Five ways to eat well while slashing your grocery spending
With rising grocery prices forecast, it's a good time to look at ways to cut your grocery budget.
This is something I think about a lot. We're a family of two adults and two kids. We like to entertain. I love cooking and we like to eat well. Back in 2016, I lived on a weekly budget of $50 for a year. I redo this challenge from time to time, but even without it, our weekly budget hovers at less than $500 a month.
Unachievable? Unrealistic? It's our normal and still, my kitchen cupboards are full to overflowing. Here are a few of my tips.
1. Buy meat in bulk and on special
Meat and three veg used to be the staple of many Australian diets. But meats like lamb - and even beef - are not nearly as affordable as they were in our grandparent's generation. That said, you can still enjoy a good steak from time to time (we do) if you buy meat in bulk - especially when on special. We buy a large piece of meat from Costco or other wholesalers and then cut or divide it into pieces ourselves. We freeze in packages of 200g and 400g, and take it out as needed.
We also enjoy buying cheaper cuts of meat and marinating them or stewing them. Cooler weather is great for casseroles, and a slow cooker makes easy work of traditionally tougher cuts of meat. And don't forget chicken, which is a staple on a frugalista's menu. Use a whole chicken in multiple ways, or buy drumsticks or wings as they are great value.
2. Love your lentils
Lentils and other legumes and pulses are some of the cheapest forms of protein (especially when purchased in bulk). And luckily for a budget frugalista, they are also good for you as well.
You can go completely vegetarian (and many people do for environmental reasons), or you can do what we do and incorporate legumes into our diet. For instance, we add chickpeas to Moroccan lemon chicken, lentils to a beef casserole and barley to slow-cooked lamb shanks. Legumes help absorb the liquid flavours and the meat go further.
Another way to love your lentils is to adopt a meatless Monday tradition. Choosing to eat a vegetarian meal one night a week is a good way to also get more vegetables into your weekly diet, use fresh produce - and save money.
3. Breakfast on a budget
Have you ever considered how much of your budget goes into breakfast? Sometimes it is more than you might think. Avoid big-brand processed breakfast cereals; some are better than others, but many are high in sugar and not as nutritious as their labels suggest. Instead, start the day with porridge, which costs 8-10 cents a serve (plus milk and sugar or honey). Or make your own muesli and serve with homemade yoghurt.
On weekends, I treat my kids to homemade pancakes, which cost around 60 cents for four large pancakes (plus syrup, which I also make from scratch). It costs even less when I use eggs gifted from my in-laws (who keep chooks), or if I use an egg substitute (which we often like better anyway).
4. Preserve and ferment
Preserving and fermenting is a great way to reduce food waste - and in COVID times, many people rediscovered the domestic jobs of home preserving. The good news is you don't have to be an expert to preserve and ferment - especially if you have appliances that will do the job for you.
I make small quantities of jam from foraged fruits and berries (or to use up leftover stone fruit purchased in bulk) in my breadmaker or thermocooker. After cutting up the fruit and adding the sugar and pectin it is just set and forget; no need to stir or worry about it burning.
Fermented foods are good for our gut health and are also easier to make than you might think. Make yoghurt in an electric or thermos yoghurt maker or add ingredients in a jar and keep warm overnight in an esky with a water bottle. Reduce soft drinks by making your own kombucha. And autumn is a great time to make sauerkraut or kimchi.
5. Stick to your shopping list.
Supermarkets are purpose-designed to induce us to forage and gather rather than to hunt for a specific mission. Walk into any supermarket and you will find the milk at the back corner, attractive displays at the end of each aisle and many blingy objects from chocolates to magazines. How often have you walked into a supermarket just to grab one thing and, after dawdling around, come away with a handful of items that you didn't really need? And what about the one thing you did need? Often forgotten.
Keep a shopping list in the kitchen and write down what you need whenever you notice you are running low. And then remember to take that list with you when you go shopping. You can use your phone to make shopping lists, but I tend to get distracted with what's happening on social media and have gone back to pen and paper.
It's easy to dismiss this advice as too basic, but this one tip saves us hundreds of dollars each year in petrol, time and sanity.