When the pandemic first hit I saw a meme listing a “coronavirus budget”. Basically, it had zero in every category and some huge number like $357,232 after “groceries”.
The meme made me laugh because it hit close to home. Before corona flipped our world on its head, we ate out fairly often. My husband was gone at work during dinner and sometimes lunch as well most days, so I didn’t do a lot of cooking or need that many groceries. I thought I did, but the truth is, I had it easy. Now that he is home and my four-year-old doesn’t have school, I cook every meal, usually from scratch. And no, I don’t have a dishwasher.
At first, I was completely overwhelmed. But slowly I improved my meal-planning game and I added several more go-to recipes to my repertoire. I invested in pantry organization systems and finally became one of those people who gets grocery delivery.
I know that I was already supposed to know how much money you save by cooking at home, but I guess I just had to see it to believe it. It. Is. So. Much.
And once I realized how little I had to spend to feed my family, I became more and more interested in how to really get my grocery spending down. It became like a game for a while (and don’t get me wrong, I know that it isn’t a game at all to so many families worldwide), but then I started to remember that our health is an investment. I am blessed to be able to afford nutritious, delicious items. There had to be a balance between saving money and making good food choices.
Here are some ideas that have helped me:
The Cheapest Ingredients
If you use low-price items as the base of most of your meals, it’s easier to control what you spend. The “extras” are optional and you can pick and choose how expensive your meal will get.
- Canned tuna
- Potatoes (gold or russet)
- Green peas
This isn’t true for every item (like specialty fruits) but food is generally priced lower when it’s in season because there aren’t associated importing costs.
Shop the Deals
If you eat a lot of meat, consider always buying what is on sale and freezing it in portions. Then you can rotate meals throughout the coming weeks. I also like to choose side dishes based on what veggies are on sale that week, etc.
The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen
Do you buy organic? Organic means that your foods haven’t been sprayed with pesticides or the animals you eat were not fed foods sprayed with pesticides. Pesticides are poisons, so I’d rather keep them out of my body and those of my family.
That being said, it’s debatable how much poison gets into your body and how much damage it can do. The Dirty Dozen is a list of foods that have the highest concentration of pesticides on them, so I always go organic for these options. The Clean Fifteen is a list of foods that have the lowest concentration of pesticides on the parts you eat, so I feel fine getting the regular version and saving a few bucks.
In the end, we all have to do what’s best for our family. Sometimes, we need to save more than usual and it’s OK not to have perfectly balanced meals every day. But I believe we should always have health at the forefront of our minds when making these decisions.