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Shopping smarter for groceries...ISO tips :)

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 

Hi Mamas,

 

I have about 5K in credit card debt that I need to pay off.  I would really like to cut down on our grocery bills to help with this because it seems that we are spending so much every month on food (around 500 for a family of 3 plus our dog that has allergies and can't eat regular dog food).  I prefer to buy organic, but I can do without for a few months to save.  We do live in the NY metro area so prices are higher than the national average. 

 

I am looking for ideas on healthy but cheap meals (something other than rice/beans/veggies...we love this but looking for more variety).  We go through a lot of eggs but buying organic is pricey! Also any ideas for healthy snacks?  I have a feeling soups could be the answer and wonder if y'all have some recipes that you like.  How low do you think I can get our monthly grocery bill? 

 

I am also wondering...do you try to restrict your eating at all when you are trying to stay in budget?  Or do you think it's possible to manage a tight grocery budget and still eat to satisfaction?

 

Thanks,

A

post #2 of 31
I think $500 for a family of three in a metro area is doing damn good, actually.
post #3 of 31
Thread Starter 

Thanks Florida Born. joy.gif

It used to be more like 700 or 800 plus a couple hundred in ordering out (hence the debt I'm in!), but we've almost completely cut out take-out and got the grocery bills down to 500.00. Sometimes I feel like the quality of our nutrition has gone down, because while I've been able to save money I don't think I'm shopping as smart as I could be.  I'm eating too many pb&j sandwiches and hubby is relying on ramen noodles for lunch when there aren't any good leftovers to take in. I feel like if I planned better and made some things from scratch and froze them we would have some "convenience" foods available for those moments when I just don't have time to cook.

 

Do you know of any websites or books that lay out healthy weekly meal plans on a budget?  I'm not a terrible cook, but I'm not so great at efficient meal planning.

 

A

post #4 of 31
Cook enough to freeze and have for leftovers. Make sure your pantry is well stocked. Write down what you're making on the calendar so you can use up that half a can of tomato paste or whatever. I fix a lot of soups and casseroles because those always have leftovers. I space out my meat-based meals, too.
post #5 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by FloridaBorn View Post

Cook enough to freeze and have for leftovers. Make sure your pantry is well stocked. Write down what you're making on the calendar so you can use up that half a can of tomato paste or whatever. I fix a lot of soups and casseroles because those always have leftovers. I space out my meat-based meals, too.

I agree with all of this!  Also, what does your breakfast situation look like?  I do a lot of egg scrambles, oatmeal, and muffins, which tend to be fairly cheap.  For snacks, we pretty much rely on fruit, nuts, and popcorn.  I have only been buying fruit that is somewhat cheap right now--apples, bananas, and pears.  Just being aware of produce prices has helped me keep my grocery bill down.  If kale is on sale but spinach is on my list, I'll get kale instead--decisions like that.  Carrots are a good staple to have on hand for snacking, too.  We do a lot of quesadillas for lunches on the weekends.  Having leftovers available for lunch is key!  I've also started making extra of any soups so that I can freeze a whole other meal for later in the month.  Good luck!  Sounds like you are doing pretty well as it is! 

post #6 of 31
Like Mother, Like Daughter has very detailed meal planning and frugal eating advice.
post #7 of 31
Thread Starter 

Thank you so much for your advice.  It is really helpful to hear everyone's tips and tricks. smile.gif

post #8 of 31

A trick I use is to cook a whole chicken (I do mine in the crockpot with no skin).  You get one meal of chicken (plus veg and potatoes or whatever you like) and then there is usually enough chicken leftover to make a pot of soup or a casserole or chicken salad.  Then you can make chicken broth from the carcass (I also do this in the crockpot) and make some kind of soup.  This is usually with about a 5# chicken, which around here I can get for $5-7. 

post #9 of 31
Thread Starter 

Thanks Jayray, that's a great idea.  How do you prep the bird before cooking in the crockpot?  Do you put the veggies in the cp too, or cook them separately?  Also do you worry about hormones & antibiotics using a non-organic chicken?

post #10 of 31

I plan so that no meal does not include leftovers (lunches) and no larger batches that do not include at least 4+ qt to freeze (soups, broths, chili, chicken base for dumplings, etc) - bulk cooking in other words- bulk cooking can be done for most recipes and it easy to do a large batch vs a small one.  

