Saving Money On Groceries + What We Eat

By far, the number one question I am asked is "what do you eat?"  I used to share our meal plan's but it was a lot of work and I honestly wasn't sure if it was something that really interested anyone.  Well, apparently it was!  Part of the reason for some of the questions is because my husband and I eat very differently, so some of you are also trying to figure out how to make a similar arrangement work.  Other reasons are that we are all trying to find new ideas.  I find myself wondering the same things and watching other blogger and vlogger grocery hauls and meal planning sessions on you tube.

There was a time (long ago) that I didn't pay attention at all to our grocery budget so I would buy ingredients and try tons of new recipes regardless of cost.  Ugh....I don't even like to think about those days.  At that time I was still trying to build my recipe book (although I now realize there was a MUCH more efficient and cost effective way to have done so) so I was making a ton of new recipes.  What I've found is that in the past 10 years we don't try too terribly many new items and as of the past year or two, I actually don't mind eating the same thing multiple times a week.

So the way I cook and what we eat has continued to evolve over the years.  At one time I was able to stick pretty closely to a $60.00/week budget.  It now changes on the season.  During the summer and fall I can keep it around $60.00/week because we grow so many of our vegetables.  We do preserve vegetables for use later in the year, but I still buy some fresh from the store in winter so it is anywhere from $60.00 - $80.00/week.  I can share more about that in a later post if you'd like (this one is already quite long).

Although I do enjoy cooking for the most part, I don't enjoy spending hours in the kitchen.  Since we work from home it is much easier for me (I can prep ahead, make things in stages, take something out to defrost that I forgot to take out the night before, etc.), but I'm really not interested in spending too terribly long cooking.

Frugality In The Kitchen
What we spend on groceries has evolved as well (thankfully).  Our personal goal is not necessarily to eat the dirt cheapest food available, although we've gone through financial times where this was our most important goal.  Instead, we try to eat organic and/or local food when we can while sticking to a moderate budget.  We've also incorporated into our budget a few "treats".  For instance, the 2 teas that I absolutely love are definitely not the most inexpensive brands.  But I make cuts in other places so I can enjoy these teas without any guilt whatsoever.

While there are many tactics that I've shared on the blog, the most important "rules" I follow are:

1. Rarely eat out.  It's just too expensive and usually not so healthy.  Besides, when you only go out occasionally, it's more of a treat and not an expectation so it's appreciated as such.

2. Don't purchase lunch, snacks, or coffee out.  Again, this has been a HUGE expense for us in the past and something that is so easy to eliminate.  It's all about preplanning and creating new habits.

3. Stop wasting food.  Have you honestly looked at how much food you throw away?  I did about 12 years ago.  I would write it on a list (along with it's approximate cost) every time I threw something out and it shocked me.  Meal planning is what allowed me to turn that around.

4. Pay with cash.  Although we now pretty much buy the same things so it's not such a struggle coming in at or under budget, this has been an integral part of slashing our grocery budget.  If you set aside your budgeted amount in cash you have no choice but to stick with your budget because when the money's gone, it's gone.

5. Use a meal plan.  You don't have to go through the actual process of meal planning, but having an idea of what you'll be eating the next week is the only way you can accurately purchase all of the food you need and not overbuying.  On this same note, make a list for every single shopping trip and follow it.

6. Have back-up plans on hand.  Yes, plural.  It is inevitable that something will come up at least a couple of times a month.  You forgot to defrost the meat, you don't feel like eating any of the meals you planned, something has come up and you don't have time to cook what was planned, etc.  If you aren't prepared for these times, take-out or eating out will feel like the only options.  Having a few freezer meals, pantry staples, and/or frozen pizza's on hand will be budget lifesavers.

The freezer back-ups we currently have on hand are frozen pizza (one vegan and one with meat & cheese, although surprisingly, my husband doesn't mind the vegan version), Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken (can be thrown in the oven while rice cooks in the rice cooker), frozen lentil/bean burgers as well as frozen beef burgers, and frozen vegan chili from a recipe that I made excess of purposely for freezing.  The chili is great because I eat it as is, and I also keep cooked ground beef in the freezer in single batch portions, so I can add burger to some for my husband.

If you aren't fond of freezer items, keeping a few ingredients stocked in your pantry for super simple meals also works.  I keep a list of easy meals (that don't necessarily require defrosting) because when I'm standing in the kitchen at 6pm with no plan and we're starving, I don't always think of options.  Some of the meals on our list are: Spaghetti, Veggie Stir-fry with Rice or Millet, Breakfast for dinner, Burger with Mac and Cheese, Szechuan Noodles, Southwest Quinoa, etc.  We almost always have the ingredients on hand and they can all be whipped up within 1/2 hour (same time it takes to get take-out!).

7. Choose your store(s) wisely.  Warehouse stores are great for some things, but not all.  Aldi has great prices but they don't have a large selection.  Trader Joe's has some great exclusive items, but some of their other items may be higher priced than if you bought them at your conventional store.  Paying attention to prices and being willing to shop at multiple stores, when it makes sense, can be a huge budget saver.

Our Typical Meals
So, what exactly do you EAT, you ask.  I eat whole food plant-based with no added oil, refined sugar, and very little salt.  Jay eats a pretty standard diet of meat, veggies, dairy, grains & fruit.  We are both fine with gluten so we do not eat gluten free.  I eat almost completely whole grains although Jay is pretty resistant to most whole grains.  We have a set 35 or so meals that we choose from for dinner, and throw in a new one to try from time-to-time.

Here is what is typical for our daily meals:

I almost always eat oatmeal.  It's inexpensive, nutritious, and filling.  While I've begun disliking baked or cooked oatmeal, I have recently fallen in love with eating rolled oats (not quick oats) like cold cereal.  I'm not sure why I never thought of this before.  I was listening to Dr. Esselstyn speak one day and he was saying that every single morning he pours rolled oats into a bowl, adds fruit and then tops it with non-dairy milk.  It was intriguing to me.  So I tried it and loved it!  I add sliced bananas or berries, a tablespoon of chia seeds, and oat milk (plus a little extra) and allow it to sit for 10 minutes (it softens the oats and they soak up some of the milk) and then dig in.

Jay either eats cold cereal (with fruit/berries on the side), toast, an egg sandwich, or breakfast burrito & homefries.

I eat a green salad (using whatever veggies and beans we have on hand) sometimes as the only meal and sometimes as a side to soup, avocado toast, or toast with nut butter.  For the salad dressing, I really enjoy balsamic vinegar, or a mustard/maple syrup/vinegar blend, and I top my salad with a few pepitas and a tablespoon of flax seed.  Quinoa is added frequently as well.  I've come to love salads which is good because it's a great serving of greens (soooooo nutritious), fairly inexpensive and fills me up so I don't eat so much of anything I'm eating the salad with.  I do like to make this chickpea sandwich occasionally - it's really good!

Jay usually eats a sandwich, sandwich + soup, or leftovers.  The soups I usually make vegan and oil free and then add meat to his.  Sometimes he requests a salad with chicken as the protein.

Seasonal fruit!  If we have some fruit that was going bad so we threw it in the freezer I'll make fruit smoothies to use that up instead.  I definitely have a sweet tooth so every once in a while we have a small piece of good quality chocolate too.  Popcorn, tortilla chips, or nuts are rare, but also snack items in our house.  Jay very rarely gets potato chips, but does so from time-to-time usually in the summer.  If I've made any baked goodies (very rare) we enjoy them during our mid-day snack rather than eating it later in the evening.

Wintertime Dinners
Here is where I try, when it's possible, to make something that both Jay and I can eat and then the additions for him are usually meat and for me are usually salad.  Making 2 separate meals is a pain.  It's why I went from being vegetarian for 14 years to eating meat when we moved in together back in my 20's.  I'm figuring it out though.

I'm never in the kitchen for longer than an hour so I make a lot of simple meals or I make full recipes of my meals and I will eat leftovers throughout the week.  For Jay, he only likes leftovers at lunch so I will cook up meat or grain in bulk and use that to build new recipes throughout the week.

Some examples of when we can eat some of the same:
  • Southwest quinoa as my main meal (small salad was my side).  It's quinoa, black beans, cilantro, corn, peppers, and tomatoes.  I added a sprinkling of cheese to his and a baked chicken breast on the side.  Sometimes I eat this on top of greens like a burrito bowl.
  • Roasted veggies such as sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, cauliflower, squash, mushrooms, onions, and carrots.  I usually have greens on the side and I bake a chicken breast with the veggies for Jay.  I like to drizzle balsamic vinegar over mine.
  • Broccoli rice (rice cooked with vegetable broth, seasonings, and broccoli chopped and added at the end) as our side and my main is a salad with whatever veggies and beans we have on hand.  Jay's is a sautéed chicken breast.
  • Mushroom risotto as our side with a green salad for me and steak tips for Jay.  I usually add steamed broccoli or cauliflower.
  • Spaghetti is made completely vegan and oil free and then I bake pre-made meatballs to add to Jay's and I add beans and greens to mine.  We serve salad as the side.
  • Taco nights I make beef tacos for him with peppers, fresh salsa, cheese, and guac.  The ground beef is pre-cooked and frozen so I just have to defrost and add to the shells.  I fill mine with refried beans (pre-cooked and frozen or I use canned) along with the same peppers, fresh salsa, and guac.  The side is usually rice.

There are also many meals where I make 2 completely separate meals:

Some of Jay's favorites:
  • Salisbury Steak is beef patties cooked with mushrooms and onions.  I make a gravy and then serve it all over white rice.  I don't eat too much white rice so I usually just make a different dinner for me. 
  • Skillet pork chop with mac and cheese is another where I don't eat any part of what I cook for Jay.  I usually serve him broccoli or cauliflower on the side, so I do incorporate that in my dinner.
  • Chicken and dumplings is a great way to use leftover chicken and he LOVES it.  Again, I make something separate for me.
  • Whole roast chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and a veggie or two on the side.

Some of my dinners that Jay doesn't eat any part of are:
  • Baked falafel with a green salad.
  • Steamed veggies (fresh or frozen) over millet or quinoa.  I drizzle them with either balsamic vinegar, homemade liquid gold sauce (recipe found here) or a Dijon mustard sauce.
  • Baked potato with broccoli, beans, and homemade "cheese" sauce (it doesn't really taste like cheese but it's delicious) and a side salad.
  • Veggie pot pie with black pepper biscuits is a dish I have been LOVING for winter.  The recipe is here and she has a gluten-free variation.  The recipes I've tried from her blog have been really really good.
  • Grain bowl with quinoa or millet usually as the grain and topped with greens, beans, corn, peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, and a drizzle of liquid gold sauce or a chipotle sauce.
  • Lentil Stew is one of my favorite wintertime treats.  It has lentils, potatoes (sweet or regular), carrots & kale.
  • Lentil loaf with mashed potatoes and vegan mushroom gravy is also really really good.  I don't make it often but when I do I savor it.

While we certainly don't have dessert every night, when we do it's usually either "nice cream" (frozen bananas blended with non-dairy milk, a dash of maple syrup, cacao powder & vanilla extract) or fruit.  I do keep a few non-dairy ice creams on hand although we rarely eat them because of the sugar and fats in them.  Lately I've been enjoying a cup of non-dairy hot cocoa (sweetened with maple syrup) from time-to-time.  It's delicious!

I drink water or hot tea.  I gave up coffee a few months ago and it was really the best choice for me.  I do (rarely) drink decaf coffee and, as noted above, hot cocoa.

My husband will only drink sweetened iced tea and coffee.  Try as I might to get the man to drink water, there is just no way to get him to do so.

How about you?  What types of things does your family eat?  What grocery budget tips do you have?


Kay said...

Would you mind sharing your lentil loaf and baked falafel recipe? WE are mostly veggie household and looking for more options.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Hi Kay - Yes, I can do that! The lentil loaf recipe I use I sometimes use a different legume, whatever I have made, and it tastes a little different with each type so it's nice to switch it up.