Do you buy your apples organic? A recent screening from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found pesticide residue in 98% of apples, the highest rate of all the produce it examined. The numbers are shocking! To us, it’s clear: organic is healthier, safer, and overall better for us, our families, and the environment. While we would prefer to feed our little ones apple slices that aren’t contaminated with pesticide residue, organic isn’t exactly the thriftiest option. However, there are ways to get organic for cheaper. You can still make cheap family meals with organic ingredients. All it takes is a little bit of brain power and prioritizing to make organic fit into your budget-friendly family meal plan.
Shop seasonal: Shopping seasonally will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to organic, and you can often find seasonal ingredients on sale, too!
Go for the off-brand: Both regular and all-organic supermarkets frequently provide organic versions of big-name organic products. When you’re at a supermarket, pick the store brand over big-name organic products.
Shop at farmer’s markets: Most of your buys will be cheaper and fresher at the farmer’s markets. If you don’t see a sign that says organic, be sure to ask. Most farmers at the markets are making the transition into organic farming, but haven’t earned the necessary funds to get officially certified. Just because they’re not considered organic by the USDA, doesn’t mean that they’re not farming using organic, sustainable, and healthy practices. The best thing about farmer’s markets? You can haggle! Try to land a deal with the farmer for misshapen produce, or for bulk purchases. With a little bit of swindling, you could land yourself a deal.
Buying clubs: A buying club is a great way to get the organic food you want for cheap. Buying-club members purchase food and other organic products in bulk and then split the stash. In a buying club, you may be able to get 30 percent to 40 percent off the retail price.
Grow it yourself: We may not all have a green thumb, but growing small herbs, fruits, and veggies could give you a little bunch of produce for a fraction of the retail price. Best of all? It’s right in your backyard! If you’re a beginner, try growing a small indoor garden with plants like spinach, carrot, kale, basil, and rosemary, which will give you plants all year round.
Know what you should and shouldn’t buy organic: You don’t have to buy everything organic, necessarily. Plants with a husk or thick rind often go unpolluted by pesticides because of their thicker skin. Produce that usually goes pesticide-free includes avocado, pineapples, cantaloupe, kiwi, watermelon, grapefruit, and onions.
If you’re trying to keep your meals cheap but healthy, keep these tips in mind! When you buy organic you’ll taste and feel the difference, while feeling better about the meals that you’re serving your family.
When we’re meal planning on a budget, we usually just try to find ways to buy sales items or resist going out to eat. However, there are plenty of other ways to save! All you need is a few tools around the kitchen to help you save big time on your grocery store bill:
Coupon box: store all of your coupons based on their category (food, beverages, toiletries, etc.) in a coupon box. Keep all of your coupons neat and tidy to optimize savings. We recommend keeping your coupons in a plastic filing box, which should cost you only about $5.00.
Cheap recipes: Tear budget-worthy recipes out of your favorite food magazines and copy inexpensive recipes out of budgeter’s cook book. Then, compile your recipes together in a binder. Next time you want to try something new, all you have to do is open up your custom-made budgeter’s cookbook and flip the pages to see what piques your interest. Use plastic protectors to file your recipes and add plastic dividers to organize your recipes according to category.
Meal planner with calendar: Always have a written calendar where you can plan an organize your meals. This will help you plan in advance and never skip a beat when it comes to meal planning. You can often find meal planner templates online or, if you prefer, you can make a meal planner out of a kitchen calendar.
Grocery store checklist: Never leave the house without a printable grocery list. You will be shocked at how much you can save when you actually stick to your list. Make sure to include a grocery shopping list on your fridge, somewhere where your kids or spouse can add things that the family needs. You can find printable grocery lists online, make one your own, or buy one at the store.
Vacuum sealer: Vacuum sealers or a “Seal-a-Meal,” is the best tool to package your food for the freezer. Freeze your food and use them for leftovers instead of throwing them out or letting them go to waste. Vacuum sealers could cost as little as $28.00, if you do some bargain shopping. Make sure to date all of your food packages, too. Just don’t date your packages with a marker on the actual freezer back. The ink could run through and stain the food. Instead, write the date on the top of the freezer bag, where the ink won’t touch the food, or on a label.
Separate, outdoor freezer: You can always get an extra freezer for your garage if you can’t fit all of your leftovers and ice creams in your current freezer. A compact fridge could cost you as little as $100.00, while larger models will be a bit pricier.
Having tools around the house that help you save is a critical part of the budgeting process. At the very least, make sure you have meal planning tools and a coupon box to help you stay organized. Your investments will pay off!
In spite of horrifying documentaries like “Super-Size Me” and statistics about the effect of hyper processed food on our health, fast food corporations like McDonald’s continue to earn billion-dollar profits, year after year. All in all, the average U.S. family of four spends nearly $240 a month eating out, according to Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross of “Cheap. Fast. Good!”
