This post was sponsored by my friends at the TODAY Food Club through a partnership with the Blogger Babes. I was compensated for my time and participation. All thoughts and opinions, as always, are 100% my own.
Let’s talk about one of the most unpleasant parts of adulthood today, folks: BUDGETING.
(Ewwwwwwww, money. Why can’t we just all be zillionaires, right?)
I’ve been getting a LOT of questions about tips for meal planning and shopping on a budget lately (wallet-friendly tips were even one of your most-requested topics on my recent reader survey!) So when the TODAY Food Club asked me to put together some of my best budget-savvy kitchen tips to help celebrate the launch of their online cooking community (click here to check it out!), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to dig a little deeper into the whole “eating awesome, wonderful, sustainable food without going broke” thing.
I’ve been privileged to work on some amazing projects with a whole bunch of incredible food justice advocates. And what I’ve noticed - both here on Life As A Strawberry and through my food security work - is that our questions about food and finance often trace back to one simple misconception:
“I’m on a budget, so I can’t eat delicious, healthy, wholesome food.”
But friends! THIS IS TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY UNTRUE.
We can all eat well – no matter what our financial constraints are. It’s just a matter of getting creative with menu planning and using a few handy techniques to save money at the store.
Here are my favorite tricks to eat great food on a budget!
1. PLAN YOUR MEALS
Sitting down on a Sunday or Monday to plan your meals for the week saves a ton of time and money. Having a set plan means you don’t have to do the whole “I’m hungry! What should we make? What do I have in the fridge? What do we feel like eating?” routine every time you’re ready for dinner. It also means you don’t have to worry about finding uses for a bunch of random ingredients hanging out in your fridge – buy only what you need to make the meals on your list, and you’ll have exactly what you need on hand exactly when you need it. Meal planning saves time and helps you cut down on food waste (which is basically just like throwing money into the trash! Which, umm, we don’t want to be doing). Need some inspiration as you plan your meals for the week? Check out the TODAY Food Club’s newsletter for weekly meal plans and shopping lists to get you started!
2. MAKE A LIST
Me at the grocery store without a list = dangerous. Not only do I end up bringing home food I don’t actually need, I end up forgetting the food I actually went to the store for. (Fail). Use your meal plan as a starting point for your grocery list and add any other necessities as needed. I like to keep a post-it on my fridge and write things down as I run out of them – like milk, eggs, etc. – so I don’t forget anything important!
3. SET A BUDGET
To set an initial budget, take a look at what you’re already spending on groceries each week. It helps to set goals here: do you want to reduce your grocery spending by $50? Spend less money on processed foods? Buy more fresh produce? Use these goals to help you make cuts and adjustments to your current purchasing habits. Then use an app like Mint (or a good ol' fashioned spreadsheet!) to keep track of your spending so you know how much money is left in your budget each time you're at the store.
4. SET ASIDE SOME “FUN” MONEY
Allocate a little bit of your grocery budget for non-list items that call your name once you actually get to the store. See some purple asparagus that would go PERFECTLY with the pot roast you’re planning for Tuesday? Use that flexible piece of your grocery budget to snap it up guilt-free.
One of my favorite fun-money splurges? Cheese! I love eating it plain on toast or dressing it up with a tasty sauce like you see in this photo of Roasted Red Pepper Baked Ricotta!
5. FIND A COOKING COMMUNITY
Even the most well-organized, budget-savvy shoppers among us have days where shopping and budgeting and cooking are each the 100% very last thing you want to do today. Engaging with online communities like blogs (hi there!) or the TODAY Food Club (TFC) are awesome ways to keep yourself motivated - and excited! - to cook healthy meals at home. The TFC even takes it a step further by featuring selected members on the TODAY show, their website, and social channels – plus you can earn contributor badges for your own website (LIKE ONLINE GIRL SCOUTS! Or, more awesomely, online Pawnee Goddesses. Who’s with me?!) The free TFC newsletter, 5-day-meal plans (HELLO TIME SAVER FOR US LAZY FOLK) and shopping lists (AGAIN WITH THE TIME SAVING) are just icing on the cake. Facebook groups, Twitter chats, and good ol’ fashioned potluck dinner parties are also good ways to connect with other busy budgeters for food-related moral support. We’re all in this together!
6. COOK ON SUNDAY, EAT ALL WEEK
You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen each night to eat well for the week. Cook a bunch of chicken on Sunday to throw into salads and pastas, or whip up a batch of homemade enchilada sauce to use in burrito bowls, tacos, or a lasagna (like this enchilada lasagna!) later in the week.
This slow cooker salsa chicken is one of my favorite make-ahead staples: just toss it in the slow cooker on Sunday and use it in burrito bowls, salads, and pastas all week long!
7. EAT SEASONALLY
Most of us are used to being able to get whatever food we want whenever we want it (Tomatoes in February? Watermelon year-round? “No problem,” say the grocery stores!) But out-of-season fruits and veggies can be less flavorful than their in-season counterparts, and they’re also generally more expensive. Commit to eating what’s in season for a smaller grocery bill and happier taste buds.
8. DON’T GO TO THE STORE HUNGRY
If you’re anything like me, an empty stomach means an overfull shopping cart. Eat a real, actual meal (that handful of tortilla chips you had three hours ago doesn’t count) before hitting the grocery store to curb the temptation to overbuy.
9. BE FLEXIBLE
Is your favorite name-brand yogurt pushing your grocery bill over the top? Broccoli prices running shockingly high this week? Don’t be afraid to try new brands of your favorite foods or make changes to your list based on what your store has in stock.
10. EMBRACE MEATLESS MONDAY
Protein is expensive! It also generally comes with a big environmental footprint. Ditch the meat at least once a week to save money and reduce your environmental impact. Need some vegetarian inspiration? Try some easy portobello mushroom pizzas, a simple spinach and mushroom lasagna, or this creamy roasted red pepper soup!
Have your own Super Saver tip for shopping and cooking on a budget? Share it in the comments below or join me over at the TODAY Food Club to share your best tips and connect with other home cooks!
Love this post? Check out our post on dinner timing →