First let me preface this by saying, I’m a big fan of meal plans when it comes to stretching your grocery budget. I wrote about it in another post – Meal plans and grocery lists: a recipe for success. But one of the other big ways my wife and I save money on our groceries is simply by skipping a week. Yes, normally we shop once a week for groceries, but some months, to reign in on spending, we sometimes don’t hit the grocery store for two whole weeks, other than maybe to buy the odd staple – like bread or milk.
But lately, I’ve been so frustrated with all the grocery stores in our area that are low-stocking everything, especially produce (and not just sale items), that I would be more than happy not to see them for a whole month. Realistically that might be a bit of a stretch. But stretching your grocery budget by just another week is not as difficult as it may seem. All it takes is a little creativity and a bit of planning. Here are some of the things we’re thinking of when planning a two-week meal plan:
Buy groceries that can be used for multiple meals
When we buy any fruit, vegetable or meat product for that matter, we often think in terms of how many meals we can get out of it. Not only does this tell us the cost per meal, but it also allows us to use up our food more wisely, so it doesn’t all go to waste.
Shelf-life matters. Meat is rarely a problem because you can freeze it, but most produce can spoil quickly. So if you’re looking at stretching your grocery budget, it’s always important to look for those fruits and vegetables that have a longer shelf life, so you can get more meals out of them. As long as they’re properly stored, root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, and radishes can last for weeks. Others such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and fruits such as apples, pears, oranges and cherries can also last a little over a week in the fridge. So when you’re planning your meals over a two-week span, it’s best to buy produce that has a longer shelf life.
Portion-sized shopping. Now making a bi-weekly trip to the grocery store doesn’t mean you’re buying twice the produce. Be cautious of your portion sizes and think in terms of what foods you can use in more than one meal to maximize your grocery budget. For example, one bunch of broccoli easily feeds us two meals. We can cook it with pasta one night, and maybe we’ll have it as a side with chicken and potatoes another.
Yes, true you’d save a lot more by going meatless, but the way I see it is if you manage to cut a little by stretching your budget, you don’t have to deprive yourself of the meals you love. Instead, you can choose to cut out certain ingredients or substitute them for others or choose to buy more inexpensive cuts of meat and drop them in the slow cooker. Or look for other creative ways to save. In the end, it’s all about making your cooking life easier, not more difficult.
Cooking in bulk and making good use of your freezer
Now that you have all your meals planned and groceries bought, it’s time to separate out your meals. Now some go all out and do the “Once a month cooking”. That’s just not us. But it’s always good to have some go-to meals that you can cook in bulk and easily pop in the freezer. It sure saves a lot of time, when you need to create a quick meal.
Hidden meals. You don’t need a full deep-chest freezer to start freezing your foods. You can make use of the fridge freezer and in most cases (unless it’s buried in ice-cream), you’ll find you’ll have plenty of space for the two weeks. Sure, there will be days when you don’t know what to make. Days that you’re just starting at your meal plan. So take the time to get into the back of your freezer or pantry, and make a tasty meal with food you might have forgotten.
Divide and freeze. Before freezing, divide your food into your ‘dinner-sized portions’ for your family and place them in Ziploc bags or containers. Make sure the food is fully cooled when you freeze it, or it could cause other foods in the freezer to start defrosting. Lifehacker has a pretty good article here on How to Freeze and Thaw Your Food the Right Way.
In the end, I think most people when they think of cutting their grocery budget, fear they’ll be giving up their nutrition and eating out of cans. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Because you’re planning and still preparing most of the meals yourself, you can decide what you want to put into your body. And you’ll probably find, that when you plan your own meals, you’re less likely to reach for all those packaged foods.
Cutting just an extra week from your groceries, every once and a while, is not only effective at bringing down your grocery bill but if properly planned, it can also reduce the amount of food you end up throwing away. It’s a win-win!