Groceries are typically one of the largest areas of people’s budgets. And we need to eat, so unless you start growing all your food, you do need to spend money on groceries. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to keep your grocery bill down. We’ve already talked about how grocery lists and other shopping strategies can help manage your spending. These are how you buy. But a big part of your spending depends on what you buy.
Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that going cheap on groceries means eating junk food. People often joke (maybe serious?) about strictly eating ramen noodles to save money. Or settle for a bag of chips and a 2-liter soda for supper. True, these are filling, easy, and cost less than some meals, but they definitely don’t qualify as eating well. Believe it or not, as long as you’re willing to invest a little time in food prep and planning, you really can eat well on a small budget. No, you’re probably not going to get by cheaper than the ramen noodles, but you’ll come pretty close.
What is Eating Well?
Before we go further, we should nail down what ‘eating well’ means. My two stipulations for food is that it has to be good tasting and reasonably good nutritionally. Good tasting is totally subjective, and you may think some of the ingredients or recipes I mention are kinda gross. That’s fine, although I’m convinced that you can learn to like almost all foods, so if you’re feeling brave, step outside your comfort zone for a little while and your comfort zone might follow.
Although you’d think nutrition is pretty objective, it’s not. Foodies and health nuts will always debate what’s good with you. Many say you should cut out all fat, but now some are doing an about-face, saying that almost all fat is good for you. They debate how much fruit is good for you, whether or not you should eat carbs, how much sodium is too much and pretty much everything else. For the most part, at least everyone agrees that you should eat more vegetables. So, lucky me, I get to define ‘nutritionally good’ too. I keep ‘nutritionally good’ pretty simple. Stick to ‘real food’ and maintain moderation and balance.
Investing the Time
One of the cornerstones of eating well on a small budget is being willing to do food prep. Yes, buying pre-made meals is convenient, but they definitely aren’t budget friendly, and they are usually ‘suplemented’ with preservatives and other additives and fillers, making them less than ‘nutritionally good.’
The good news is that food prep doesn’t have to be hard. True, some meals can take an hour to make. But there are lots of great meals that take less than 15 minutes of active prep time. There are also plenty of meals that you can prep up on the weekends and freeze for weeknights.
Budget Friendly Ingredients
The other cornerstone of eating well on a small budget is finding budget friendly, good ingredients to make up the bulk of your meals. Simple ingredients come in a wide range of prices- just compare the price difference between quinoa ($5/lb) and brown rice (less than $1/lb) for example. Or the difference between NY strip steaks ($10/lb) and ground turkey ($2/lb). If you don’t watch this step, you’ll end up with good meals (really great meals), but they will be a far cry from budget friendly.
This doesn’t mean that you need to keep certain ingredients off limits. Just aim to keep pricier ingredients as complementary ingredients rather than base ingredients. Use them as condiments, sides, garnishes and toppings. Use cheaper, filling ingredients as the base of your meals. And don’t think that you’re sacrificing quality for cost. There are tons of low cost ingredients that are healthy, flavor packed, and filling.
Delicious, Cost Effective, (Mostly) Healthy Recipes and Cookbooks
Some people have a knack for whipping up delicious meals out of any combination of ingredients. The rest of us need recipes.
If you’re relatively new to cooking, The Betty Crocker Cookbook is a fantastic go-to resource. It’s many recipes are only the beginning. It also covers all the basics that you need to know to cook from scratch, from techniques used in cooking, how to use and store raw ingredients, to the equipment you’ll need. Its great pictures also give you a better idea of what your food should look like, both during prep and when it’s ready to serve.
While I’m no pro chef, I do a fair amount of cooking. A handful have become family favorites because they are yummy, relatively easy prep (important when you have 3 little ones) and are great for a budget. I’ve thrown my favorite 10 into an e-booklet that I’m selling on Amazon for 99c. However, for the next two weeks, I’ll be sending a free copy to any new e-mail subscribers as a thank-you gift.
There are also countless blogs and sites around the internet that have good (and not so good) recipes. Two of my favorites are Budget Bytes and Eating on a Dime. If you’d still rather go the cookbook route, Budget Bytes also has complied a lot of their recipes into a book.
The options are limitless when it comes to finding good, cheap, nutritious recipes. You may have to try a few before you find some that you like. And you may have to practice a little before you like what you make. But getting in the habit of making as much from scratch as possible, and using good quality cost effective ingredients will go a long ways towards keeping both you and your budget healthy.
While I do strive to only write accurate information and dispense valuable advice, I am not a licensed financial adviser. All information is based solely on my personal experience and personal research and should be treated as such. Find out more.