Even before inflation began climbing to highs not seen in 40 years, the average American household was spending an estimated 10% of its budget on food, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That works out to an average of about $7,316 per household, which means some people spent much more on meals, and others spent considerably less. Most people only spend more of their budgets on housing and transportation costs.
There are some simple (and easy) ways to trim spending on food so you don’t end up blowing more cash than you bring home in a week on meals and snacks.
Before you sit down at your computer to click your way through another online grocery order, go take a long look inside your refrigerator to see what’s really in there. Pull open the bottom bin where you send bags of lettuce to wilt and check the expiration dates. If it’s still in date, congratulations! You can plan on having a salad with your supper, or use some chicken strips or canned tuna to combine with the mixed greens for an outstanding lunch.
Next, grab a pen and paper and make a brief list of the foods in your refrigerator that someone could use to make a meal within just a few minutes. Your list could include taco meat and tortillas on one line, then bagged lettuce on another. If you have enough spaghetti or soup for a meal, place those on the next lines. The idea is to create a running list (or menu) of the foods that may not come immediately to mind when someone is hungry and wants to order pricey take-out. Place the list on the front of the fridge and cross off items as they are consumed.
Take the same inventory in your kitchen pantry and any other places you store food. This is a great way to involve other family members in the process, especially children. Grab a clipboard or a writing tablet and let them tally up how many cans of green beans and soup are stuck behind more popular items.
Meal plan to limit trips to the store
We start out with the best intentions. We only need one more ingredient, or two, to make tonight’s dinner really sing. If what you need is garlic toast or fresh basil as a garnish for a red sauce, it’s time to skip the trip to the market and use what you have on hand. Dried Italian seasonings and regular bread will work in a pinch for your pasta dinner. If you’re not sure of a specific substitution for an ingredient, the internet is filled with helpful sites that break down how to switch out applesauce for oil in a cake recipe, for example.
Planning out meals ahead of time, before you do weekly grocery shopping, is a smart way to limit trips to the supermarket and resist the temptation to buy more items than you need.
Cook two meals (or more) at once
One way to save time and money is to prepare and cook two or more meals at once. Some people set aside time on Saturday or Sunday mornings to prepare and cook several meals for the week ahead. Place the food in freezer and oven-safe dishes, then tuck away for later. You can also cook extra portions of a meal then take the remaining portions for lunches.
Love (and label) your leftovers
Buy a roll of inexpensive freezer tape and start labeling and dating your leftovers. No one can legitimately claim refrigerator blindness when the words “Pot Roast 2/28/22” and “Santa Fe Soup 3/1/22” are scrawled in black marker across the sides of serving bowls placed at eye-level in your fridge.
With Reporting By Casandra Andrews