Money tends to be tight after the summer, with parties, eating out, travel, and general adventures it can sometimes feel like you're hemorrhaging money. Getting your food budget in check can be a great way to feel better about your finances and quickly whip your spending in to shape. I average out between $100-$150 per person in terms of food (including eating out as it's rare) for the month. I've noticed that this is fairly low in comparison to a lot of other bloggers, so here are some tips I'm a huge fan of that help me keep costs that low.
1. Dried legumes
You hear about rice and beans a lot in the frugal world, I like to focus on lentils. But overall regardless of which legume you prefer it's most economical to buy them dry and in bulk. Lentils are great and will rehydrate when you cook them. Black lentils are the most nutritious but also expensive. Orange lentils are a good in between. For beans, soak them in the fridge overnight, then rinse them and cook them as usual. You can also quick soak them by boiling them for 5min then turning off the heat and sealing the steam in with your lid. Leave them streaming for an hour and you're good to use them in your cooking. Beans in general have a great nutritional profile with lots of fiber. I love making lentil curry (dal) or the Frugalwoods rice and bean recipe.
2. Cut down on meat
This one makes a lot of sense, cutting down on meat is not only great for the environment but also for your budget. The average active person only needs to take their kilo weight (say 60kg) and use that number in grams for their daily protein intake. This means I'd be set for the day after eating two chicken breasts at 30 grams of protein each. Instead I eat animal products like eggs and dry curd cottage cheese and I keep a balanced diet including lentils, quinoa, peanut butter, broccoli, brussel sprouts et.c. My toast is sprouted grains (regular bread hurts my tummy) and has 6 grams of protein a slice.
3. Grains grains grains!
Don't be scared of grains! I've always wondered why instant noodles are such a dorm favourite. Pasta is so much more economical! Now I don't tend to eat a lot of pasta myself but rice is just as cheap. Especially when you are trying to make your budget stretch, grains are an amazing way of lowering the price point of your meal. We talked about oats earlier, and by making your carb pasta or rice, or even potatoes (not a grain but cheap) a third of your plate you'll shrink your budget and be able to save more.
Coffee isn't cheap, but a lot of us are addicted. First of all, never go out for coffee. It's a couple of dollars but you'd be paying $0.60 or less for a cup from home. The cost adds up. First of all, whole beans are a must. So spend $10-20 on a coffee grinder. You can use this for grinding spices, making tahini and lots of other stuff so, a worthwhile investment and it doesn't take up a lot of space. You can also spice up cheaper coffee by adding cinnamon and cardamom. Both absolutely delicious.
5. Oats are great
Some people don't care for oatmeal, but if you do, it should be your go to breakfast! Oats are extremely affordable (depending on how big of a bag you purchase you're looking at $0.05-$0.20 a serving). If you're not a fan of oatmeal, oats are a great way of filling out your regular granola making your budget stretch just a liiittle further without really compromising taste.
Make it from scratch, barring pasta and noodles, most of the processed food you eat can easily be made at home, from scratch, without any crazy tools. Not only will it be more nutritious but you won't have any unnecessary additives or junk in there. You'll also make it for cheaper and more delicious. Figure out what out of the processed food you consume you can make yourself and go to town experimenting with different recipes. I personally tend to make pizza and bake bread. Both super easy and a lot of fun!
7. Buy in (Holiday) Season
Buying in season is important, not only will you get cheaper produce but it'll be tastier too! While I try to buy local I love when winter rolls around and oranges and mandarins take on a whole different flavour. If you want to save big chunks of money, shop right after a holiday that revolves around food for some screaming deals. I love buying cheap turkeys after Thanksgiving and Christmas and often add a lot of brussel sprouts and cranberries (to dehydrate) into my basket.
You can preserve a lot of different kinds of produce in many different ways. You can make jams, cordials, chutneys but also a huge variety of pickles. Learn a few different recipes and preserve in season foods while they are cheap. It'll keep you loaded with tasty nutritious condiments and snacks for the entire winter.
9. Eliminate Waste
This should be easy, but I'm sure most of us have forgotten about something in the fridge, only to come back to it rotting and having to throw it out. Sure, using a meal plan is great and can help you eliminate waste, however for a lot of us with varying schedules, side hustles and events going on, meal planning can be tough. Instead start recognising what items often go to waste, and if you really really want these items; make a point to cook with them first. If there are leftovers, you have an easy lunch for the next day. You can also date your leftovers if you find them stacking up and use the FIFO (first in, first out) principle.
10. Choose your battles
Getting down to spending $1/meal is tough. While it's my goal, honestly I can't always make it work. You have to pick your battles, choose what's important to you. Do you like eating a lot of meat? Buy big family packs to freeze when on sale at the grocery store and aim to pad it out with cheaper produce. Are you an environmentalist? I'd rather buy my produce at the farmers market and only eat meat twice a month as for me it's more worth it to eat local and preferably organic. When it comes to meat I prefer it to be grass fed and treated better than in the commercial meat industry, so spending $12 on a steak for two becomes worthwhile. If you love the experience of eating out, stick to rice and beans with cheap in season produce when you eat at home. If you love the food you can get when eating out, learn to cook your favourite recipes at home.