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5 ways to start eating well on a budget.

For those of you just tuning in, I’ve been rambling on about how our family of 4 eats (well, in my humble opinion) on a budget of $400 a month.  That’s less than half the national average (I’ll get to that in a minute)…and we eat risotto, sirloin steak, chicken roulades and tasty desserts like homemade ice cream.  That monthly figure also includes my weekly vice, Wine Friday, as well as my love for entertaining and sharing food with friends and neighbors.

So I’ve put together a few tips to help you get started eating well on a budget, as well as why in the world I do what I do.  For many of you it’s a refresher, and for those of you just joining the party, I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Eat well for less in 5 simple steps:

#1 – Set Your Budget.

Any idea what you spend on groceries each month?  No?  Then step 1 is to start tracking what you spend to get a sense of how many hard-earned benjamins are going to food.  Yes, this could be a pain and, yes, you may need to pick yourself up off the floor after tracking it for the first time but…I promise it’s worth it.  After a month or two you’ll see how much you are spending and what (if any) expensive or unnecessary items you can say adios to.

Already track what you spend?  I probably don’t need to tell you then that it’s important to set your budget and try (within reason) to stick to it.  Here’s my advice:  Set a budget that’s realistic…not one where your family is left so hungry they turn on you.  I would hate that.

Yes, each family’s budget is going to be different based on how many are in your family, what you eat, etc.  Most big wig financial experts I’ve followed recommend 5-15% of your total income should be spent on food.  Interested in what the national average is on food?  Take a look.

Our budget is based on spending about $3-4 per person, per day…for nutritious, not terribly fussy, simple and spectacular dishes that anyone can make.  And this blog is my attempt to show how I do that.

#2 – Decide Where to Shop.

I realize you may not live near my favorite grocery hotspots but you can still cook these fabulous recipes and pay the same amount.

The key is to identify which store(s) near you have these items for approximately the same prices.  I’ve made it easy with this little spreadsheet where I keep a running total of what I buy, the cost per item and per serving, and where I’ve found the best deals per item.  If you are able to find similar prices to those I’ve listed you should be able to cook for the same costs as I list per recipe.  Winner winner!

#3 – Stock Your Kitchen.

Here are the essentials for stocking your frugal kitchen, both for your pantry and your refrigerator/freezer.  If you cook using these recipes with any regularity you’ll use them over and over.

#4 – Menu Planning 101.

One of the biggest ways you can save on your grocery bill while still eating well is to cook from scratch.  In my experience you can pay 200-300% more by buying pre-made or going out than cooking yourself.  If you plan ahead using local circulars and re-use some of the ingredients you buy throughout the week you’ll find you save even more!

…so buy sausage on sale and serve it in this amazing risotto and later in a hearty white bean, spinach and sausage soup.

Need some menu plan inspiration?  Let me help.

#5 – Start Cooking.

  • Budget set, check!
  • Know where you’ll shop and for what items at these prices, check!
  • Stock you kitchen, check!
  • Plan your weekly menu, check!
  • Ok, time to get cooking…

Here are 5 Recipes to Get You Going for less than $1.50 per serving:

Weekend Chile Rellenos

Quinoa Salad with Mango and Avocado

Pork Medallions with Cherry Zinfandel Sauce

Prosciutto and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Blueberry Macaroon Tart with Pistachios

A few more little deets…

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34 Comments Post a comment
  1. I found this article very enjoyable. I’m currently trying to set a good food budget for myself. As a college student it’s rather difficult and time consuming–even more so when I’m taking a stand against the ramen noodle diet. Thanks for sharing.

    July 23, 2012
    • Thank you! I remember being a college student on a budget – and if you can master it now just think of how well you’ll do if and when you have kids and a mortgage! Down with ramen!!! 🙂

      July 23, 2012
  2. alotonyourplate #

    Reblogged this on A Lot On Your Plate and commented:
    A brilliant “how-to” eat healthy on a budget guide.

    July 23, 2012
    • Thanks for the reblog!

      July 23, 2012
      • alotonyourplate #

        No problem! Thanks for the great post 🙂

        July 24, 2012
  3. some great tips!!

    July 23, 2012
  4. Great tips, Kelly! This is a good refresher course about your blog 🙂

    I think a lot of people would love to do what you do, but they are afraid of the time commitment. How much time per day/week does all this planning and cooking take? Inquiring minds want to know all your secrets!

    July 23, 2012
    • Thanks Jennifer!
      I spend about 30 minutes planning meals and then spend maybe 1 hour a day cooking. BUT, since I love to cook it’s really fun for me to do it 7 hours a week! How about you?!!

      July 23, 2012
      • I agonize over the planning, so it usually takes more than an hour!

        My problem right now is that everyone in my house is on a different schedule – hubby works nights, teenage son sleeps until noon (or later), and I’m an early bird. I feel like I’m cooking all day! I suppose I should reign them in and make them eat on my schedule, but it’s hard.

