One of the simple joys of life is to be able to eat the food you love when you want them. However, with the prices of consumer goods, including food items, ever increasing; it has become harder and harder to eat delicious and healthy food at home. Instead, most of us have resorted to fast food fare which can be unhealthy for us physically but also budget-wise. So what are ways to stretch your food budget without depriving yourself of the foods you love to eat and making sure that you and your family are still eating healthy?
Here are some tips that can help you stretch your food budget:
1. Plan Your Meals
The best and surest way to maximize your food budget is to plan what you are going to eat ahead of time. The easiest way to do this is to plan at least 2 main dishes and plan the rest of your side dishes and snacks around those dishes. Your 2 main dishes will serve as your menu’s theme for the week.
Here are other benefits of planning your meals ahead of time.
- Choose a healthier recipe for a dish or dishes you love.
- Include dishes that you and your whole family loves.
- Add new dishes that you want to try out.
- Include new ingredients that you are interested in.
- Think up cheaper options for expensive ingredients.
- Identify food items that your family loves so you can include them as your pantry staples.
- Create a shopping list that follows your meal plans and budget.
The best benefit of having a meal plan is that you do not waste food. Sometimes you buy items that end up just sitting in your fridge or pantry because you don’t know what to do with them. With a meal plan, every ingredient you buy has a purpose and you will definitely use them.
Your meal plan is what you will be eating for the entire week, so make sure to have at least 2 options so you don’t tire of just eating the same dish every day. After shopping for your ingredients, start washing and chopping and store your food items in the fridge so you can easily take them out to cook.
2. Prepare Your Meals
To save even more money and time; you can also cook your meals ahead and portion them separately for each day of the week before you store them in the fridge. Then just take them out of the fridge and reheat when its time to eat. This is a great way to help make preparing baon easier each day since you don’t have to cook everything, each time. Some people prep their whole week’s meal and then prepare bento boxes daily for themselves and their kids to take to work and school using the precooked and prepared dishes.
Some people have taken meal preparation to the next level by preparing meal ingredients ahead of time and freezing them so they last for months at a time. Each night, they transfer the next day’s meals from the freezer to the fridge to thaw a bit so they can cook and/or reheat the next day.
You don’t have to go to this extreme though. You can start small by planning for each week. Once you have several dishes that you can shop for and prepare without even writing down the ingredients and measurements, then you can eventually plan your meals for a whole month.
3. Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry
A surefire way to reduce your spending is to eat at home before you go shopping. Studies show that shopping while hungry makes people buy more than what they need. They end up buying things they don’t really need because they were just attractive to them visually.
In the case of grocery shopping, this means that you will buy food that you won’t eat and you will waste more food instead. This would also bust a whole in your budget. So make sure you eat at home first, or you eat your lunch or dinner first before you go inside the grocery store.
Not only will you have more energy to shop but you will also avoid trying to rush through your shopping so you can get a meal afterwards. So shop when you have already eaten so that you also have the energy and patience to read labels and compare prices, if necessary.
The same rule applies when you’re planning to go on a night out. Bar drinks are usually expensive. So invite your friends over to your house instead for a pre-bar session. Ask them to bring a bottle of their favorite drink and sip away. This way, you avoid the cost of expensive bar beverages while still enjoying your favorites. You can even mix your own drinks and create new ones.
Just make sure that you and your friends don’t get too tipsy or you might not even get to go out. Or, you might find yourselves deciding not to go out and chatting the night away instead. That would really mean a big chunk of savings for all of you.
4. Stick to Your Shopping List
Most of us have the habit of just popping into a grocery store “just to see” what can interest us. This often leads to buying items mindlessly just because we found them cute or we suddenly are inspired to have a use for them in the future which we immediately forget as soon as we have paid for the item. And then we wonder where our budget got ruined.
After you have done your meal planning, then go shopping but remember to eat first. When you are armed with a list of what you need to buy you are less likely to buy indiscriminately. Of course, it does happen that we keep our shopping list in our side pocket and we forget to take it out as we browse the isles while shopping.
So even before you go inside the store, take out your shopping list and use it. That is to say, STICK TO YOUR SHOPPING LIST and you sure will be able to stretch your food budget.
5. Buy In-Store Brands
You might have noticed the in-store brands in the same shelf as your usual food items. We mostly just pass by them and reach out for our favorite brands instead.
If you’re on a tight budget it’s helpful to check out the in-store items as they are cheaper and more often than not, they contain the same ingredients as popular brands.
In-store brands also get their ingredients from the same suppliers as popular brands. They’re just packaged and branded for the store’s label. So be sure to check out in-store brands, the next time you spot them in the supermarket isle.
That said, there are some exceptions when it comes to your shopping list. That’s what we’ll explain next.
6. Eat and Buy in Season
When planning your meal, be sure to include food items that are in season. Remember your lesson on supply and demand: the greater the supply and the lower the demand, the lower the price tends to fall.
