Eating is something we all need to do, but eating when you have limited funds to spend on food can be tough. How do you budget for food when you also have rent to pay, student loan debt, and a vacation to save for? This post will help you meet your budget goals while still being able to eat good, nutritious food.
Step 1: Stop Eating Out
Most of us love to have a meal out once in a while, but this can quickly turn into a bad habit that can derail your budget in no time! In a recent survey done by Business Insider, they found that those aged 25-35 spent 6.2% of their total food budget eating away from home! 20% of Americans eat out at least once a week, which can add up quickly. A family of four who eats out once a week can save around $50 per week by choosing to eat at home instead, adding up to a savings of $2,700 a year. That’s enough to take a chunk out of debt, pay a month’s rent, or even take a family road trip!
People give many reasons for eating out and having others prepare meals for them, but the most common reason is not having enough time. This can be a huge factor for individuals busy with jobs or school and for families with crazy schedules. However, cooking doesn’t have to take a long time and can be a fun family weekend activity. Many hands make light work, and getting everyone in your household involved in meal prep for the week can be a fun way to spend time together. In a recent study, researchers found that children who were involved in the cooking process were more willing to try new foods, especially the ones that they made. Children also tend to choose healthier snacks when they are the one preparing the snacks. Depending on children’s ages, some ideas to get kids involved in the kitchen are mixing ingredients, tearing lettuce leaves, and measuring ingredients. Older kids and teens can even begin to help with chopping, peeling, and cooking on the stove or in the oven with adult supervision.
For individuals, cooking can seem like a waste of time and ingredients when there is just one person to cook for. However, when portions are correctly measured, meal prepping can work out great for individuals. One resource that can be especially helpful to individual meal preppers is YouTube! One of my favorite meal prepping videos is called “$30 One Hour Meal Prep”. Not only is this a budget friendly video, but you can save time shopping for these recipes because everything can befound at one grocery store! Do keep in mind that Trader Joe's wastes a lot of packaging and uses plastic on most their produce, so be mindful when purchasing from here - often times you can find the same fresh items at your local farmers market or local grocer. Another great resource that I use often is Pinterest. You can find tons of great recipes for one that are easy and budget friendly with a quick search, and the pictures make it super easy to find a recipe that looks good to you!
Step 2: Buy Seasonally and Locally
Not only is buying seasonally and locally good for the environment, it can also save you money on your next grocery trip! Seasonal foods are at peak supply during the season that they are harvested, meaning there is more to sell, which drives costs lower. The Cleveland Clinic has a great resource that goes over different ways to eat locally and in season here. Some suggestions they give include shopping at your local farmers market, joining a community supported agriculture program (CSA), or even growing your own garden! Joining a CSA can also allow you to experiment with new and fresh ingredients that you might not have bought on your own and can support local farms and businesses within Spokane. Some CSAs around Spokane include LINC Foods, Urban Eden Farm, and Tolstoy Farms. These farms will either deliver a produce box to your home or will give you a pick up location to get your box of goodies. Some CSA even offer add-ons such as milk and eggs!
If you do find yourself wanting something that isn’t in season, try buying it frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at the peak of each food’s season, which means they are more nutritious and flavorful than buying fresh versions out of season. They are often cheaper than their fresh alternatives, especially in their off season.
Step 3: Use Meat as a Special Treat
Meat tends to be the most expensive part of the typical food budget. Buying quality, grass and vegetarian fed beef or chicken, or wild-caught fish can be even more expensive, and is typically not accessible to those on a budget. By cutting out meat and replacing it with less expensive, plant based options, you can save on your weekly grocery bill. Try swapping out lentils for ground meat in a stew or soup, or replacing chicken with shelled edamame in a stir fry. With the right spices and seasonings, you won’t miss the meat and will be making a huge impact on both your wallet and the environment.
Step 4: Use the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 to Help you Shop
Many of us want to buy organic produce, eggs, and meat, but organic items can be hard to afford on a budget. One way to know what produce you should be buying organically is to visit the Environmental Working Group’s website where they list the “Dirty Dozen”. This is a list of produce that, when available, should be bought organic to avoid potentially dangerous pesticide residues. These foods include strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes. This list can be found at https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php. Alternatively, you can save on produce by not buying organic when it comes to the “Clean 15”. These foods do not contain high levels of pesticide residues, even when they are not bought organically. The Clean 15 includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplant, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, cauliflower, cantelope, broccoli, mushrooms, and honeydew melon. You can find more information about the clean 15 here. You can save money by only buying organic versions of the dirty dozen and sticking to conventional versions of the clean 15.
Step 5: Utilize the Bulk Section
If your local grocery store has a bulk section, try using it to save money on staples like flour, nuts, seeds, and grains. Foods in the bulk section are typically much cheaper than what you would find on the grocery store shelves and can be a great way to save some money on your next grocery bill. Additionally, if your store has a bulk spice section, use it! Most recipes call for very small amounts of spices, so using the bulk section to only get the amount that you need can save you a lot of money over time. Check out Winco’s bulk section: they have everything you might need from pantry staples to dog food to candy to every spice imaginable! Or, try Fred Meyer’s bulk section, which has a large selection of organic bulk products. Some Co-Ops and natural food stores even have a liquid bulk section where you can get things like honey and syrup. You can also reduce waste by not wasting food and by bringing in your own bags and containers. That way, you reduce the amount of packaging used when you buy your favorite staple foods!
Step 6: Plan Ahead when Grocery Shopping
One way to avoid impulse buying at the grocery store is to plan ahead! Never go to the store without a list and shop from that list. Don’t buy things that are on sale just because they’re on sale, only buy what you need. Going to the grocery store hungry can also be a problem, so make sure you eat before you go! That way, you’ll be less tempted by the things that aren’t on you list and will find it easier to stick to your budget. Also, plan on buying the generic varieties of pre-packaged foods if you are not buying them in bulk to save money. Shop sales and use
coupons to save even more. If you plan ahead, you can significantly reduce your weekly shopping bill and can reduce your food waste, too!