• Eating Well for Less - Reducing Food Bills

    Plan a Menu Around Sales and Stick to the List
    Write the menu on the family calendar. The activities listed on this calendar will identify crunch days so you can plan accordingly like making a slow cooker meal. I bring the sales flier to the dinner table and request family input while they are still hungry because the feedback is better. I also make note to stock up on frequently used items, like canned tomatoes, that are at rock bottom prices. Sticking to the list is impossible for me but not impossible for my husband so he does the grocery shopping. I make sure to keep my phone nearby because he often calls with questions.

    Prepare for Tomorrow's Meal Tonight
    This habit is a game changer, and it saves us a minimum of $100 a month. While the rest of the family is cleaning up dinner, I prepare for tomorrow. The last thing I want to do after a long day at work is plan and cook dinner but starting a day ahead keeps us home. How many times have you eaten out because you forgot to thaw the meat? Take steps tonight to start tomorrow's dinner. Gather the ingredients and pull out the meat to thaw. Assemble slow cooker meals in the crock. Sticky notes in strategic places will remind you to start the slow cooker or pour the marinade on the meat. Pack tomorrow's lunches at the same time.

    Soup and Smoothie Buckets
    I keep three containers in my freezer. Two are for soups (chicken and beef based) and one for fruits past their prime like bananas and berries. Leftovers that are not enough for a meal go into the container. Eight green beans get thrown in the bucket along with the liquid. A small bit of gravy goes into the container. Two bites of roast beef go into the container. When the container is full, I make soup. The fruits become cobblers and smoothies.

    Cook from Scratch
    All cooks have their favorite shortcuts; however, true scratch cooks usually don't have a lot of prepared mixes like boxed pancake mix, taco seasoning, meat marinades, and canned chili. Scratch cooking is making nacho cheese sauce using a basic white sauce and cheese. It is making pancakes and muffins using flour, sugar, milk, oil and eggs. I do not wish to imply that scratch cooking is the best way to cook, but it is a cheaper.

    Put Smorgasbord Night on the Menu
    Smorgasbord night is our term for leftovers. The night before grocery shopping day, I inventory leftovers and take care to use anything that has a short shelf life. I display all the smorgasbord items on a big white platter or large cutting board for appeal. Party toothpicks hold things together. Examples:

    • One or two leftover pieces of pizza get cut into bite-sized pieces
    • Remaining fruit and vegetables are cut up and artfully arranged
    • Deli turkey for one sandwich will get made into a sandwich and cut into wedges
    • An extra piece of lasagna or an a lone burrito will get warmed and cut into smaller portions

    Everyone gets a variety of food and walks away from the table feeling satisfied. I get the satisfaction of a clean fridge.

    Take a Trash Inventory
    How much money is in your trash? Are you throwing away zipper bags instead of reusing? Are you throwing out beef or chicken bones before making stock? Are you throwing away the heels of bread instead of making homemade croutons or a bread crumbs? How about that head of lettuce that never got turned into a salad? Perhaps a mid-week review of perishable foods would result in less waste.

    End Science Experiments
    Does it take raw courage to peer into plastic containers in the fridge? Replace your plastic with glass. Visible and appealing food gets eaten. If I have enough roast beef and mashed potatoes for a meal, I arrange it on a plate and cover it with clear plastic wrap. The gravy is on the plate in a small bowl. My husband will actually grab the plate and heat it up for lunch. He will not venture into plastic containers. I also freeze lunch sized portions in round Pyrex containers and label them. I can open the freezer drawer and pick a meal to drop in my lunch bag. I use mason jars to store fruits and vegetables so I can easily see what is on hand.

    Institute an Annual Pantry Challenge
    Every October, we use up what we have. We cut our grocery budget in half and declare a moratorium on stocking up until Thanksgiving. We will buy fresh produce and dairy or specific ingredients to finish out a menu. It forces us to get creative and try new recipes. I helps us avoid throwing out food that is about to expire, and it makes us really thankful for the Thanksgiving feast.

    Know Your Consumption Rates and Discourage Over-consumption
    If you find a great deal on canned tomatoes, quickly calculate how much you will consume until the next sale. Sales run about every 12 weeks. If you use 6 cans a month, then 18 is all you need. Buying too much means waste in the form of expired products. While you are at it, evaluate family consumption rates. Just because the family will eat three bags of chips a week doesn't mean you are obligated to provide it. Limits can be good.

    Copycat Meals and Bringing the Craving Home
    Do you crave certain foods from certain restaurants? Look up copycat meals online and work at perfecting them. I have mastered two of our favorite Italian dishes and Pad Thai Chicken. It takes some practice and it is worth the investment. A local restaurant that makes the BEST baked beans that I have not mastered. So, when we want BBQ ribs, we pick up a quart of beans. That is a lot cheaper than eating out. Homemade onion rings are not as good as a local favorite so we will pick up an order to go with grilled burgers. This small addition makes the meal feel more like carryout for a fraction of the cost.

    Eat Out for Less
    While recently eating out at a Mexican restaurant, I noticed the couple next to us was ordering the same meal. We had a coupon for the price of one meal that included fajitas for two, queso, and dessert. We paid for the meal with a discounted gift card I purchased online. We get the coupons by signing up for the restaurant email notifications. We join birthday clubs which offer freebies. Our meal was already discounted by 50%. The gift card we used to pay for the meal was discounted another 15%. Eating out at steeply discounted prices is easy with a little forethought. The couple next to us did not have the coupon. I am betting they did not have a discounted gift card either. We both enjoyed the same meal at very different prices.

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