        Sorry for the rant 😉 I try to make recipes that reheat well 🙂

        July 23, 2012
      • Love to hear how it works in other homes! To clarify, the hour I spend cooking is usually dinner with a little prep for breakfast and lunch (I don’t usually do a lot of “cooking” here, just throwing together sandwiches, cereal, pancakes, etc).
        I welcome rants, especially as I am prone to ranting myself.

        July 23, 2012
  5. Great post! Love the tips and it was really interesting to then see what the national monthly average is (and to be quite happy that we are well below it!)

    July 23, 2012
    • Yay for being under average 🙂
      Out of curiosity do you mind sharing your budget and any tips?!

      July 23, 2012
      • Don’t mind at all!

        It is just my husband and I and I generally keep the budget between $225-$250 a month. As for tips…

        –I stock our pantry with only staples and things that I need for a specific recipe. Too often money gets tied up in a fully stocked pantry full of items that get forgotten and never used.
        –I cook most things from scratch and stay away from processed foods and pre-packaged meals.
        –I buy spices in bulk so that I’m only buying what we need. Not only does it save money but it keeps them fresh and I’m not having to throw out as much when I purge our old spices.
        –I menu plan and tie that planning into what items are on sale for the week.
        –We get all our meats from the local butcher, which is actually the same price to cheaper than anything that you get at the grocery store PLUS it is all fresh and organic with no preservatives.
        –We eat and shop based on the seasons. For example, living in Texas, grapefruits are extremely cheap in the winter when they are in season. So we eat A LOT of grapefruit. Right now, in the summer, I don’t buy them at all. Not only are they super expensive, but they just don’t taste as good.

        That’s what I’ve got off the top of my head… 😉

        July 24, 2012
      • LOVE these things! You’re a girl after my own heart!

        July 24, 2012
      • Thanks 🙂

        July 24, 2012
  6. Great ideas!!! And a great intro to your blog!

    July 23, 2012
  7. Thanks for the advice! I’m seriously impressed you can spend only $400 a month on food– I probably spend just about that for my boyfriend and I alone! Eeeeeek

    July 23, 2012
    • It’s hard but times being what they are, we had to make a plan. Hope this helps!

      July 23, 2012
  8. awesome!
    love your blog, keep up the great work! kind of funny, i’m in the same boat as you, but i’m a starving artist feeding only me on a budget, living alone. it can be done, all across the board — we just have to change how we think about food!

    July 23, 2012
    • Thanks Audrey! It’s such a great skill, budgeting, even if you’re living alone. Would love to hear any tips you have too!

      July 23, 2012
  9. Fabulous post!! I love good food on a budget and you have some great tips here!

    July 23, 2012
  10. I need to do this! All I know in my house is that food costs a lot and we just keep on spending it. It’d be nice to have a plan and set a budget. Can’t wait to tally up how much my family spends!

    July 23, 2012
    • Great Ben! I hope this helps! Would love to hear from you as you do it…and how it works.

      July 23, 2012
  11. Awesome post, Kelly. I try so hard to do the same, but I have next to no patience for cooking/planning what to eat. Luckily, this is what girlfriends are for!

    July 24, 2012
    • Well luckily for you there are girlfriends, and me! I’ve got lots of menu plans if you need some help 🙂

      July 24, 2012
  12. Wow, I’m impressed. Do you find yourself going to several grocery stores to get everything you need? My parents used to do that, but it took a half a day. I just don’t have that kind of time. I will pick my store based on a few sale ingredients and usually I buy my produce at my local green grocer.
    Making a meal plan saves us from eating out or eating not as healthy food because we are starving. Plus it gives us great lunches to take to work.

    July 24, 2012
    • I don’t know where you live but I shop at Sprouts and Trader Joes…takes me 1 1/2 hours tops since I have a list (and 2 small kids, we’re in and out). I do check out the weekly circular to plan what I’m going to make based on what’s on sale. Hope that helps!

      July 24, 2012
  13. Great ideas. It’s all about the simple life, right? (but it’s gotta be tasty too!) I love looking at how our ancestors … especially the pioneer ones … made life/food as enjoyable as possible while spending as little as possible. It’s my goal to put a modern twist on those ancient concepts! Enjoying reading your blog.

    July 25, 2012
  14. Your blog is so great. I wish that I were a better planner myself–I’m sure I’d save time and money! But the thing I really love that you do so well is constantly reminding people that cooking and eating well are within most people’s means if they have a little bit of time to spare.

    July 28, 2012
    • Thank you! And it keeps ME motivated too 🙂

      July 28, 2012
  15. emmatrailmix #

    I keep meaning to start listing everything we buy/cost of each meal for a week or so…it’s just getting round to doing it! But hopefully this has inspired me to go for it…will report back if I do. Thanks!

    July 29, 2012
  16. Reblogged this on The Law Chef and commented:
    Found this great resource, thanks to @alotonyourplate

    August 31, 2012

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