In fact, I recommend that we really need to shift our entire mindset and some of our planning habits, not just our purchasing habits, at the grocery store. We need to think about our meals from a week-to-week perspective and our food from store to table (or trash can, as it may be).
Here’s what I mean. In past years, as long as I felt like I was getting the best deal on whatever I bought, I didn’t really think about how I used those items.
When the pandemic first hit and we were all in lockdown, I immediately shifted my meal planning strategy to include at least two meals per week of beans and rice. This allowed me to stretch all the food I had in my house longer and ensured that I was spending less per meal on average throughout the week. And in fact, that’s habit number one.
Meal Planning Resources
Here are the meal planning services (in no particular order) that I endorse for you to pick based on you and your family’s needs!
- 30 Minute Dinners from Don’t Waste the Crumbs
- Cooksmarts (great community of people to learn from)
- Real Plans (organizer to add your OWN recipes and replicate plans)
- PrepDish (prep ahead, easy meals all week)
- Kitchen & Meal Planning Binder by Nourishing Joy
- Customizable Low Fodmap Meal Plans
- Health Home and Happiness Grain-Free Meal Plans for GAPS Diet
Try out their freebies (some even have free trials) to see what fits your personality and preferences!
Habit #1: Meal Plan with Per Meal Cost in Mind
I know many of us are struggling to get food on the table both from a financial budget and (even more!) a time budget perspective. I work with a lot of families, some of which have picky eaters, and I hear the same story often.
Katie, it’s just hard to figure out what to serve each night. I don’t feel like I have time, so I just have to get something on the table.
If we can pull back from that mindset and realize that if we would plan one to two weeks at a time, with per meal cost in mind, we would both feel better day to day about the stress of getting something on the table (because we know what that something is) and our grocery budget would automatically go down.
My example of including two meatless meals per week is a great place to start. How can you use more rice, legumes like black beans or lentils, and inexpensive vegetables like cabbage in your weekly meal plan?
Sure, those prepackaged pre-portioned, grass-fed burgers are nice for a day when you didn’t plan dinner until 5:30. But they’re going to cost you a whole lot more than the Gallo pinto recipe from my son’s book Chef Junior with a single fried egg on top for extra protein (optional).
You can check out my last post on how to save on every item you buy at the grocery store for more ideas and reducing the cost of meat in particular. In general, think about less expensive cuts of meat and how to stretch that meat using other also wholesome ingredients, like brown rice, legumes, and other whole grains.
Making soup, with or without legumes, and beany things like chili or black bean burritos are an excellent place to start.
Ultimately, this strategy will make the most difference if you’re really intentional about including one to two meatless meals per week and also taking some time to consider how much you’re spending per dinner or per serving on what you normally eat.
You may find that of your family’s favorite five meals, you have three that are already decently budget-friendly and two that are quite extravagant in the long run. You can plan those two fewer times over the course of two to three months, and you’re automatically saving, while hardly changing anything that your family loves.
Making chicken soup or grilling bone-in chicken thighs rather than relying on boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one of the most expensive cuts of chicken) is another great way to do this with small shifts.
Habit #2: Grocery Shop Every Other Week
I know many of us have a weekly grocery shopping habit, and some of you probably shop multiple times a week. That might be because you’d like to go to multiple stores or because you forgot something and had to make a last-minute grocery run.
Here’s the thing. Every time we go into a store, we increase our chances of spending more than we intended. This is less of a problem with grocery delivery; however, every time you get a grocery delivery, you’re certainly spending to get that to your house. So how can we shop less? And why does that save money?
First, the how. Shopping every other week means that you need to buy some produce that will last for two weeks. During the second week, your salad probably won’t be lettuce but will become cabbage.
Instead of cucumbers, raw veggies may lean more toward carrots, celery, and peppers. Even cauliflower lasts for two weeks. You may rely more on frozen vegetables and fruits during the second week, or make sure that you have some apples that will last for easily two weeks in the fridge.
Interestingly enough, most of the hearty produce that lasts for the second week is automatically less per pound. Therefore, that’s another place to save.
Shopping every two weeks also forces you to be a little more intentional about how you plan your meals, which loops us back to habit number one and really trying to reduce your food waste.
If this feels impossible, then hey, start with shopping every 9 to 10 days instead of every 6 to 7 days. See what happens to your grocery budget. See what happens to your intentional meal planning. And maybe you’ll find some new hearty vegetables that your family enjoys.
My friend Tiffany is brilliant about saving money on real food at the grocery store, and I’m always recommending her Grocery Budget Bootcamp to people!
Learn The Secrets To Getting A Healthy Meal On The Table Faster
Grocery Budget Bootcamp enrollment is closed for now, but Tiffany will be opening up enrollment for a new session soon.
If you want to be notified when the next session starts, just click over and enter your email. In the meantime, when you sign up to be notified, she’ll send you her FREE download Simple Ways to Save teaching you how to properly navigate the grocery store and avoid pitfalls in order to save more money on groceries with very little work (actually, ZERO work!).
This free resource is designed to help you cut your grocery spending right now, so you don’t have to wait to save money. It’s yours for free, when you sign up here!
Habits #3: How Much Food Do You Have on Hand?
I remember years ago, during a time when hurricanes were hitting the South, reading a mainstream article about preparedness. That article stated that most Americans have less than three days of food on hand. I nearly choked on my water.
I thought about my basement full of 25-pound buckets of legumes and whole grains, plenty of cans of fish and chicken, as well as potatoes, onions, apples, and other hearty fruits and vegetables that I just always have on hand. Without even trying, I likely have two to three months of food.
In times of inflation, and especially when there is a possible food shortage coming, I highly recommend being more like me than that average American from the article. It’s time to think about what you can purchase that stores well. The last post in this series will do a deep dive into the items I most highly recommend you stock up on in times of a potential food shortage.
But for now, I just want you to consider … if you buy something non-perishable, can you buy two and tuck one away? When you’re buying produce, be sure to buy some things that will last a really long time – both like my favorite cabbage for the refrigerator and frozen fruits and vegetables to fill as much freezer space as you have.
When meat goes on sale, can you buy a little extra and very purposefully save it for later instead of using up everything you have all the time? These are just some thoughts to get you started.
Bottom Line: Change Your Mindset, Change Your Food Budget
Once again, decreasing our grocery budget isn’t always about every item we buy at the store. It’s about thinking end to end holistically: how we will use that item, how quickly we can use it up, and ultimately the cost of each meal or each serving that we provide for our family.
See what you can do about taking baby steps on these three habits:
- Meal plan with a per meal price in mind.
- Grocery shop only every two weeks.
- Prioritize food storage that will make a difference just in case.
I look forward to sharing the foods that are most important to stock up on in the last post in this series. We real foodies can survive in times of inflation without killing our grocery budget or reducing our nutritional standards.
It’s what we’ve done since 2009 here at Kitchen Stewardship®, where we do our best to balance our budget, our time, our family’s nutrition, and even care for the environment. Just because prices are rising doesn’t mean anything changes about good stewardship.
I’m curious to know how long you think your family could eat on the food you have in your home right now!