The price of food and gas continues to rise and it may at times feel like it’s just too hard to eat right on a budget. But there are some relatively easy, painless things we can do to stretch food dollars. To start with, we all need to examine our shopping, eating and driving habits to see where we can save time and money. Secondly, we need to look at those ideas that have worked in the past, drawing from our collective history. Our parents and grandparents knew how to stretch their food dollars and live within their means. It was simply a part of life. By incorporating these budget saving ideas into our own lifestyles I believe we can save gas, stretch our food dollars and still put delicious, healthy meals on our tables. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.
Dine In Not Out
For most of us, the first step is a commitment to eating at home. This means eating out less often, minimizing the number of prepared, ready to eat meals that we buy and most importantly, choosing to make more meals at home from scratch. Time is a precious commodity for many of us. The more organized we are when we prepare meals the less stress we place on ourselves. This in turn brings more joy to the task at hand and ultimately saves us time and money.
Create a Weekly Meal Plan
Planning weekly meals and having those ingredients on hand is a real time saver and key to a successful meal program. Use your pantry, think seasonal and use leftovers. Food magazines such as Eating Well or Oryana’s own What’s for Dinner? Program are all great resources when planning your weekly menu. Be creative. Encourage your family to help with meal planning. Try creating ethnic or theme nights that can make eating at home as much fun as eating out. When you have extra time, try making a double batch of your favorite recipe and freeze some for a quick and easy meal for later.
Shop the Sales
Check out the great sales Oryana offers every month and use the sales flyer to plan your monthly meals. As an Oryana member, you can also order items in case quantities and receive significant discounts. Stock up on those items that you use a lot of such as diced tomatoes, canned beans etc.
Shop the Oryana Bulk Department
Shopping Oryana’s Bulk department is an easy and cost effective way to stock your pantry with staple items needed for great meals at home. Our Bulk department is loaded with the basics such as grains, beans, rice, flours, nuts, nut butters, dried fruit, baking supplies, cereals, coffees, teas, oils and so much more. Remember, when you shop our Bulk Department it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy a huge quantity. You can purchase as much or as little as you need. Check out our “Guide to Stocking a Healthy Pantry” for helpful tips as well as our "Guide To Cooking Grains and Beans".
Make a Shopping List and Stick To It
Don’t be swayed by slick packaging or sales for items you don’t need. Try not to shop when hungry and if shopping with children, bring a small snack for them so they aren’t asking for things because they are hungry. At Oryana, your child can eat any piece of fruit for free while you shop. Shop weekly and don’t be tempted to run to the store for one item since we all know there is no such thing as a one item shopping trip.
Choose Whole Foods
Whole foods such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts and seeds give you more bang for your buck. They are packed with nutrition, are more economical, and have less packaging.
Go Meatless for Some Meals
Meat can be one of the more expensive items in your shopping cart. By making combination dishes such as stir-frys, stews or casseroles you can use smaller quantities of meat or chicken that still provide flavor while keeping costs down.
Compared to the cost of meat, whole grains, beans and lentils are very economical. For example, one cup of dried grains or beans weighs about ½ pound. When cooked they can double, triple or even quadruple in size. A protein packed grain like quinoa (pronounced keenwa) sells for $2.99 a pound in our bulk department. This grain quadruples in size so one pound makes eight cups of cooked grain at only 18 cents per serving! One pound of dried pinto beans costs $1.69 and yields 4 cups of cooked beans for a cost per serving of only 21 cents. Outstanding value both nutritionally and economically!
Trade Some Convenience for Savings
Instant products and packaged, ready to eat food can really take a bite out of your budget since they cost more and you get less. A 6 oz package of grated mozzarella cheese is $4.99 that equates to $13.28 a pound whereas a block of mozzarella cheese that you can grate yourself is only $4.79 a pound. Instant oatmeal costs $4.55 for eight packets; that’s 57 cents per ½ cup serving vs. buying regular rolled oats from the bulk department at $1.35 pound or only 18 cents per serving. That’s a 40-cent savings right there! If you spend a little time and compare prices on packaged products vs. their bulk counterparts, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how much you can save.
Eat in Season
We live in an area with an abundance of fruits and vegetables during our summer months; taking advantage of this wonderful local bounty can actually save money. Plan meals around seasonal foods and when able, buy extra to preserve for future meals. If possible, try and grow some of your own food. Even a small garden can provide vegetables or fruit that can help reduce your weekly food bill. Making your own jams, tomato sauce, applesauce etc. can help stretch your food dollars and bring the bounty and light of summer to a dark winter day.
Limit the Kind of Nonfood Items You Buy
Nonfood items like paper or cleaning products tend to be quite pricey and can really eat into your food budget so choose wisely. Substitute cloth napkins and towels for paper products. Look at the cleaning products you use and determine if you really need them all. You may also want to consider making your own cleaning products which are non-toxic, easy to make and very inexpensive. Check out the Oryana Guide to Green Cleaning for some helpful tips.