Save Money on Groceries – Shopping For Healthy Food
For several months now, I’ve been consistently saving quite a bit of money each week in my grocery shopping adventures. When I mentioned this to a friend, she asked me “What has changed? Have you given up on this ‘healthy food’ thing?” No, of course not! Shopping for healthy food does not automatically mean you need to take out a second mortgage on your home!
Her question caused me to think. I was able to put my finger on the major things that have changed in my grocery shopping routine that have resulted in this savings.
I spend a lot more time planning than I ever used to. Many months ago, we had a “round table” discussion as a family where each family member let me know what some of their favorite meals are. I wrote them all down.
After that, I wrote down the most common types of meat/protein staple foods that are served in our family meals, along with a list of meal ideas from my family under each type of meat. For example, under “ground bison” I have their favorite meals like Southwest bison lettuce wraps, tacos, chili, soup, burgers, cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, etc. I do the same for chicken breast, venison, sausage, eggs and so on.
I also made index cards for each of the 3 stores I most commonly shop at and the items I typically purchase at those stores. I keep these lists handy as I’m planning so I know where I’ll be purchasing the groceries I need, and where I’m likely to get the best price.
Before heading out for my ‘major’ shopping trip of the week. I sit down with our family’s schedule for the week – I see which nights we’re going to be out later for work, teaching a seminar, playing sports or attending various events, and I pick either a quick dinner option for that night (big salad, soup, quesadillas, etc.) or I choose a slow cooker option that I can start much earlier in the day. The nights that I’ll be home earlier, I plan on the meals that require a bit more prep time.
Occasionally, there’s a special type of lunch being served at the kids’ school. I make sure I have healthier ingredients on hand so that we can make a healthier version of this meal ahead of time to take to school. For example, this week is the monthly pizza day at school. At school the ‘conventional’ pizza is served along with carrots & ranch dip, a brownie and a juice box.
Instead, we start with a pre-made organic, whole grain or gluten free crust, add organic sauce and whole, raw cheese, and our own toppings. They get carrots, but no (conventional) ranch – usually I’ll pack some hummus, or we’ll make our own ranch, or I’ll purchase a brand with no high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients. We don’t do the conventional juice or juice drinks. Once in awhile I’ll pack diluted organic juice, or maybe a container of an organic, low-sugar brand that I trust. No brownie. I’ll usually just pack some fresh fruit instead or some homemade sweet.
So, if there are special events, this is all taken into account before shopping.
I like the idea of cooking food once and getting several different ‘servings’ out of it. So, for example, I’ll cook some ground bison, use some for lettuce wraps one night, some for tacos or quesadillas a couple days later or for cheesy bison eggs for the kids breakfast, and then some for soup. I keep this type of “multi-use” cooking in mind when deciding on the schedule of meals for the week.
I also consider what leftovers can be re-purposed for the kids’ (or our) lunch, and possibly even breakfast, the next day.
I usually only plan through the weekdays, leaving the majority of our weekend meals open. We either whip up some surprising assortment from all the left overs or yet-to-be consumed foods, or we’ll end up going out for a meal on the weekend.
So, the steps that seem to be making a big difference in the bottom line of our grocery expenses are:
1) I take the time to plan the meals for the week.
2) I make the shopping list based upon the ingredients for these planned meals. I do a “big” shopping trip once where I load up with the biggies, then I plan on a second (sometimes a third) and MUCH smaller trip later in the week to replenish produce.
3) I have a mental list of ‘staple’ items that I’m always on the look out for sale prices on – if it’s on sale, and it’s something we use/eat regularly AND it’ll keep even if we don’t eat it this week, then it goes in the cart!
4) When it makes sense for our menu and type of nutrition approach, I’ll purchase coupon items – they might help determine what’s on the menu this week, or if they’ll keep, they get to come home, too. Unfortunately, at least where I live, there aren’t too many coupons out there for fresh, real, clean food! The majority of coupons I see are for things I don’t want to consume in the first place. I have to dig to find the products I’d buy, but I do find them once in awhile.
5) I stick to the list in the store. (The kids know that if it’s not on the list, it’s not going in the cart without a really persuasive presentation!)
6) We stick to our meal plan throughout the week. I might mix it up a bit here and there, but overall we stay on track. I’m not so stingy that I’ll pass up a fabulous spur-of-the-moment invitation or opportunity, though! Don’t worry!
7) We waste less food.
7) I don’t buy junk when I shop for groceries. This isn’t really any different than how I shopped before – it’s just worth mentioning since it makes an enormous difference in the total grocery bill! Once in awhile, I buy organic corn chips, but it’s not the norm. I don’t buy the ‘other’ kind of chips or pretzels or munchie-type foods. I rarely buy breakfast cereal. I don’t buy packaged snacks, crackers, cookies, ice cream, candy, baked goods or pastries. I don’t buy pop, juice, juice drinks, sports drinks or milk.
Since I spend very little money on any of these things, I can spend more money on the type of meat, eggs, dairy and grains that I prefer based on their health quotient. Make sense?
It’s not that I never, ever buy some these things – but it’s rare that they’re in our house. If they were in our house, I’d eat them! Just ask a bag of chips!! By the way, sticking to the meal plan and not buying junk are powerful ways to stay on track with your healthier diet and your weight loss/fat loss efforts.
Just the other day, I was next to a lady in our local ‘conventional’ grocery store. We were both looking at tomatoes. I was closely reading pricing signs and trying to match them up with their accompanying tomatoes in the display – I was searching for the organic options. She saw the focus on my face and assumed I was thinking what she was thinking. She said, “I KNOW! These are SO expensive, aren’t they?!” Then she said, “Forget it… I can’t afford to eat healthy!” as she tossed her tomatoes back into the display and stormed off!
(I thought that someone I know must have set me up with a hidden camera somewhere!)
As she walked away, completely ticked off at the Gods of Produce Pricing, I caught a glimpse of her shopping cart contents. It was loaded with brightly colored packages of chips, crackers, cookies, ice cream, several large bottles of pop, and juice drinks. My heart sank. Then I thought, “I can’t afford to eat what’s in YOUR cart!”
There have been many perks and bonuses to planning our meals this way, in addition to saving anywhere from $25-$50 per week on average.
We don’t have as many of those last-minute, “I’m too tired/lazy to cook” dinners out that tend to be unhealthy and expensive. I don’t have that dreaded, “What should I make for dinner?” conversation with myself at 5:45 pm! The kids know the menu for the week, so there’s less whining about their options – after all, THEY chose the menu items! And, we have much better quality family time together as we sit down to our table, hold hands, offer grace and talk about what we’re thankful for.
Saving money is a very good thing!