end. I now make a smaller quantity. We still have enough for two or three meals, plus some to freeze, but the quantities aren’t so overwhelming. Plus I have a small freezer, so I try to be judicious with what I can freeze, in order to have a good variety.

5. I don’t try new recipes– I stick to tried and true and kid approved. My kids aren’t really picky eaters, but if they don’t like something, they won’t eat it, no matter how delicious it is. That increases the likelyhood of food getting wasted. I’ve therefore become more conservative in what I choose to make, so that I know we’ll eat it all.

How do you stretch your food buddget? Do you waste a lot of food?


1 Nancy October 28, 2008

We don’t waste much food at our house. Our oldest daughter and I take lunch to school & work each day and husband usually eats lunch at home so that’s what typically becomes of the leftovers. What isn’t used for lunch may become part of a smorgasbord dinner meal. I enjoy trying new recipes but lately the new recipes include a list of tried & true ingredients so there isn’t a chance that it won’t be eaten.
I just recently found your site and I’m enjoying it.

2 Kimberly October 28, 2008

I am a lot like your friend (but I still heart reading both of your blogs!). I am single and I’ve pretty much cut out going out to eat over the last year – if I do, I go somewhere less expensive and really try to get takeout. And no more happy hours all the time!

I only started really making sure I used leftovers this past year. But I do waste fresh produce way too often – I buy it because I know I should eat it, or it’s an impulse, and it almost always goes bad (yes, even bagged salad gets forgotten sometimes). I know I should menu plan and focus more, but it’s so hard for one, it just seems like too much effort (and I hate being constrained by a “plan”).

3 Vintage Mommy October 28, 2008

We all take lunches to school/work. I’ve started giving Vintage Girl just half a sandwich b/c she rarely eats a whole one anyway (which makes me nuts but that’s another topic). We rarely go out to restaurants, for any meals.

I menu plan every week, but occastionally I’ll make a “pantry dinner”, using whatever is around, and like you, we might not all have the same thing that night.

I don’t use coupons much, but I do shop sales. I splurge on certain organics and two specific things for my husband: “real” Cheerios and a particular kind of yogurt. Speaking of yogurt, we never buy the small flavored ones anymore, just a large tub of plain and we add applesauce, honey or low-sugar jam.

I think I should stop now . . . having said all this, I still feel I spend an enormous amount of money on food.

Vintage Mommys last blog post..Holidays by Hand: Good Ideas from Around the Blogosphere

4 kat October 28, 2008

About the produce…

I finally invested in those green “keep your produce fresher” bags. Guess what, THEY WORK like a charm. So worth the money! They keep stuff way fresher for way longer….and no funky smell or fuzz in my produce drawer. They are reusable too.

5 Amiyrah October 28, 2008

I love to stretch a large piece of meat to use all week. The “rubber chicken” method. I make the big meal on Monday night(roast chicken with roasted veggies or a slow cooker pot roast) and then make myself find ways to use it for the rest of the week. Chicken soup, chicken quesadillas, chicken chili, etc. If I also roasted the veggies, I take the leftover ones and either add them to the chicken soup or make a roasted veggie soup from it.

I actually do the opposite of your #5. After I make my grocery list for the week, if I can’t think of a recipe that I already make, I think up a new one that includes things that we like but isn’t something that we have had before. This is how I come up with most of the recipes on my blog, and my asian spaghetti and meatballs recipe you posted on here a few weeks back. It was all made from items I had on-hand, thus making it a frugal meal but new and exciting!

6 Megan October 29, 2008

I clip coupons, look through the Sunday paper ads, and check my grocer’s website for sales and offers. I usually save about $20. I menu plan and post my list of meals on the fridge. This has kept me from forgetting a lot of produce that would, otherwise, go bad. I am also trying to remind myself not to buy the items that look good but I never use: bagged salad mixes, tomatoes, spinach. They end up withering away in a produce drawer.
My biggest money saver has been learning to adjust new recipes. I used to think I had to buy every exact spice and ingredient in a recipe. I ended up with jars of smoked hungarian paprika, hot madras curry, etc. Now I know I can substitute and eliminate weird ingredients to save some money.
Finally, after every grocery trip I write how much I spent on the calendar. Knowing ow much I spend each month is a visual reminder to stay on budget.

Megans last blog post..Why I’ve spent $300 buying things to pee on

7 Nicki S October 29, 2008

I compare our grocery store’s sale flyer with coupons I download from the internet. Then I make my one week menu, make my list and go shopping. I take a calculator and I don’t buy anything extra until the list is all in my cart and there is still money left. Strict, yes, but it really works for me. I also make all of our bread by hand which save a lot because we’re huge bread eaters. Thanks for the topic … love it.

