It’s been months since I’ve really focused on the grocery budget.
In fact, over the last several months it’s really run away from me. It seemed more important to have the quality we wanted and easy options when we were in a season of moving and then I was newly pregnant with my fifth baby. This led to spending $350 – $400 easily on “grocery day” and sometimes (okay, kind of often) another $100+ on little trips in between. That’s over $1000 a month, which is on the high end for a family of 6 (soon to be 7). It’s not insane, but…we had to get it down.
I finally sat down and wrote out a real meal plan, for the first time in…way too long. Then, I made a very careful grocery list. I actually started by looking up the sales at my local stores to see what was going to be cheap and wrote that on the list before I ever planned any meals.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s take a step back and see where I went wrong first.
How the Budget Got Out of Control
It wasn’t because I was buying filet mignon and caviar. It wasn’t because I was going to Starbucks every day for a $5 coffee. I did neither of these things. It also wasn’t because I was shopping exclusively at health food stores or other high-end places. I still did budget stores, checked sales, and cooked at home most of the time. And still the budget went way up. I’m telling you this because a lot of people start by saying to cut out those kinds of things, and many of you on a budget are already not doing them. That’s frustrating.
But I know…I know, that it’s possible for the budget to get of control anyway. Here are the main things that did it for me:
- Buying kombucha instead of brewing it myself ($3.50 per bottle…)
- Buying loaves of bread instead of baking them ($4 – $5 per quality loaf)
- Buying chicken stock in a carton instead of making it ($2+ per carton)
- Buying “snack foods,” even sale ones (dried fruits, nuts, applesauce, veggie chips)
- Planning meat-centric meals with not much veggies, rice, or other cheaper ingredients
- Allowing kids to eat yogurt, cheese, etc. instead of meals ( cheese, used as a meal, is $$$)
The snacks was a big deal. I needed things that we could eat on the go, especially for our homeschool field trip days. It’s not that the things I was buying were unhealthy; there’s nothing wrong with dried fruits or nuts. But they are not cheap. My kids could destroy a 1-lb. bag of dried apples in a day or two, and that cost $10. Plus it wasn’t the only thing they were eating for that meal or snack. That adds up.
Plus, when we had snacks around, the kids felt like they didn’t need to eat any of their meals because they could just go get those snacks whenever they wanted. Apples, bananas, cheese slices, cans of tuna, etc. Again, it’s not that any of those are unhealthy, they are not. It’s just that they don’t stretch very far when they are used as meals. While I hate to be “that mom,” I have already informed them that that ends now. At least one is not pleased with me about it. Oh well — we have limited money and choices to make.
Snacks will now be less often (because kids will eat all.day.long if you let them) and will be served from what I planned. Or will be leftovers from recent meals. It’s not my goal that anyone go hungry; but sometimes we will have to eat foods that are not our favorite. No more will I listen to “But I’m just not in the mood for that right now,” when I know perfectly well that the child in question likes the offered food just fine….
Also, the bread baking and kombucha brewing. Obviously you can simply skip both of these. We mostly drink water, and I have a few ideas for “fun” drinks that you can have occasionally that aren’t too expensive. Kombucha is a great source of natural probiotics, though, which is why we prioritize it. It costs only about $1/gallon to brew (compare to $3.50 for a 16-oz. bottle at the store) so I have no issue making it myself on a budget. You can read see a video of how to make it here.
Our Family’s Goals and Needs
First, you should know we’re a family of 6, and I’m pregnant with baby #5, as I mentioned above. The kids range in age from 7 – 2. That’s going to make our food costs higher than a typical family of 4, or one with younger children. Keep that in mind if you have a smaller family as you’re reading my budget, shopping list, and meal plan — you would not need to spend as much.
We prioritize real foods — especially pastured meats and eggs, organic whenever possible. We do not specifically avoid anything, except that we don’t really do oats or nuts. This isn’t a gluten or dairy-free meal plan, though where possible I will offer budget-friendly suggestions to adapt it. We also prioritize traditional cooking and nutrient-dense foods, especially since I’m pregnant. We also use more meat than some might, because my husband prefers it, but there are several meatless meals too.
I do not have anything major in my pantry or freezer ( spices, some dried beans, a few cans of tomato sauce) so this isn’t a plan where I’m, say, pulling from a large supply of frozen meat. I don’t have that. I’ve really bought nearly everything I need to accomplish this plan just this week.
At this point, I have a small-ish fridge and top freezer. I do not have a lot of pantry space, and I do not have a separate freezer. I’m working in a rather small kitchen. One of these days I’ll give you a tour of the kitchen so you can see how I cook real food in such a small space.
I will offer suggestions at the end on how I could have reduced my costs further by swapping out meals. If your family does like more meatless options you could easily cut down on costs more than I have. I also bought some fairly expensive shrimp this week, which is not a typical purchase, but shrimp is a superfood that contains specific nutrients that I need right now. It won’t be something I repeat often.
Anyway! Let’s get to it.
Budget-Friendly Meal Plan
This plan is a two-week plan, 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. I plan from Friday – Thursday because I shop on Fridays. Feel free to switch it up however it works for you.