 

I know how much we will eat and square quart size works best for us- also packs well into a chest freezer too.

 

I have basics frozen (made seasonally) so year round production but this really save lots of time and money doing it this way. I usually spend one (two in the summer months with tomato based items) cooking and during the year I spend very little time each day cooking because so much is made a head.

 

Soups are basic meals for us with an add in salad or cheese plate and I can get out in advance (one to two days for defrosting) and it's easy to plan out a week that way for us. I make lots of cream bases soups and simply make the base and add fresh cream when warming up. I also cook beans and freeze them as well in 1 and 2 cups sizes.

 

By making a head and freezing my weekly grocery shopping is less than half of what most spend because I only buy fresh (perishables) produce & dairy and re-stock pantry items with a few "on-sale" items thrown in. It allows us to by 90% organic as well.

 

We are in the tri-state region as well and we do a 6 month meat (organic) CSA too- we are not huge meat eaters and that works for us. 

post #11 of 31

For many meals, I think of meat as flavoring, rather than the main course. I use a small ham like the chicken above - baked the first night, in casseroles and sandwiches for a couple meals, then the bone goes in soup (split pea is my first choice). A potato and broccoli casserole just needs a bit of cubed ham to feel like a filling meal.

 

I don't really do this every week, but if I were better organized, I would cook either a turkey, ham, 2 chickens, maybe even a roast beef once a week or so. Even after a week of meals, a turkey gives me some to freeze. I would like to choose organic meat, but that's not possible right now. I console myself that we don't eat huge quantities of meat. In my area, organic veggies don't cost much more than standard, so I choose them when I can.

 

Year 'round, I grow fresh herbs on the kitchen window sill. Fresh herbs can make almost any dish seem elegant, but the silly packets at the market cost WAY too much.

 

I don't know if you have access to farm stand produce. The urban farmer's markets in my area are pretty expensive, but 20 miles out of town, out at the actual farms, produce in season is amazing - cheap and delicious! We buy huge boxes of apples, tomatoes, berries, green beans, whatever looks good, then can or freeze it for the year. Jars and freezer containers are an investment the first year, but it pays off.
 

post #12 of 31

I'm vegetarian but my kids are omni.  I buy a whole chicken once a month(organic hormone free) and cook it in the crockpot and then freeze the extra meat after the kids have one meal of it.  We use it in soups and quesadillas and on top of stir fry afterwards until it's gone and that's it until next month.

post #13 of 31
Thread Starter 

Oooh awesome tips!  Thank you! Any advice on how to cook a chicken in a slow cooker?

Mamarhu, I was thinking about farms and farmer's markets...we are halfway between the city and the farms.  I don't know of any farmer's markets here, but I will look into it.  I also don't know of any farms here that are open this time of year...but it will be spring soon enough.  I wonder what you all think about joining a CSA.  It's 500.00 for veggies (some fruits) all organic, one box, once a week from May-November.  Do you think this is cost effective?  I think it sounds like a good deal, but then again I get overexcited about organic produce.  We are also hoping to do some gardening and get some veggies that way too (just moved to a house with a yard).

post #14 of 31
$500 sounds about right. A CSA near me (Tampa) wants about $700 for the season (they are well established and their parking lot is full of Mercedes on the weekends. Kind of pisses me off). Another down in Bradenton only asked for about $450.
post #15 of 31
Quote:
 Do you think this is cost effective?

Depends so much on how it is run and what you are getting vs real need.

 

 

I hate CSA's! and farmers near me are hearing it from other's too!!!

 

Some have started "shares" instead - you pay (early to help the farmer out) and get what you want (you select your items) - works much better.

 

You should really know what you are getting and if you can use it, often the CSA's would have items we simply won't eat and that's just a waste for us. If you like other's selection your stuff that is another factor too, I don't!

 

Personally I would set the money aside for a year and buy what you normally use and see if it totals the same amount and if it would really work for you.

 

With what we want, the standard CSA's simply doesn't meet out needs. Ex. I would like more fruit vs certain veggies and need more of one type of items at a time vs a small amount.

post #16 of 31

We are lucky to be in an area with many, many CSA options.  Ours is $600 for a 20-week season, which we are splitting with another family this year.

Yeah, there will be a few things we don't love in the box, but sometimes we can trade those away, so it balances out.

 

There are intangibles with a CSA that are worth considering, too.

