When you head to the grocers, do you follow a list? More importantly, do you budget how much you’ll spend beforehand, or do you rely on impulse in deciding what you need?
If your answer is the latter, you may find yourself wasting gas for additional trips and ripping your hair out over accidentally-forgotten items. But a food budget transforms your life in more ways than saving you time, money and carbon emissions. Give making a food budget a try for at least two weeks — the results may astound you! Here’s how to get started.
1. Buy in Bulk on Some Items
Buying dozens of eggs when they’re on sale leads to waste, but certain staples lend themselves to long shelf lives. For example, you can buy bread on sale and freeze it while it is still fresh to preserve taste for up to three months. Granted, this does take substantial freezer space; however, if you have a deep freezer, this makes a great option.
Other items, such as cereals, store well when placed in airtight containers. While a quality airtight container set can cost you a little bit up front, it pays for itself in a matter of months, even weeks, if you have a family.
2. Freeze, Can or Dry Produce
We’ve all been there — we make a commitment to ourselves to get healthy and eat more veggies only to leave them moldering in the fridge. Make your fresh fruits and veggies from your garden or the store last close to forever by freezing, canning or drying them. You can do the same with fruits, although drying or freezing fruit does increase the sugar content.
Make sure to study up before canning at home — you don’t want to end up with botulism or some other type of food poisoning. Freezing veggies can extend their life almost up to a year. Fruit also lasts for approximately a year when frozen. Dried fruit also lasts a year for maximum plumpness, but some, like raisins last longer.
3. Make the Most of Sales and Coupons
Now that you know how to make your food last, it’s time to start reading those sales circulars that clutter up your mailbox on a weekly basis. Also sign up for coupon sites to multiply your bargain shopping if your local grocers allows double coupons.
Clip coupons selectively. Only do so for items you actually use. Many times, we clip a coupon for something we’d like to try, then these clippings clog up organizers until finding the ones we need proves impossible. Before you head to the store, pull out the coupons you need.
4. Food Prep on Weekends
If you’ve held off on food prepping on weekends to save time during the week, it’s time to get over your resistance, stat. Try getting the entire family involved to make food prepping more fun. You can prepackage lunch items for grab-and-go healthy treats and chop veggies for quick and easy stir-fry dishes on those nights when the workday goes long and the siren song of the drive-thru proves (almost!) irresistible.
5. Try Out New Flavors
Still cooking out of your mama’s hand-me-down recipe book? There’s nothing like good, old-fashioned home cooking, but there’s also a world of flavors to explore. Open up your taste buds and explore new flavors to save money.
Take a gander at the ethnic food aisle of your local grocers. Chances are those spices you’d spend $8 for in aisle one cost $1 a package in the Spanish-foods section. The same goes with many Asian foods, and this doesn’t only mean ramen — soy sauce costs little, as does fish sauce. Take a cue from Food Network’s hit show “Chopped” and make it a challenge to combine interesting shopping basket ingredients into exotic and tasty fare.
6. Use Up Your Leftovers
“People in (insert country here) are starving!” Your mother probably passed down this admonition when you refused to eat your Lima beans. But food insecurity is a very real problem, so much so, some grocers and restaurants institute food recycling programs where non-conforming goods feed the less fortunate.
Make your leftovers do double duty. On days when you have time to cook, make extra and store it in reusable containers for quick meals during the week. Once a month, dedicate a freezer clean out week when you gobble up as many of the stored goods as you can before buying new. Using everything you buy is the best way to stretch your food budget.
7. Hit the Farmers Market When They Close
Farmers markets rely upon local providers who often don’t want to truck their wares back home. Hitting the farmers market an hour or so before closing time can score you deals to stretch your food budget further. Oftentimes, merchants even will throw in some freebies to avoid taking produce home and letting it rot before next weeks’ sale. Then, return home and whip up treats like this Italian-stuffed zucchini, which you can make vegetarian-style by eliminating the sausage.
8. Improve Your Overall Health
Finally, when you embrace a food budget, you can’t help but improve your overall health. When you consciously direct thought to what you have to spend, you automatically gravitate to nutrient-dense foods over junk. Performing a touch of prep on the weekend and setting out your dinner ingredients before leaving for work reduces the temptation to hit the drive-thru.
Transforming Your Diet With a Food Budget
Food budgets help you make more conscientious choices at the grocers, save money and improve your overall health. With all these benefits, why not get started on your shopping list — and budget for it — today?