Thanks goes to my mother for this little pun. But seriously, how many of us are using more dried beans in our diet, and less meat, in order to spend less $?
There are 10 people in my house, and keeping us all fed while sticking to a strict budget is quite a task. I was reminded today, by a story on Yahoo, that many people want to eat in a healthy manner while also lowering their grocery bill, but don't know how to do so. Here are a few tips that I have learned over the years, as well as a few I learned today.
1. First, if you don't have one, create a set budget. You may need to do a few weeks of shopping to get your budget figured out. Buy only what you need, and not everything you want, to figure out how much you'll have to spend each week. Stick to the rules below to lower the cost of your groceries, and write down the exact dollar amount you've spent at the end of the week. Take the amount you've spent and round it up to the nearest ten dollars (i.e., you've spent $137, so round up to $140). Now, and this is something that we've found really does help, get a good old fashioned cookie jar (any jar, really, with a lid) and put another $10 into it. You've now got $140 in your grocery budget, and $10 in a jar. In an emergency, and I repeat an emergency, get that $10 or however much you've collected in your jar over the weeks, and use it. An emergency might be company coming for dinner, a road trip, or even some non food item you really need. It could also just be rising prices at your local grocery store, unfortunately. If, at the end of the week, you happen to have a little money left over out of that $140, put it into a secret stash, and when you have enough "loose change" collected get a little something for the whole family. Feeling totally deprived of any goodies is a good way to totally blow your budget, so make sure you do get a little something once in a while. Set budget: $150 (or whatever you've figured for your family's individual needs).
2. Make lists. That's right, make a list. Get a piece of paper and a pencil, and start writing down each needed grocery item. Don't forget to take this list with you when you go shopping.
If you make a weekly meal plan, and stick to it, you will know approximately what will need to go on your shopping list each week. So plan ahead, and make lists!
3. Stick to your list. Don't buy something just because it happens to be on sale today, or because it looks good to you at the moment (hungry shoppers in particular are often guilty of impulsive buying, so don't go shopping while hungry!). An exception to the rule: You're in Walmart, and you realize you need toilet paper and diapers. They're not on the list. Get them anyway! Trust me, these are two things you don't want to be without!
4. Eat dried beans. They're cheap, filling, and full of protein, so eat them! If you don't know beans about cooking legumes, try this; Place 1 lb. dry beans of your choice into a large saucepan. Rinse them well, and check them for any stones or other debris. Now, fill your pan almost to the top with water. The beans should come no more than 1/3 of the way to the top of the water. Place the pan on the back of the stove, and let the beans soak overnight, or for at least 8 hours. If you start them soaking at breakfast time, they should be done in time for a 6:00 pm supper. When they are done soaking, drain them, rinse them again, and fill the pot to the top with water. Put them on the stove and bring them to a boil. Once they're boiling, turn down the heat to med.-low. This will help to keep them from boiling over and making a big mess on your stove, but do be sure to keep a good eye on them. Boil the beans for 2-4 hours, or until tender. Red beans and limas take longer to cook than great white northern beans and black beans. You can add salt to the beans in the last 30 minutes of cooking, but I don't recommend adding it before then as it may make the beans take longer to cook.
If you're making red or black beans, you can add 1/2 tsp. of cumin, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, and a dash of ginger to the beans when they begin to boil. Adjust the spice to taste. This is my family's favorite way of preparing beans.
Lentils and dried split peas are also legumes, but they don't have to be soaked. Lentils take 45 minutes to an hour to cook, and split peas take 2-4 hours, depending on how soft you want them to be.
5. Eat less meat. Yep, you heard me. Meat prices are rising, my friends, so cutting back on this particular luxury is a sure way to lower your grocery bill. Try eating more beans, eggs, and complete proteins created by eating whole grains with your legumes (think brown rice with your black beans, or fresh whole wheat bread with your pea soup). If you must have meat, try to stick to the cheaper cuts. Our family often uses Chicken leg quarters when we're sharing a meal. They're inexpensive (comparatively), and easy to divide and prepare. I don't like drumsticks, and some of my siblings don't like chicken thighs, so it works out well all around. Of course, there are some people that must have white meat, so buy what you must while keeping an eye on the pricing.
6. Use frozen veggies. We've been doing this for years, but I was reminded of this rule again today. If your going to cook your veggies anyway, you may as well buy them frozen. They're cheap(er), easy to prepare, and may even have some extra nutrients due to the fact that they've been flash frozen. And they taste good!
7. Buy generic brands. If you shop at Walmart, try buying the Great Value brand. Wherever you go to shop, look for their store brand first. But remember, always compare the generic brand's pricing with the name brand stuff. It isn't always cheaper. And if the cost is the same, just get whichever you prefer.
8. Buy in bulk. If you can, joining a Co-op is one way to buy healthy foods in bulk and save money. Otherwise, just buy in bulk when you can, and only after you've compared the bulk pricing to general prices.
9.Buy foods that make you feel "full". Sure, white rice will make you full, at least for a little while, but brown rice has a higher fiber content, will fill you up faster, and help you stay full longer. The same goes for any whole grain. They may cost more per pound than their white counterparts, but they're cheaper in the long run (especially if they help you stay healthy!).
10. Prepare your own foods. This one is practically a no brainer, but there are a few people that feel they must buy prepared salads, pizzas, casseroles, pot pies, etc. Be warned! These prepared foods will destroy your budget! Not only are they often bad for you (do you know what all that stuff is in the ingredients list?) but they're expensive! You can prepare your own healthy versions of these foods, often for less than half the price. You can even make "heat and eat" meals by freezing casseroles or even leftovers. Even if the only prepared food you buy is pre-cut salad, you'll be spending more money than if you made your own, and it won't be as fresh. So, invest a little time and effort into your food. Your health and wallet will thank you!
I know many of you already know all this stuff, or have your own way of doing things, but I hope this list will serve as an easy reminder for those of us that are "backsliding", or simply haven't learned to shop for nutritious food and maintain a healthy budget.
That's all for today folks. Hasta Luego!