Regardless of what we like to eat, one thing we all have in common is watching the cost of our grocery bill. For most of us, spending upwards of $150 a week on groceries, not including pricier items (such as dog food and detergent), is quite common. Factor in the two or three quick stops each week to pick up a few forgotten items for the family dinner and you can add on another $50 quickly. Before you know it, grocery expenses are coming in a close second to the mortgage.
Fortunately, there are a few tried-and-true ways to cut back on grocery expenses. It takes a little work on your end, but the results are rewarding, especially on your pocketbook.
Plan a healthy menu. There is no need to plan out a dinner for each night of the week. Rather, sit down one afternoon or evening when you have 15 minutes and plan out three dinners that you know the family will enjoy. Now double the servings based on the number of people in your family. Creating meals that leave leftovers not only takes the stress out of wondering what’s for dinner, but it also saves a small fortune in the long run. Write down all the ingredients you need after taking a look in your kitchen pantry. Planning a healthy menu could include dishes that combine meats, vegetables and another wholesome carbohydrate, such as potatoes, wild rice or whole grain pasta.
Shop for staples, not convenience. Say "no" to easy shelf grabs, such as chips, pudding, cookies, ice cream or any novelty item that might be on sale. Instead, when making your grocery list, think of the healthy things you like to pack/make for lunch or breakfast for yourself, kids or spouse. Typical items here include meats, cheeses, whole grain breads, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cottage cheese and low- sugar cereals. The same goes for snacks. You’ll find that your cabinets might not look as tempting after you unload your groceries.
Make a mental note of the items you typically run out of in your kitchen in less than a week. Many families run short on the basics, such as milk, bread or eggs. If you know you’ll probably run out of milk before the week is over, buy two gallons instead of one.
Don’t (necessarily) shop for sale items. While this may sound counterintuitive to saving money, stockpiling foods that aren’t on your plan will just add to the total cost of the monthly grocery bill. When it seems like you’re getting a good deal on something, you might actually be spending a few bucks more than you would have otherwise. An extra $10 each week might not seem like that much, but over the course of a year it can really add up.
On the flip side, if foods you know you’ll use for making meals are on sale, such as chicken, dairy products or frozen vegetables, do a quick cost comparison and if it makes sense to buy more, go ahead and do so. You’ll probably save money the following week.
Here are a few recipes to add to your recipe binder that will keep your whole family fed without breaking the bank.
Beanless Turkey Vegetable Chili
Total grocery bill $12.04
Cost per serving $2.90
1 pound lean turkey (93 percent)
1 can crushed tomato (14 ounces)
1 can tomato sauce (8 ounces)
2 fresh carrots, sliced into circles
1 fresh white onion, diced
½ fresh carton of mushrooms (4 ounces, whole), sliced
1 fresh zucchini squash, sliced into circles
1 package chili seasoning
This recipe is simple, delicious and nutritious. What’s more, double the ingredients for a great leftover dish.
Brown turkey over moderate heat. No need for oil as the turkey is 93 percent lean and contains some fat. After the turkey is browned, add in the crushed tomato and tomato sauce. After the tomato mixture has been added, combine all fresh vegetables and seasoning. Let stew over low heat for at least 30 minutes.
Yields 4 servings
Broccoli Cauliflower Chicken Stir Fry
Total grocery bill $8.03
Cost per serving $2
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bag frozen broccoli/cauliflower mix
1 tsp. corn starch*
3 Tbsp. soy sauce*
¼ cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup brown rice, uncooked (optional)
An easy recipe that can be made anytime. What’s more, if you’d like to add more vegetables or a different blend to the mix, go for it. Frozen vegetables are a great and inexpensive addition to any meal.
Heat pan or wok with 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add diced chicken until cooked thoroughly. Add frozen vegetables. In a small glass bowl, add chicken broth, soy sauce and corn starch. Stir until corn starch is dissolved. After frozen vegetables are cooked, add soy sauce mixture. Stir fry for three to four minutes until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and serve.
Yields 4 servings
*Cost does not reflect staple items corn starch, olive oil and soy sauce.
Total grocery bill $10.34
Cost per serving $2.59
8 small whole wheat tortillas
1 pound lean ground beef
1 small package low-fat cheddar cheese (shredded or brick)
1 can refried beans
1 tomato, diced
1 package taco seasoning
¼ cup water
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Brown ground beef in medium skillet. In a separate sauce pan, add refried beans and begin to heat over low to medium heat. While the beef is browning, shred cheese (if purchased in brick), dice tomato and remove tortillas from package. After beef is browned, add taco seasoning with water. Stir until mixture thickens. Remove beef from skillet and place into a separate bowl. With a paper towel wipe away excess beef residue (do not wash) and place back on stove, returning to heat. Layer two tablespoons of beef and a small handful of cheese to one half of the tortilla. Fold tortilla over the beef and cheese and place into heated skillet. Grill for two minutes and flip. After the tortillas are complete, top with diced tomato and serve with refried beans.
Yields 4 servings (2 quesadillas per person)
Traci Danielson Mitchell is a Chicago-based nutrition coach and health writer. She provides family nutrition services through her company, DM Nutrition & Fitness. Reach her online at www.dmnutrition.com or e-mail her at email@example.com.