Being on a tight budget makes it challenging to feed your family healthy and nutritious foods. This is especially true in months when an unexpected bill comes in and takes away most of your food budget. During times like these, it may seem like a good idea to grab some fast food from a .99¢ value menu. Sometimes, this can be an easy fix but with some advance planning, your family can eat well even with limited funds.
Tip #1 is to utilize your freezer. It is important to use every bit of the food you are able to purchase. Cooking in volume saves both time and money. Even better is if you find half price items at the store that have an upcoming freshness expiration date. Buying a cut up chicken at half price ($2 to $3) will yield at least 20 servings of delicious home made soup. Have the soup for dinner on night one and three, bring a few servings to work for lunch and freeze the rest in quart containers. You will be surprised how many meals this makes. Additionally, cooking stews, veggies and pastas and rice in the slow cooker also produces great leftovers which easily go in the freezer.
Tip #2 is to frequent a discount grocer where you stash your own cart, bag your own items and bring bags from home or purchase at the store. I have saved thousands of dollars shopping at my local discount grocer. The quality is just as good, if not better than the major chains. It is worth it to me to bag my own items and stow my cart in order to purchase foods my family enjoys at a large discount. By shopping at a discount, I can even afford snacks like chips and cookies which would not normally be in my budget.
Tip #3 is to grow your own food during the summer months and either freeze or can for the winter months. It’s early February and I’m still enjoying foods I harvested in August. Starting your garden from seed also saves some expense. If you start from seed, remember to begin growing indoors in April or May. Items which are great for freezing and canning are tomatoes, peppers, greens, herbs, beans, broccoli, zucchini and beets. Each item has a different set of instructions on how to harvest and prep before freezing and canning but the outcome is worth the time involved. Think about spending .25¢ on a package of seeds that can yield more than $20 worth of food.
Tip #4 is to create new dishes out of leftovers. If uneaten food is stored and packaged properly, it is possible to make one, two or even three additional meals. Imagine, you have one serving each of leftover spinach, sausage, sliced peppers, potatoes and only one slice of cheese but need to serve a family of five. Those particular items when mixed with some eggs and put in a cast iron or non-stick fry pan, make a tasty frittata. Similarly, if you have some all purpose flour and a package of yeast along with some frozen tomato sauce in the freezer, it can be pizza night.
Tip #5 is to pack lunches to bring to work. Although seemingly boring, I usually eat the same lunch throughout the week. If I buy a package of turkey, a package of cheese, a loaf of bread and a package of spinach, I have lunch for the full week. At about $13, it breaks down to about $2.60 per day. I also bring my own coffee, tea and an occasional soda, all from home.
Tip #6 is to take advantage of dining out coupons. Making sure to consume all you cook along with sometimes eating the same meals day in and day out, sometimes can get pretty tedious. About twice per month, I like to treat my family to dinner out. If I’m not careful, a dinner for four can cost in excess of $70. This would drastically cut my food budget for the next month so eating out also should be carefully planned. Many restaurants have buy one get one deals. Signing up for preferred customer clubs has coupons for free food flooding your inbox. Additionally, some online coupon services will sell you (for example) $40 of food for $15. Sometimes, these services even promote another 10% to 20% off of the offered coupon price.
In cases when your food budget is very low, local food pantries are accessible in most communities. Local churches also take up collections to help those in need. While it is hard to ask, family and friends are always happy to share their pantry stock with loved ones.
Being on a fixed food budget is trying at times, but choosing home-cooked and home-grown foods is always a better option and one which can actually stretch your resources further than expected.