We’re not pointing fingers, but chances are your family eats out more than you would like. Of course, we all know that eating in is much less expensive than eating out, even if you’re buying Happy Meals for a dollar a piece. Mark Bittman of the New York Times writes, “In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyper processed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9.” You can further reduce the cost of this meal by omitting the bacon, using dried beans, and substituting carrots for peppers. Combining inexpensive ingredients to make a great, filling meal, could save you a pretty penny in the long run.
To start saving up on groceries, try experimenting with some of these cheap meal ideas:
Soups and stews are easy, versatile, tasty, and extremely inexpensive. Buy off-brand stock that’s low in sodium and rich in consistency, and stock up on canned ingredients for soups when they are on sale. Canned chicken and beef broths can be replaced with the cheaper alternative: bouillon cubes in warm water.
Save money by making certain grocery store items on your own at home. There are many ideas for what you can make at home in Jennifer Reese’s book, “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.” In this book, Reese explains from first-hand experience that cooking some items at home can be very cost effective and she includes the recipes. Make your own sauces, like barbecue sauce, ketchup, and vinaigrettes. All you need is a decent food processor to make sauces at home. If you’re a fan of expensive, organic granola, you can save big by making it at home instead of buying at the store. Granola is high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, it lowers cholesterol, and a few dollars spent on rolled oats will feed you for breakfast for a week.
Invest in a crock pot to cook inexpensive cuts of meats to tenderness. You can also make your budget-friendly and filling soups and sauces in your crock pot.
Logically, if you’re budgeting you should always keep your eyes peeled for cheap ingredients. Generally, the cheapest fruits for their amount of nutritional value are apples and bananas, while cabbage and carrots are the more inexpensive of vegetables. Buy your produce seasonally, too. Seasonal produce is fresher and cheaper.
Rice and beans combine to make a complete protein when served together. If you’re strapped for cash, meals including rice and beans are your best bet for an incredibly cheap meal.
Take all of these cheap meal ideas into consideration when you’re heading to the grocery store and making meals at home. Trust us, the savings will add up before you know it. With a little creativity and some practice in the kitchen, you’ll be whipping up inexpensive culinary delights for many dinners to come.
Our salaries and rent are set, however, when it comes to food, studies show that we have a huge amount of decisions to make. Brian Wansink, the director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University estimates we make 227 decisions about what to eat every day. These decisions include questions like, “Should we have leftovers tonight or just order takeout?” and “Should I buy the expensive, imported cocoa for the cake or the off-brand?” Research shows that these seemingly infinitesimal decisions add up. “The average American household spent $3,778 on groceries in 2009, and another $2,736 in restaurants and bars,” according to a study by Bundle.com. The truth is, we could do better. While we might use coupons or resist urges to eat out more than once a week, we could still save more. If you are looking for a challenge, try making satisfying dinners for only $10 a pop. You never know, it could be easier than you think. We’ve already thought of 10 meals for $10 and under that could kick off your budget family meals challenge:
Fresh Lemon Trout with Couscous: For only $9.74, this meal is both satisfying and delectable. Trout provides an amazing amount of healthy, omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and help reduce symptoms of hypertension and depression, according to WebMD.
Mexican Night: Try hosting a Mexican night, cooking rice and beans with guacamole and salsa, which can easily come in at less than $10. Don’t be surprised if $10 is enough to give you a good hunk of leftovers, too!
Macaroni with Sausage and Bacon: You can’t go wrong with this American classic, and for $2 a serving, the price is right.
Chicken lettuce wraps with Peanut sauce: For anyone who likes Asian-inspired cuisine, chicken lettuce wraps are a healthy option. Season 1 lb of chicken tenders with chicken broth, soy sauce, lemon, ginger, and green onions and wrap in a large lettuce leaf for a crispy, filling dinner. Don’t forget the peanut sauce, which you can make out of peanut butter, chicken broth, lemon, brown sugar, and garlic. All of this will only cost you about $2.46 per serving.
Spicy Shredded Beef: Art Ginsberg of MrFood.com recommends slow cooking beef, seasoned with tomato sauce, chili powder, onion, and garlic, then serving it on rice or on a roll to make a meal that only costs about $2.40 a serving.
Lentil soup: While we may not think of soups as conventional meals, lentils are extremely filling and make for a hearty dinner. You can take this classic soup and for only $6 for 4 servings. Lentils provide you and your family with an incredible amount of fiber, iron, and vitamin C.
Quesadillas: No one can turn down a quesadilla and at only $9.57 for four servings, we’re starting to crave some warm, spicy cheese over a buttered and browned tortilla. Add salad, refried beans, and fajita-style chicken, all for under $10.
Spinach Salad with Chicken and White beans: Bagged spinach is one of the most affordable, healthy foods out there, at only $3 for a huge bag. Just add grilled chicken breast, a simple vinaigrette (combining olive oil with salt and pepper from the pantry) and a can of white beans, all for $9.03.
Spanish Chickpea Stew: Celebrity chef Jose Andres presented a meal for NPR’s “How Low Can You Go” family dinner challenge that brings a little bit of Spanish flavor to the table for only $9.71. Use dried chickpeas, which are cheaper than canned and taste better, too. Simmer your chickpeas (hydrated overnight) with saffron, paprika, spinach, ground cumin, olive oil, and garlic, and make a “bread paste” to give the stew some texture.
Frittata: While a frittata may sound a little fancy, you can easily make this open omelet with all of your leftovers in the fridge. You can do the same with a quiche Lorraine, which CNN notes as a great “recession recipe.” At $10 for 8 servings, a veggie quiche or frittata will give you plenty of food for less.
So, how low can you go? Just do two $10 dinners a week and you could save thousands of dollars over the course of the year. Keep your eyes peeled for budget grocery list ingredients at the grocery store and you’ll have a bit of savings for a rainy day.
A vegetarian diet can be beneficial for everyone, including omnivores. Not only is eating vegetarian better for the environment, but there are a number of studies that claim that eating less meat could reduce cancer risk. In fact, large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40% less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.
While the health and environmental perks are great, having a vegetarian meal every once in a while can also help you cut a pretty penny out of your meal budget fast. Without the need for pricey meats, your grocery store budget will plummet. Even if you only partake in something like “Meatless Mondays,” you could end up saving a ton in the long run. Here are some great ideas for vegetarian family meals on a budget:
Vegetarian chili: Vegetarian chili is inexpensive and delicious. Make it in bulk and have some friends over to help you enjoy it. All you need is kidney beans (or black beans and chickpeas) as a base and dried chili peppers, corn, onions and tomatoes.
Ravioli with Arugula: You can “jazz up” ravioli with minced garlic, shallots, and arugula. Ravioli is a great budget-friendly vegetarian meal that is perfect for when you really don’t feel like cooking.
Stir Fry: Rice is extremely inexpensive, as are bagged frozen vegetables and both ingredients can be used to make a great stir fry. Buy the generic brand of frozen veggies and stock up when they’re on sale to whip up a great stir fry. Use peanuts as a base for your sauce to give your stir fry a bit of protein. Get your nuts wholesale at a warehouse club for the best buy.
Bean Burgers: Instead of having meaty burgers, cook up some bean burgers, which can be garnished to taste just as good with some guacamole and a buttered hamburger bun. Bean burgers, made with quinoa, pinto beans, and cornmeal, can be made for $3 or less.
Sweet Potato Fritters: Get creative with your veggies by making them into crispy fritters. You can make sweet potato, zucchini, or even cauliflower fritters.
Eating vegetarian meals isn’t just great for your health, it’s great for your budget, as well! Try planning a “Meatless Monday” where you can prepare vegetarian family meals on a budget.
Eighty-nine percent of Americans regularly use coupons when shopping for groceries according to the Nielsen Company and they are saving big, about $3 billion a year! Coupons are great assets to any family trying to meal plan on a budget. However, it can be tricky to get the most bang for your buck when using coupons. There are plenty of couponing strategies that can help you cut your grocery bills in half.
Tips for Using Coupons When Budget Meal Planning
You may have been using coupons for years, but do know all the tips n’ tricks to getting great deals? Here are some couponing secrets that may help you out in the long haul:
When cutting coupons out of the coupon insert in your newspaper, you will find a tiny date printed on the inside edge (or the side that has the binding on it, usually on the lefthand side of a book or magazine) of the coupon insert (the coupon pages that are inserted into your local newspaper). Instead of squinting and examining this date every time you go back into your coupon archives, write the date on the outside of the coupon with a sharpie to make it more visible.
Clip each group of coupons from the newspaper together to help you keep them compact. Then, store them based on your written date. You can often use these coupons for up to 6 months.
Compile your coupons as you get them by brand or type of food to save time when you need to grab them before shopping. Staple your coupon inserts or internet printouts together and cut when you’re ready to take them to grocery store.
As a general rule, buy the smallest or smaller size. When you’re looking at a bulk deal at the grocery store, do the math. Carry a calculator in your purse or simply do the calculations on your phone’s calculator function to dictate the price per ounce. While the bulk buy may be a better deal without your coupons, with the coupons you are getting more bang for your buck when purchasing the smaller item.
Buy items on rotation, based on your coupons. You’ll never be able to go and get all of your products at the same time if you’re really trying to save. Instead, buy in bulk when you’re purchasing non-perishables if you’re getting the lowest price per ounce.
Know the rules for each supermarket. Some Grocers triple coupons that are less than 50 cents, others accept competitors’ coupons. Get the facts so that you can be informed when you shop and look for coupons.
Once you master these tips, you’ll be a coupon queen in no time. With a little practice and some studying, you’ll be shocked at how much you can save when you’re using a budget grocery list and some sensible meal planning.