8 Amy October 29, 2008

We eat less meat and more vegetarian meals. Buying in bulk is also saving us some nice money!

I like the idea of leftover night where everyone doesn’t eat the same thing. . .I’ll have to try that!

Amys last blog post..Pantry Update 10/28

9 Kelly October 29, 2008

What good tips everyone!

10 Betsy October 29, 2008

I have a price book — I only started it a month ago, but it’s paying off in spades!

I use an old address book to keep me organized, and I jot down the prices of household staples in the different stores where I shop. (I’ve found that rotating grocery stores based on who has the best prices in their fliers is also a good way to save; Aldi is my go-to for staples, but I rotate everything else.)

For example, when I found a dozen double rolls of Northern toilet paper for $6 at Big Lots, I knew it was, at minimum, a $2 discount over the prices at the grocery stores. (I also know when I’m getting a steal on chicken, milk … you name it.)

I also religiously check the fliers in the paper and on the internet to see where I can stock up on staples.

And I have discovered that the food processor is a great way to disguise a variety of recipe sins. Pretty much every piece of at-the-edge produce in my house goes into a batch of chili or soup; even the weirdest things tend to be unrecognizable once I’ve given the soup a whirl in my food processor. (I food process soup because I have texture “issues” with chunky foods. And because the Frugal Gourmet introduced me to the idea!)

Betsys last blog post..Cheap eats

11 Jana October 29, 2008

My husband I eat up the leftovers for either lunch the next day or dinners, until they are done. My kids have food allergy issues, and we need to rotate their foods as well, so they get something different, but frugal, made for them.

As for everyday items, and because shopping allergy friendly, is significantly more expensive, I have found ways to counteract the costs. I buy bulk ingredients to bake my children’s bread, and I have taken to making my own yogurt.

To fit in vegetables to my picky children’s diet, I have started to hide them in their food, example fresh spinach in their fruit smoothies, pesto sauce made from spinach, pumpkin muffins, etc. That way I feel like they are getting their veggies, no fights about eating them and no throwing away food because now it is prepared in ways it will be eaten.

12 Jonathan Bloom October 30, 2008

What a great post and discussion! Thanks, Kelly. I do have one question: Why not menu plan before you go to the supermarket? That’s what I do to ensure that I don’t waste money or food. But I’m sure you have a reason.

Kimberly makes a great point: So many people aren’t realistic when shopping. They’ll buy perishables that they think they should eat or that they hope they’ll have time to cook. It’s probably better to be realistic. Also, I love Amiyrah’s “rubber chicken” method.

If you’re interested in avoiding food waste, stop by my blog Wasted Food. And I hope you’ll leave some of your own waste prevention ideas under the “Tips” tab.

13 Marcia October 30, 2008

What a great post! I like your blog here.

I buy in bulk, cook from scratch, buy day-old bread at the grocery, eat oatmeal, make soups, use dried beans and rice liberally (cook meat usually only once/week, no more than 2lb at a time, to feed 3 people).

I also keep a price book. I plan my meals at least a few days in advance, sometimes as much as a month. I just yesterday went through my pantry, fridge, and freezer and made a list of meals…I can make 56 meals with what I have already (except for fresh veggies), which will get us through all of November (‘cept for the turkey).

We eat leftovers most of the time. I generally only cook 3-4 days per week, lunches and other dinners are leftovers. When I make soups, I usually make about 12-16 cups (we eat 3-4 for a meal). Eat one night, save 4 cups for another night, freeze 4 cups for later. We belong to a CSA, so I am religious about deciding what veggies we are eating when over the week, so that they don’t go bad. (Example: eat lettuce first, radishes and carrots can wait).

The CSA makes monthly meal-planning tricky, as most of my meals are veggie-based. I can’t plan a particular meal until I know what I’m getting. I have a general idea of what I’m going to get though, by season.

Marcias last blog post..Spinach Balls

14 Kelly October 30, 2008

Here’s a post I wrote on how plan my menus:

15 Kelly October 30, 2008

@Marcia- 56 meals- you are an expert! I’d love to hear more about your methods.

16 Karen May 1, 2009

I use coupons, shop sales, BOGO, and my most recent find is yellow tag meat at Walmart. Where I live, they slash the cost of meat by sometimes 1/2 when the meat is getting close to going out of date. This is not unusual for grocery stores to do this, but in my area, it is done DAILY. This has really made for some new and different meals in my house which make for a bit of a diversion from our regular menu!
stay at home mami to Max, Gabriel and one more due in October!

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