This week’s posting schedule is a little different from usual. This week the articles will be from the content of the upcoming eBook PLAN COOK SAVE, which will be available from next Monday 27th June.
For the average family, the cost of food and other groceries is the third largest expense after the mortgage and car payments. That’s a huge chunk out of the budget. But the grocery budget is a lot more flexible than repayments, so it’s not surprising that many of us strive to save money on the groceries.
But we also know it’s important to eat healthy food. In fact, of all the jobs we have to do each day, preparing healthy meals is one of the most important.
Healthy food gives you the energy and vitality you and your family need to live a full life. It helps prevent illness and chronic disease like obesity and diabetes. It keeps you in shape and makes your skin glow. It even makes you smarter.
PLAN COOK SAVE is all about finding the balance between saving money, eating healthy food and saving time.
What is healthy food
Despite having managed it for thousands of years, eating got really complicated sometime over the last few decades. Suddenly it’s not just about filling our bellies and pleasing our taste buds, we are now supposed to think about calories, trans fats, omega threes, anti-oxidants, whether we’ve eaten enough of this or too much of that…
It doesn’t have to be that hard.
Eating healthy is simply a matter of eating natural whole foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, meat, dairy, eggs, herbs and spices most of the time.
But what about organic food?
There is no question that organic food grown without pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals is better. Better for you and better for the environment. You don’t have to be ‘alternate’ to not want chemicals in your body.
But organic food is expensive.
While I would love to eat all organic foods or food that is sustainable, chemical free and naturally grown or reared, the truth is that I don’t.
Our grocery budget doesn’t stretch that far.
The thing is, if you’re eating less packaged foods and more whole foods, then you’re already eating healthy.
‘Organic’ is the icing on the cake, so to speak.
When it comes to healthy eating, focus on wholefoods, buy organic foods when you can (even it it’s just a few things) and if you have some spare time, grow some of your own food organically to supplement what you buy.
Saving money on the groceries
The eBook covers tips on buying, storing and using all the basic foods listed above as well as specific savings tips for each food group and ideas for using up leftovers. However, there are two main, overarching tips for saving money on the groceries:
- cooking whole foods from scratch; and
- reducing waste
Cooking from scratch
Cooking food from scratch means avoiding takeaway food, pre-packaged foods and convenience foods and cooking basic foods (meat, vegetables, grains etc) from scratch most of the time.
What does from scratch mean? It means marinating your meat rather than buying it pre-marinated in who knows what. It means chopping your vegetables rather than buying tinned vegetables (except tomatoes and beans) or pre-chopped vegetables. It means making your own casserole with herbs and stock rather than buying a recipe base in a packet. I’m not saying you have to make everything, like pasta for instance, from scratch (although you can if you want) and it’s ok to use some conveniences like curry paste. The point is to avoid the stuff that you can reasonably make yourself at home.
then there’s the realities of life…
If you’re a regular reader of Frugal and Thriving then you know that we eat takeaway on a fairly regular basis (around once a fortnight). Like most people, there are days that I’ve been disorganised, or that I’m exhausted or something else comes up and we opt for the convenience option.
We’re lucky we have a convenience option.
When you’re trying to eat healthy and save money, the most important thing I’ve learned over the years is to cook from scratch most of the time and give yourself a break occasionally. You don’t have to, but if you need to rely on convenience foods sometimes, then you really don’t need a side serving of guilt with along with it (in fact guilt can make you put on weight)!
I’ve found the best option is to allow yourself a ‘junk food rule’ or two if you need to, where you only eat junk food on a certain night of the week, and then stick to the good stuff for the rest of the time. Scheduling your occasional convenience foods establishes expectations within your family (cutting down on the nag factor at other times), and I found that by allowing yourself a guilt free day off, it actually reduces how much you eat takeaway.
Buy what you need and eat what you buy
Wasted food can literally add up to thousands of dollars per year.
Don’t believe me?
Here are the stats. The average basket of groceries in Australia in 2007 cost $281 per week or $14,612 per year. (ABS stats). The average household wastes approximately 30% of the food that they buy (Aus. Gov. stats). That equates to $4,383 per year. And that’s just the average.
The first step to reducing your grocery bill is to reduce your waste.
How do you reduce waste?
The key is to:
- plan what you’re going to eat (more tomorrow)
- buy only what you need
- store it correctly
- eat what you buy
Saving money on meat
As meat is one of the biggest expenses in the grocery budget, today I want to look at ways of saving money on meat. Here are just a few tips for saving money on meat:
- Don’t avoid the cheaper cuts of meat. The perception is that the cheaper cuts of meat are full of fat and therefore unhealthy, which isn’t always the case. Often the cheaper cuts of meat come from the leaner, muscled areas of an animal (the neck, shoulders and legs) making them tougher cuts of meat. These cheaper cuts of meat do require a little extra care to make them succulent and tender (like slow cooking, for example), however the effort is worth it as these cuts also have a richer flavour.
- Eat less meat by having smaller serves or regular vegetarian meals. Studies say we eat up to five times more meat than is healthy for us. I know what you’re thinking. My husband is also a prime steak and potatoes kind of guy. My answer:
- Make your meat go further by cooking meals that can be bulked up with vegetables, beans or lentils like curries, casseroles, stews, pies, quiches, stir fries etc. DH’s specialty that he cooks is lamb and lentil casserole (sometimes you can make the horse drink).
- Stir fries are a good dish for your more expensive ‘heart smart’ meats because a little goes along way when bulked up with lots of veg and served with rice or noodles.
- Bulk up mince dishes like spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne, rissoles etc with cooked red lentils. Don’t tell anyone. They really won’t notice the difference. I know someone who swears blind they’ve never eaten lentils. But I know better – they’ve eaten my rissoles.
- Buy in bulk and save. Even if you don’t have access to a wholesale butcher, your local supermarket will have bulk buys, specials and discounted items. Buy up big at these times, portion your meat and freeze and save money over the long run.
- Enjoy your expensive cuts on special occasions.
(In the resources section of the eBook is a printable guide to common meat cuts, their relative cost compared to other cuts from the same animal and suggested cooking methods.)
If you’ve read so far and thought ‘yeah, that’s lovely, but I don’t have time to cook from scratch’ tomorrow’s post is about saving time by planning ahead and how to make that planning time quick and easy.
What’s your biggest challenge to eating healthy on a budget?
Disclosure: Links to merchants within this post may be affiliate links.