Tough financial times means pulling the belt in on our spending, and while we cannot stop eating together any savings to the weekly food bill are welcomed. In an ideal world, each of us would even trying growing our own fresh fruits and vegetables to save a few dollars, but seriously, how realistic is that when you cannot even find time to get to the supermarket each week? The good news is that significant savings can be made simply by being aware of where you spend the most money on food each week and by then utilising some simple techniques to help you cut back without compromising nutritional quality or food taste. In fact, being more aware of cost cutting techniques may also help you to drop a few kilos if you need, without even realising it.
Plan your meals
The most important thing you can do to manage your food budget is to plan your meals each week. If you consider how many times you spend twenty bucks at the local quickie mart or service station on dietary staples you should have already had at home, the amount really adds up. Planning meals in advance means that you can make meals last a couple of days as well as utlilise leftovers for lunches, hence saving yourself another five to ten dollars each day. Main meals consisting of lean meat, chicken and fish as well as the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables or salad are most cheaply prepared in bulk as it is much cheaper to purchase larger quantities of meat and fresh vegetables and use them all, rather than leaving small volumes for reuse a few night later – reuse that often never happens resulting in large volumes of food being thrown away each week. On the other hand, casseroles, stir fries, mince and tuna dishes can either be reheated over several days or reworked in to a number of different pies and mixes so no wastage occurs.
Go shopping regularly
It sounds basic, but if you consider that having no food in the pantry that can be made into a meal is likely to result in a takeaway meal choice that could cost at least the equivalent of two home made meals, it really is worth the effort to get to the supermarket each week and stock up on pantry staples. Key items you need on hand for those late nights home include tuna, eggs, pasta sauce, cheese, pasta, frozen vegetables and potatoes – all of which can be converted into a quick, nutritious dinner in just 5-10 minutes.
Order in bulk
You may be surprised to hear that a number of meats, chicken and livestock outlets sell produce direct to the consumer at much cheaper prices. For example, free range eggs can be found at growers markets and local outlets for up to half the price you find them at the supermarket. While it may mean that you have to drive out of town or make a few phone calls to track down suppliers, but you will be surprised how much cheaper you can find meat and other fresh produce from buying direct. This option may be particularly relevant for large families, or for those struggling to keep hungry teenage boys filled with enough protein on a daily basis.
Know your cheap protein and vegetable options
Generally speaking, fresh produce including meat and vegetables are the items that push up the grocery bill quickly and there are a few tricks to bring the cost of these items down. High biological value proteins including eggs can be a great substitute for a red meat meal each week, or try cheaper cuts of meat such as mince which can be easily bulked up with beans. Much money can too be saved by utilising frozen and canned varieties of tomatoes, beans, broccoli and cauliflower – all items that can suffer from major price increases over the course of the season. Remember, frozen varieties of vegetables have been snap frozen so contain the same amount of nutrients as fresh vegetables but overcooking them is what results in significant reductions on nutritional quality.
Avoid packaged food
Packaged varieties of meat, crumbed fish and chicken, pies and desserts can really bump up the grocery bill and can all be prepared at home, in bulk for a fraction of the cost. Set aside an afternoon to crumb your own meat, make a couple of pies and even mix up a custard or pudding and notice the difference in flavour and overall price by doing so.
Go to the markets
If you consider that you can purchase a tray of your favourite fruit for the same price of a few pieces at a grocery store, for families going through large volumes of fresh produce each week, it really does make sense to take a trip to the markets each week. Or better still, organise a co op of a few close friends and take turns each month on stocking up on your fresh fruits and veges for a fraction of the price.
Pay attention to specials
Supermarkets do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising for nothing – make the most of the advertising material that finds its way into your letter box each week as you really can save a lot of money purchasing items when they are on sale. Checking out the new “discount” style supermarket can too save much money on “non branded” items that can be identical to the “name brand” alternative.
Get rid of non nutritious extras
Cordial, fruit juice, biscuits, potato chips and confectionery are all food items that offer little nutritionally, but have relatively high price tags. Slashing these items from your weekly grocery shop will not only save you many unnecessary kilojoules but also a significant amount of cash – remember, if the food is in the cupboard, the likelihood is that you will eat it, even if it is “just for guests”. If you like to keep some biscuits or chips handy for visitors, keep minimal quantities only, preferably out of sight or purchase them only when, and if you know someone will be visiting.
Bulk up with soup
A number of studies have found that enjoying a clear, broth style soup before your meal results in individuals eating up to 20% less at dinner time. Not only does such as strategy help with weight control and increase ones’ intake of nutrient rich vegetables, it also means less reliance on the relatively expensive meal options of meat and fresh vegetables. Try following your soup with an omelette or baked beans on toast for a filling, fibre rich but most importantly cheap dinner option.
Top 10 cheap eats:
Savory mince pie
Chili con carne
Cheap food swaps:
Atlantic salmon for sardines
Atlantic Salmon $36.99/kg
Sardines Tempters $19.16/kg
Deep sea cold fish including salmon is known for its rich omega 3 content. However it sells for up to $38 per kg, making it a little out of reach as a regular family meal. Tinned tuna and salmon can be a cheaper option but tinned sardines are actually cheaper again and an extremely rich source of omega 3 fat.
Muesli for oats
Natural Gourmet Muesli: $9.98/kg
Oats: $5.79 for 1kg
While muesli has a number of nutritional benefits including being low GI, being a great source of wholegrain and good fats and tasting great, plain oats, which can be enjoyed as porridge, offer many of these benefits for almost half the price.
Fresh berries for prunes
Dried prunes: $7.98/kg
The powerful antioxidant content of fresh berries is well documented but fresh and even frozen varieties can be expensive. Dried fruit including prunes and dates have just as much fibre with reasonably high antioxidant content.
Soy and linseed bread for grain crackers
Soy & Linseed Bread $4.79 per loaf
Mixed Grain crackers $2.19 per packet
Generally speaking, the more grains the bread has, the better it will be for you but with some loaves costing almost $5, grain based crackers offer the same nutritional benefits for a fraction of the cost.
Almonds for olive oil
Olive Oil: $12.00/kg
While almonds are a rich source of heart healthy monounsaturated fat, fresh nuts can be expensive. For a fraction of the cost you will get a similar amount of monounsaturated fat with a serve of olive oil.
Broccoli for frozen peas
Frozen Peas Frozen: $4.80/kg
Broccoli prices differ significantly throughout the season, and quality and availability can be compromised. Frozen peas have very similar protein and fibre levels as broccoli and are cheap, tasty and can be added to most meals at any time of year.
Chicken breast for kidney beans
Chicken breast: $13.00-$16.00 per kg
Edgell Kidney Beans: $4.02/kg
Chicken breast is a rich source of protein and one of the leanest meats available. Kidney beans are just as low in fat, are also an extremely rich source of protein but also offer the nutritional benefit of fibre and are low GI. Use beans to bulk up minces or on their own with chili in burritos or through salads for a cheap, protein rich addition to many meals.
Capsicum for carrots
Red capsicum: $7.98/kg
Generally speaking, the brighter the vegetable, the better it is for you. Red capsicums are full of Vitamin C and antioxidants but you can get the same nutrients, with a good dose of beta carotene simply by munching on a carrot.