Vegetables and fruits in season tend to be in lower demand because people see them all around which makes them also lower in price. So make sure to know what fruits and vegetables are in season and use them as your main ingredients in your meal plans.
Buying produce in season helps you stick to your shopping list but it is also a reason to buy more of these items. Another reason to buy more of an item is if they are on sale, in which case, you can BUY IN BULK but make sure to observe these rules.
- The item is in your shopping list.
- If not in your shopping list, then substitute it for an item in your shopping list.
- If not in your shopping list, make sure that you can store it well so that you can use it for your next meal plan.
- The expiry date is not too soon (for canned and packaged goods) and you can use it up before the expiry date.
Buying in season and in bulk is one sure way to eat more and still stick to your budget.
7. Focus on Density
While you try to stretch your budget, make sure that you are still eating healthily. A great way to do this is to make sure that your meals include food items that can be used for a lot of different dishes but are also low-priced. This means you get the maximum amount of nutrition from these foods for a minimum cost.
These foods can be part of your pantry staples and may include the following:
- Rice – incredibly filling and can be added to soups and stews
- Dry beans – also filling and doubles in size when cooked, also a great source of protein
- Eggs – can be used for different dishes and a good source of protein
- Sweet potatoes – comes in different varieties and can be used alone or as a substitute for other items in many dishes
- Peanut butter – a good source of protein and can be used to add flavor to different dishes including sauces and dips and even smoothies
You will find many more high-calorie but low-priced food items as you go along your food budgeting journey so make sure to read the labels as you browse the isles and ask around when you go to markets. It is also a good practice to buy from local fruits and vegetable vendors peddling their produce in your area. You not only help them generate income, you also get local produce at a better price than in the supermarket.
8. Shop at Sunday Markets
To further stretch your food budget, it is a good idea to shop directly from the source of the fruits and vegetables. You are lucky if you live near a farm as you can buy from the farmer directly but if you live in the city, the next best thing is to shop for your produce at the Sunday Market.
There are a lot of vendors in these markets so you have the option to look for those who can offer you the best price for the items you need. Here are some more benefits of shopping at Sunday markets.
- Fresher products than in grocery stores.
- More variety of produce than in grocery stores.
- Learn about your produce from the vendors themselves.
- Get to know your local farmers.
- Get organic produce for a lower price than in grocery stores.
- Become a suki of a vendor and enjoy discounts.
Another benefit is of course, you get some exercise as you lug your purchases around.
9. Get Cooking
We love sitting at a table to enjoy our “comfort food”, the food which is familiar to us since childhood and which we tend to crave every now and then. But most of us only enjoy these kinds of food when we go to a restaurant and when our mom cooks them for us. Well, why not get the recipe from your mom and learn how to cook them yourself?
Your mom would love to show you how it’s done and you get major points for bonding time with her. And when you’ve perfected her recipe, you can modify it to your own liking and learn more recipes from her too. Once you’ve started cooking on your own, you’ll gain more confidence and you can come up with recipes of your own.
Learning how to cook also means you spend less money eating outside. You can even take your favorite dishes as baon to work. That’s another way to stretch your food budget.
How to get started? There are tons of videos online to help you with knife skills, simple recipes for beginners and so on. Tune up your research skills and start learning.
10. Go Meat-less
Ever heard of “meatless Mondays”? The idea is to eat healthier by eating dishes with no meat during Mondays. Well, you can take this idea and run with it to stretch out your food budget.
Instead of just going meatless one day of the week, you can EAT MEAT ONLY ONE DAY OF THE WEEK.
We all know how much pricier meat products are compared to fruits and vegetables. So try to plan for dishes that require no meat in them and if they do, then use less meat and bulk up the dish with items that can substitute for meat. Here are some of them.
- Tofu – the most popular of all, you can marinate it in any sauce and it soaks up the flavor. It also comes in different textures: tempeh, seitan, and TVP (textured vegetable protein). TVP is available and very affordable in your local palengke.
- Mushrooms – they are filling and has that meaty “umami” flavor.
- Jackfruit – if you like the texture of pulled pork, this is a good substitute; also good for lechon kawali.
- Banana hearts – use this to make lumpiang shanghai, burgers, pulled pork and even lechon kawali.
- Potatoes – soaks up sauces like tofu and can be fried and mashed.
- Beans and legumes – cook them, add a bit of spice and shape into burgers or nuggets.
- Cauliflower – ever heard of vegetarian buffalo wings?
- Eggplant – can be mashed or fried into slices and soaks up sauces well.
The great thing about experimenting with substitutions is that you will be able to discover more and you get to try new ingredients while still ensuring that you eat healthy.
Those are our top tips for stretching your food budget while eating healthy. Start with a small tweak to your eating habits and you’ll start feeling better physically as well as financially.
Don’t have a budget yet? Try out the money jar budgeting system and personalize it for your own use.
Updated. First published in Pinoy Smart Living on 11.06.2018.
Feature Image Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash.