Whether you’re living alone, as an elderly couple or a still-growing family, it is important to set up a monthly budget. This lets you know exactly how much income is coming into the house, where the money is going, and how much funds you can allot on a savings account. For the average American family, here’s a breakdown of how a typical monthly budget is allotted:
- Rent or mortgage = 25%
- Personal items and activities = 12-25%
- Food = 10-15%
- Personal expenses = 2-10%
- Utility costs = 2-10%
- Transportation/car-related expenses = 2-5%
- Debt, savings and miscellaneous expenses = Below 15%
As you can see, the budget for food does make up a significant amount of a monthly budget. If you can reduce this by one-third or even one-half, the money that you will save can go towards your other important expenses. But how exactly can you save money on food without depriving yourself of the vitamins and nutrients needed to nourish the body?
The solution is actually simple: decrease your reliance of food that’s convenient to buy. This includes mixed salads, fancy lattes from coffee shops, fast food, restaurant meals and even pizza delivery. Sure, it is very convenient and fast to order food on the go but unless you know where the ingredients are sourced, you are not really 100% certain of the quality of food that you’re getting.
When you line up at the office pantry, for instance, and you force yourself to get ingredients for a salad. You will usually get chunks of overripe melon, mushy strawberries or unpalatable pineapple. The same thing holds true for veggies which are not so fresh anymore, unless you slather them with oodles of dressing.
You know that you can easily consume the same food item at home for less and with better quality ingredients, but you fail to do so simply because of a lack of willpower.
All in all, what you need to know is that there are plenty of ways for you to save money on meals and eat a lot better – be it at home or in the office. By taking the extra time and effort in planning your meals, you can eat healthy, nutritious, delicious meals without paying restaurant prices for them. Read on to find out how you can do just that.
Top 12 Money-Saving Meal Tips to Follow
To eat better and healthier while cutting back on your food budget all at the same time, here are a few tips that you can follow:
1. Skip processed food
If you’re a working mom who cannot be bothered to even move a muscle once the kids go home at night, you might be tempted to simply order pizza. There’s nothing wrong with doing this every once in a while but if you do it often enough, the costs would crop up and your family will be left with barely nutritious meals to eat.
To give you the extra inspiration to save money on meals by making them yourself, realize that processed food is not cheap at all. Take cheese slices or cheese spread as a basic example. You can buy a block of good cheese at a really reasonable price. But when you look for similar cheese products like grated, sliced or even cheese spread, the cost becomes significantly higher because it has already been processed.
When you go for the most basic ingredients, you can have better quality food items at almost a fraction of the price.
2. Make your own food from scratch
Experts recommend buying a bread making machine which has become popular for the past few years. Instead of buying bread from the bakery or the supermarket, you can actually save more money by purchasing the raw ingredients and dumping them all on the breadmaking machine.
Not only will you have freshly baked bread to serve your family during meals, but you can also save a significant number of dollars as compared to buying ready-made bread. The same thing holds true for other kitchen items that you need like fruit preserves, spreads, etc.
3. Use vegetables as the main star of the dish
Instead of always using beef, pork or chicken as the main star of the dish, use them as flavoring instead. Buy a slow cooker and slow-cook the cheaper bits of beef or pork and add veggies for a mouth-watering dish. If you have leftover chicken, use it as a base for a roast chicken garden salad. Leftover veggies can be turned into miso soup.
Go online and look for recipes that use vegetables as the main star of the dish without scrimping on flavor, and save money in the process.
4. Plan menus in advance
One of the most annoying questions for moms is this: What are we having for dinner? If you don’t want to be bombarded with such questions from your kids, simply plan a menu in advance.
For instance, you can have chicken on Mondays, beef on Tuesdays, pasta on Wednesdays and other meal ideas until the end of the week. If you know that Mondays are chicken nights, you can quickly grab that package of chicken breasts, thighs or legs and cook it up for your entire family.
Planning meals in advance will also give you an idea about the nutrients content of the food that your family is eating.
5. Buy fruits and veggies which are in season
Halloween is pumpkin season so you can easily stock up on preserves, pies, muffins and similar dishes with the orange veggie as the main ingredient. Do the same thing year-round. Buy whatever fruits and veggies are in season and incorporate them in your meals.
6. Purchase cheaper types of fish and cuts of meat
Mackerel, coley, tuna and other fish types are cheaper to buy in the local markets. For beef and pork, some cuts are cheaper to buy than others.
If you’re worried about flavor, let the seasoned meat marinate or cook slowly on a slow cooker so that you can extract the most taste. It pays to get to know a local fish supplier in your area so that you can get first dibs on really cheap fish types at low, low prices.
7. Grow your own food
What better way is there to save money on meals than to grow your own food? Even if you only have a window sill or a small space in front of your apartment to grow plants, there are plenty of herbs, spices and small fruit or vegetable-bearing trees that you can grow.
What’s good about taking this route is that you can rest assured that no harsh chemicals were sprayed on the herbs, spices or whatever fruits or veggies you managed to grow at the end of the season.
8. Skip the pre-packaged salad mixes
When buying food from the supermarket, remember that those pre-packaged salad mixes cost a lot more – especially if it already includes a tub of dressing. It’s just as easy to buy your own greens, mix your own dressing and prepare a deliciously refreshing salad at home.
9. Grow your own spices
If you love cooking with herbs, grow them in your own home. If you love cooking with spices, look for stores which sell them in bulk. The per-ounce price is usually cheaper than when buying them in quaint little glass bottles. Just make sure that you will use up all the spices readily, because these usually have a shelf life of one or two years.
10. Whenever possible, buy food in bulk
Some stores sell kitchen staples at lower prices than others. Make a price comparison of the rates offered by different superstores, grocery stores or supermarkets in your area.
If you’re buying one or two weeks’ worth of food supplies, do a few quick calculations in your head. Does it make sense to buy a gallon of juice over the individual juice boxes? If yes, you should definitely buy in bulk.
11. Master those potato and chicken recipes
Russet potatoes can be bought at a few cents apiece, and they are rich in vitamin C, potassium and fiber. You can easily bake, stuff, mash, slice or roast them. Chicken which is sold boneless and skinless is also a very versatile yet cheap ingredient that you can incorporate in a lot of meals.
12. Use canned fish and stock up on frozen veggies
If there’s one type of canned good that you should always have in your kitchen, it’s none other than canned salmon or tuna. These are rich in Omega-3 fats which help with your heart’s health. You can use them on tuna spreads, pasta or salads. For veggies which are not in season, you can simply buy the frozen variant so that you can still get the same amount of nutrients without having to pay an arm and a leg at the counter.
By implementing these money-saving meal ideas in your kitchen, you can eat healthy, hearty meals but still cut back on your food budget.