This post was written several years ago, but I still stand by these ideas & we still follow them today so we can eat healthy meals on a budget.
Picture this scenario: You look at the clock and it is 5:00. You have nothing planned for dinner. The meat is frozen. You are out of pasta sauce. You haven’t prepped any vegetables.
When you look into the living room, you see that your kids are starting to become a little antsy. The nice playing has turned into some arguing and then you start to hear “Mom? I’m so hungry! Is it time to eat yet? I’m starrrrrvvvviiinnngggg….”
That was me about a year ago, back when meal planning was frustrating and grocery shopping was even worse. I never minded the actual cooking, as long as I had a plan.
I tried everything from pinning my favorite recipes to buying great new cookbooks. I tried doing a month of crock-pot meals and a month of make-ahead casseroles, but I never stuck to anything. I wish that I had read this book back then, but alas… it wasn’t out yet.
Why is junk food cheaper than healthy food?
Our family was eating a LOT of food, but we were wasting a lot of food. I needed to figure out a way to buy only what we needed and keep it within our budget. (wasting food = wasting money).
I knew that it was cheaper to buy junk food, but raising four kids on a healthy diet was more important to me than saving money.
My thought is that we would spend the same amount on a bag of chips as you would a carton of strawberries and both are gone in the same amount of time, so why not pick the healthier option? We go through a LOT of food… and I wanted that food to be healthy so that it would provide nourishment for our kids.
In two days, my family of six ate:
- 5 cartons of strawberries
- 2 cantaloupe
- 1 pineapple
- 1 mango
- 2 cartons of blueberries
- 2 cartons of blackberries
- 6 kiwi
- 5 bananas
- 9 tangerines
That does not include what they ate for MEALS!
My kids are still very young, so can you imagine when we have three teenage boys and a teenage girl?) We also go through about a gallon of milk a day, a carton of eggs and a loaf of bread every day or two.
How to eat healthy and cheap meals.
When I go grocery shopping, here are the tips that I use for buying my groceries. I save a LOT of money this way.)
1. Day-Old Produce
When looking at produce, check the day-old rack. These are usually still in great shape & will last several days.
Also, look for “stickered” items.
Harris Teeter and most other stores mark their produce down (bagged lettuce, cut-up vegetables, and fruit) by putting a yellow or pink sticker on it. I usually get a $3.50 bag of lettuce for $1.50!
I often by bananas in the “day old produce” section… they make great banana bread.
2. Save Money on Meats
Use the same principle here. I look for meat that has a sticker on it because it is close to the sell-by date. I buy it, take it home and either cook it for dinner in the next day or two, or I will freeze it at a later date. This will save you 50% or more!
I buy most of my meat this way. It is still fresh but is usually close to the sell-by date, so they want it gone.
I also go to our local farmer and buy the meat by the pound. It allows us to buy directly from a farmer and the more than we buy, the better the price.
Most stores will have an “Oops! We over-baked” shelf or a “day old shelf”. I always shop here. I get bagels (freshly baked – yesterday) for 50 cents at Harris Teeter. Our family will have these gone in a day or two, so they will stay fresh until they are gone.
4. Shopping in the Evening
A lot of stores do their marking down at night. A rotisserie chicken will be marked down to half off of the regular price if you go after dinner, compared to before dinner. You can save it for tomorrow. Most breakfast baked goods are marked down to about 75% off after dinner-time, too.
5. Don’t be afraid to Price Match!
Did you know that many stores will price-match your items? Just tell them where you found it and the price. I usually take my Aldi’s add with me and get my produce with the Aldi’s prices.
6. Shop the deals!
Look for the deals. Did you know that you can get your antibiotics for free? Many stores participate in this! What amazing savings! Be sure to look for deals on vitamins and probiotics, too.
7. Check the bins by the door.
A lot of the bins by the front door (carts) will be filled with great savings! Gravy marked down to 20 cents, baby food for 1/3 of the regular price. Really great deals!
8. Stock up when the price is low.
If you know that there will be a good sale, stock up and save! Buy as much as you want it to last you several weeks.
9. Store brands
I never used to buy the store brand, but I have found that with many things, the taste is the same. I have my favorites (granola bars, certain cereals) that I like to be a specific brand, but many of them are priced much higher. If you can save by buying the store brand- go for it!
10. Shop the Season e
Buy as much as you can while it is in season. You could ‘can it’, freeze it and store it and it will save you money when those prices go back up. Use what is in season in your meals and take advantage of the great tastes, too! Check your local farms, too!
11. Veggies before dinner
We also get out a plate of vegetables when the kids get home from school. We get it out again about 30 minutes before dinner, so if the kids are hungry, they will snack on vegetables before filling up on meat, rolls, or other items that aren’t as healthy as vegetables.
11. 30 Minutes & a Plan!
Make a list and have it organized, or even order your groceries online to save you time in the store.
Here are 3 free weekly meal plans: