Although my roommates are entirely flexible in regards to sharing most ingredients, our schedules differ during the week, and we mostly cook for ourselves. Meal-planning and preparing for one is no easy task. No one enjoys seeing a full $4.00 box of organic spinach gone to waste, or soup left overs that end up in the trash because you just can’t eat another bowl. I’m no expert – but I do enjoy the strategy behind grocery shopping and sticking to a budget. Here are my steps for a successful trip to the market:
- Schedule Dinners Out in Advance: It’s pretty obvious that these days, eating out is one of the easiest ways to be social during the week. Even though it’s more expensive, I do allow myself one or two meals out a week (likely a dinner one night of the week, and brunch during the weekend). It’s much easier to plan these meals ahead to better gauge the amount of food you’ll need.
- Stock Your Pantry with Basics: I consistently have quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, chickpeas and black beans in my shelf. These items last forever, and create an excellent base for almost any meal. I hate when I run out, because my grocery bill is always a wee bit higher, but it’s worth it to have on hand when you’re craving something healthy and easy.
- Make Something Big or Pair Ingredients: My grocery shopping usually falls into two categories: meal plan around a large-scale recipe or buy ingredients that can be paired into different. I make a casserole or a soup in the crockpot and buy ingredients to follow that recipe, and if I tire of eating the same thing, I freeze and date for a later time. If I’m pairing ingredients, I’ll always buy kale or spinach (can be used in soups, salads, and smoothes), eggs are great for all meals, sweet potato, lemons, and any other produce I feel can be used for multiple purposes. When using this method, it’s easy to make enough for dinner and pack the rest up for lunch the next day.
- Don’t Buy Meat: Disclosure: I’m not a vegetarian. However, I rarely buy and cook meat myself. Not only is it more expensive, but I’m a bit too wary of undercooking and making myself sick. I pretty strictly only eat meat when I’m out for dinner, which makes it feel more special. There really is nothing like a well-made burger when you’re with friends. I feel plenty full eating beans, quinoa, and eggs to get my protein.
- Shop the Outside Aisles: Articles state this over and over as the best way to eat healthy, but it’s also the best way to grocery shop on a budget. Usually the middle aisles are filled with processed, overpriced junk food that you don’t need, but consistently snack on. It’s just best to forego.
- Cook with Friends: This is a cheaper alternative to dinners out, and often, I don’t have to use transportation ($) if I offer to cook. I love having friends over for a pizza night, potluck dinners, or wine and cheese. It’s an easy way to be social, and if you’re lucky to have generous friends like me, you’ll rarely end up doing the dishes too.
My grocery bill is usually between $20-$30 for the week. It can be lower if I exhibit excellent self control, or higher if I get tempted by the pints of Ben & Jerry’s on sale. Price also depends on where I shop: cheapest is Market Basket, middle is Trader Joe’s, splurge is Whole Foods (which is the least convenient for me, luckily).