I have one word for you, beans. Okay, I’m just kidding. Beans are a great, cheap meal (and nutritious) but there are other options. Unfortunately though for this article, I am not the greatest cook so I can give you some general ideas and then point you to other sources for more information. For more frugal cooking ideas (along with lots of other frugal advice), I highly recommend the book The Tightwad Gazette.
To save money on your food bill you not only have to save money on your groceries but you need to plan frugal meals. You may be able to find the best price for filet mignon, but at $10 per lb it’s still an expensive meal. The idea of price per unit to get the best price on a particular grocery item also applies to determining which items to buy.
For example, I love Salmon. The best price I can get on Salmon is usually $4.99 per lb and I need about a lb for my family of three for one meal. For that same price I can buy about 15 boxes (1 lb each) of macaroni elbows which will obviously go alot farther. At a meal level comparison, I could spend $4.99 on one lb of salmon or make homemade Mac & Cheese for about $3.33 ($0.33 for elbows, $2 for cheddar, $1 for milk) and have some leftovers for the next day (let’s assume the side dishes were equal for the 2 meals). That may not seem like a huge savings but over time it adds up, especially if you eat high price items all the time.
From a simplistic point of view, meats are more expensive than other items. So to save money, have more meatless meals or try to reduce the amount of meat you use in your dishes. Watch for sales on meats and stock up your freezer when prices are good. For people on low carb diets cutting down on meat consumption is not a good option, but try to look for cheaper low carb alternatives, like beans.
Meal planning can also help you to control your meal costs. I like to plan my meals for the week based on what is on sale for that week. I fill in the gaps with items in my cabinet that I stocked up on during a sale or meats in the freezer. Meal planning can also assure that you have enough food around and the time to make a given meal so you don’t need to rely on convenience foods or worse yet, order out. Cutting down on your meals out will be a huge savings. Likewise, convenience foods (premade meals) while usually cheaper than eating out are also more expensive than making a meal from scratch unless you caught a good sale and had a coupon.
Finally, I just want to touch on the idea of freezer meals or monthly cooking where you spend one day making up large portions of multiple meals and freezing them down. The idea is that you can buy in bulk to save money, have a meal always ready with just a few minutes of reheating, you save a bit on energy costs by not having to preheat the oven multiple times, and you won’t be as tempted to eat out because there’s no time to cook dinner. I have not tried this method yet, but I do freeze alot of meals for my husband to take for lunch and for last minute meals and it is helpful. If you’re interested in this method there are a few books out there that can give you more information. Check out The Freezer Cooking Manual for one.
©2004 by Carrie Balrok, owner of The Christian Woman