Eating Simply: How to Save Time and Money in the Kitchen
This post was written by Local Foods Intern, Azalea Thomson.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a 4-person family with a low to moderate budget spends between $858 and $1071.90 monthly on their grocery bill. Averaged, this comes to a grocery bill of $964.95 for a typical middle-income family.
To put this further into perspective, 4 people eating 3 meals a day for one month is 91.25 meals per person, or 365 total meals. This would average out to $2.68 per meal. When you think about it that way, that almond milk latte for $3.95 and deli sandwich for $9 seem awfully expensive! But it’s never too late to start saving money— with a few simple techniques and a grocery budget of $525 (around $1.44 per meal) you can still eat healthy and delicious food.
Everyone wants to lower their bills, but some people seem to get stuck on the idea that eating a healthy diet full of fresh foods, while still maintaining a budget, is impossible. This is where I tell you (as a poor college student who shudders at the thought of microwave meals), that it is completely feasible—all you need is a game plan. By setting aside some time at the start of the week to shop, prepare, and cook, it will be much easier to limit tempting and unnecessary purchases later.
When Sunday rolls around, it’s time to get planning and prepping. If you are able to get your grocery shopping done on Saturday, your work will be much easier, but if not, then plan to cook and prep as soon into the week as possible to eliminate stress and over-spending. If planning different meals for every week of the night is too much work for you, then get creative in how you might be able to reuse a dish. Perhaps if you make a large batch of chili you can turn the leftovers into a red sauce to serve over pasta the next night. Cooking a big pot of quinoa or brown rice to use in salads or to serve with stews and curries is a great staple food to store in the fridge.
You can even prep an entire week’s worth of healthy breakfasts by portioning out oats and chia seeds into containers or mason jars. The night before, simply add in a pinch of spices or sweetener, fill the jar with milk, and stick it in the fridge. In the morning, top your oats with fruit. If you prefer to eat your oats warm, you can just pour the contents of the jar into a saucepan, add the milk in the morning and heat it up. Smoothies are usually best fresh, but by freezing the smoothie overnight, it will retain much of its flavor and nutrients. You can even pack your frozen smoothie in a lunchbox where it doubles as a temporary ice pack.
Simple and satisfying lunches come in the form of leftovers and salads. Top greens with quinoa and tofu, or fill a bowl with beans, rice, salsa, and avocado. The main idea here is to make preparing lunches as simple as possible so that time and costs are minimal, while still packing in lots of nutrients and flavor. It’s easy to just fill Tupperware containers with the leftover food after dinner and by eating them the next day for lunch, food is less likely to go to waste.
Preparing dinners is where most of the cooking takes place, though it is by no means difficult or complicated cooking. Knowing how to do basic tasks like stir-frying tofu and vegetables, soaking and boiling dry beans, or baking a batch of sweet potatoes provide the foundation for creating a delicious and filling meal. Even better, tasks such as these don’t require constant attention, saving you even more time.
Finally, here are a few more tips to keep your grocery spending low while still having a versatile diet:
- Breakfast: Stay away from boxed cereals and opt for oatmeal or other homemade items. You will save on packaging costs and unhealthy added sugars!
- Lunch: Eat leftovers or salads with lots of different textures and flavors.
- Dinner: Combine hearty ingredients such as beans, greens, and grains made in large batches.
Below is a full week of meals, completely budgeted out that comes to just over $500 a month.
A simple vegan/vegetarian week of meals
This Sunday Game Plan represents portions for one person based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Grocery List: (for a household of 4)
The grocery list below represents approximate costs for 4 people eating the above quantities.
- rolled oats- 1, 32 oz. bag ($4.49)
- tortillas- 1 bag ($2.69)
- quinoa- 1 bag ($4.99)
- rice paper wraps- 1 package ($3.99)
- brown rice- 5 lb. bag ($5.79)
- pizza dough-1 bag ($1.29)
- soy milk- 32 oz. pack of 12 ($23.49)
- almonds- 16 oz. ($6.49)
- chia seeds- 12 oz. ($4.99)
- tofu- 4, 16 oz. packages ($7.96)
- peanut butter- 1 jar ($3.49)
- chick peas- 4 can ($3.56)
- lentils- 1 lb. bag ($1.69)
- black beans- 2 can ($1.78)
- kidney beans- 2 can ($1.78)
- mozzarella cheese- 1 bag ($3.99)
- bananas- 3 bunches ($3.04)
- frozen berries- 1 12 oz. bag ($2.99)
- apples- 1, 2 lb. bag ($2.49)
- onion- 1 bag ($2.49)
- avocado-1 bag ($2.99)
- sweet potatoes- 1, 3 lb. bag ($3.99)
- frozen corn- 1 package ($1.79)
- kale- 1 bunch ($2.99)
- spinach- 1 lb. tub ($3.99)
- hummus- 1 tub ($2.29)
- edamame- 1 bag ($1.69)
- carrots- 1 bag ($0.79)
- mushrooms- 1 package ($2.29)
- bell peppers- pack of 3 ($3.99)
- marinara sauce- 18 oz. jar ($1.29)
- canned diced tomatoes- 4 cans ($3.38)
- chocolate chips- 1 bag ($1.99)
- medjool dates- 1 package ($4.49)
If you spend $131.42 a week, your monthly costs should be about $525 (saving you $419 from the typical American household).
*Substituting the same amount of organic chicken breast for tofu would raise your bill by ~$12
*Substituting the same amount of organic ground beef for lentils would raise your bill by ~$3
*Substituting the same amount of organic dairy milk for organic soy milk would lower your bill by ~$5
*Substituting 1 lb. wild salmon for 1 pound of sweet potatoes would raise your bill by ~$17