With our farm you also get events on the farm--a corn festival, u-pick tomatoes, peppers & basil, and a pumpkin pick.  It's important to me to visit the farm so DS understands where food comes from.  

I like being forced to be creative with whatever the week gives us.  I'm better at meal-planning with ingredients to plan around.  Then I can go to the farmer's market to fill in the gaps instead of having to figure out the main plan at the market.  

post #17 of 31

You are actually doing well at $500 - I sometimes use this as a guideline:

 

USDA cost of food at home

 

We have a family of 4, and the low-cost plan is now almost up to $800/mo., which is accurate to what I spend. I can get it down to $600 with no meat and very careful planning, but I am not doing that currently, because we prefer to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, and I don't want to cut back on that.

post #18 of 31

PS learning to cook beans in a crockpot is a good money-saver!

 

http://www.kalynskitchen.com/2010/12/how-to-cook-dried-beans-in-crockpot.html

 

Chicken in a crockpot:

 

http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/02/25/recipe-the-best-whole-chicken-in-a-crock-pot/

 

I make a similar recipe in the oven:

 

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/spicy-rapid-roast-chicken/

 

Save all your bones for stock!

post #19 of 31
We do a chicken or turkey once a month or so. I prefer turkey since it's more meat and bone for the effort.
We salt it a bunch, rub it with butter and season it lightly. We cook it in the oven with high temp until the juices run clear. The temp and salt keep it juicy.
I spend about a half hour deboning and slicing it. We munch on the skin as a treat. All excess fat, cartilage, bone, anything we won't eat goes into a container for stock. We eat on a turkey for weeks, interspersing other meals.
One of our fav turkey meals is turkey and dumplings. Dh makes noodle-ish dumplings. We pull out a bag of stock and set it to boil. We add seasonings as necessary and chopped turkey. Throw in the dumplings during a boil - even the kids gobble it up. Easy and so yummy.
post #20 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by anneca77 View Post

I am looking for ideas on healthy but cheap meals (something other than rice/beans/veggies...we love this but looking for more variety).  We go through a lot of eggs but buying organic is pricey! Also any ideas for healthy snacks?  I have a feeling soups could be the answer and wonder if y'all have some recipes that you like.  How low do you think I can get our monthly grocery bill? 

 

I am also wondering...do you try to restrict your eating at all when you are trying to stay in budget?  Or do you think it's possible to manage a tight grocery budget and still eat to satisfaction?

I have four hollow-legged children, they snack every few hours during the day.  If I restricted them too much, well, our house would likely implode.  :)  I do try to have healthier snack options for them though - jerky, yogurt, cheese, fruits (I bought a bunch of small apple seconds from one of my trusted orchard guys in October and December from the farmer's market, my kids know exactly where those apples are in the garage for snacking! plus they're little apples, perfect for little hands/appetites! - takes time to get to that level of planning ahead though, I'll admit).

As for saving money, the biggest thing is having a plan.  A menu plan - including all breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners.  So there's no jaunting back to the store for one item and coming home with twenty.  Ahem.  Not like we've ever done that.  ;)  Some friends swear by EMealz or Leann Ely's meal plans (her book Saving Dinner has seasonal dinner menus/recipes) and such - if those recipes work for you, groovy.  There's tons of options out there - even Once A Month Cooking and freezer cooking among others.  I've also discovered that I love using dehydrated veggies in making stocks - I don't have to go buy expensive/out of season celery and carrots, just throw a handful of the dried stuff in the pot.  Not super cheap up front for the #10 cans, but super handy when you just don't want to leave the house (and the dehydrated carrots and onions do great in regular soups like a vegetable alphabet soup I do from The Prudent Homemaker - in fact, she's got tons of inexpensive meal/menu ideas, I have yet to be super disappointed in any of her recipes!). 

Only do a CSA if you're into being creative/would use everything and have the money.  I sometimes am creative, but having to come up with yet another way to use a gallon-and-a-half of kale every single week kinda burnt me out (other folks love kale, not my family).  I've just had better luck with hitting u-pick type places as the season comes on - that way I'm ready (and my kitchen's ready!) for those 50lbs of strawberries at a time, rather than it just being CSA Monday when we're recovering from visitors over the weekend.  You just have to find your groove, which can certainly take some time.  Oh, some friends of mine do a program called Bountiful Baskets.  Not sure the regionality with that though.  They usually love it, and I think you get to pick some of the things in the basket.

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