- B — Chocolate-banana muffins (made with coconut flour) (GF, adaptable for DF)
- L –Leftovers (vegetable-beef soup, rice, carnitas)
- D — Chicken and mushroom pasta (adaptable for GF, reduce costs by eliminating chicken)
- B –Soaked coffee cake (GF/DF version)
- L — Scrambled hamburger, mashed potatoes, peas (GF, adaptable for DF)
- D — Vegetable soup (GF/DF)
- B –Fruit/smoothies (GF/DF)
- L — Beef and potatoes (GF, adaptable for DF)
- D — Vegetable beef soup with beans (GF/DF)
- B — Vanilla-Orange smoothies, banana/chocolate muffins (GF, adaptable for DF)
- L –Grilled cheese, carrots
- D —Vegetable pasta (DF, adaptable for GF)
- B — Apple-kale juice, cinnamon muffins (GF/DF option)
- L —Shrimp bisque (adaptable for GF/DF — reduce costs by using canned crab instead)
- D –Taco salad (GF/DF — reduce costs by eliminating beef and using beans)
- B — Soaked pancakes
- L –Soup/salad (GF/DF)
- D — Chicken pot pie (reduce costs by using dark chicken or vegetable pot pie)
- B –Leftover pancakes
- L — Pizza balls, applesauce
- D –Zuppa Toscana/meat + rice (some family members don’t like the soup — this is GF/DF)
- B –Soaked chocolate-orange muffins
- L –OUT (once every two weeks my family visits and we go out to eat)
- D — Meatloaf with scalloped potatoes (adaptable for GF/DF — reduce costs by swapping to a beef-based soup)
- B –Muffins (adaptable for GF/DF)
- L —Mexican rice (GF/DF)
- D –Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, peas (GF, adaptable for DF)
- B –Fruit/smoothies (GF/DF)
- L — Chicken noodle soup (DF, adaptable for GF)
- D —Pizza
- B — Smoothies, cinnamon muffins (smoothies are GF/DF)
- L —Cheesy veggie soup (adaptable for GF)
- D –Creole chicken with rice (GF, can be adaptable for DF)
- B –French toast sticks, fresh juice
- L –Tuna casserole (can be GF)
- D —Taco potatoes (GF, can be DF)
- B –French toast sticks (leftover)
- L –Leftovers, applesauce, carrots
- D –Chicken gumbo, no-knead bread with olive oil dip (soup is GF, can be DF)
- B –Cinnamon muffins
- L —Potato soup, salad
- D –Marinated chicken and rice, broccoli
Keep in mind I have a few odds and ends in my pantry. Mostly tomato sauce, spices, a few cans of tuna, and some onions. Basically, everything else you’ll need is on this list. I do have an active sourdough starter, but you don’t need one to accomplish these meals. I also have a kombucha brew going, but you don’t need that either. I have several herbs, but I use those for cups of tea for “fun” (and for pregnancy health) but again…you don’t need them. These are nice extras only.
I shopped at Fresh Thyme (a local-ish store that’s opening a bunch of new locations this year), Costco, and Meijer (a regional chain). Aldi would have many of these options as well at good prices. I also bought milk, eggs, and beef at my local farm.
I’ll separate it by category rather than by store and indicate what I paid for it. Your prices may vary. I’ll also give you an idea of where you might be able to cut corners if needed. Some of what I bought will likely be left for the following two weeks.
- 9 lbs. ground beef ($6 per lb. grass-fed)
- 8 lbs. chicken breast ($2 per lb. — you could choose to use 2 whole chickens instead, but it might not be cheaper, unless you are looking at organic chicken breast which is 3x as much as this)
- 2 gallons milk ($5 each, raw, grass-fed)
- 1 lb. pepper jack cheese, $6
- 1 lb. uncured pepperoni, $7 (you could skip or reduce to 1/4 lb.)
- 2 lbs. frozen raw shrimp, $18 (you could skip this and choose canned crab instead for the bisque at $2/can)
- 2.5 lbs. medium cheddar, $10 (Tillamook — you could skip if DF)
- 2 lbs. extra sharp cheddar, $11 (Tillamook — I could have skipped this and just went with the medium)
- 1.5 lbs. Romano cheese, $13 (raw, grass-fed — I could have gone for a smaller chunk of this or skipped it)
- 3 lbs. Kerrygold butter, $14
- 2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage, $6 (it was on sale)
- 2 lbs. breakfast sausage, $8
- 15 lbs. potatoes, $7.50 (organic; these were on sale)
- 1 bunch celery, $2 (organic)
- 4 lbs. broccoli, $6 (organic, frozen)
- 5 lbs. peas, $6 (organic, frozen)
- 6 heads Romaine lettuce, $4
- 6 lbs. bananas, $4 (organic — I could have gotten half as much)
- 5.5 lbs. gala apples, $10 (organic — I could have skipped these)
- 10 lbs. red delicious apples, $8 (organic)
- 2 lbs. cauliflower, $3.50 (frozen)
- 2 bunches kale, $2.50 (organic)
- 2 zucchinis, $2.50 (organic)
- 4 green peppers, $5 (organic)
- 1 fresh basil plant, $2.50 (this was totally an impulse buy and not necessary, but will add a nice touch to many meals for weeks)
- 5 lbs. lemons, $6.49 (you could skip this, I’m using mostly to flavor kombucha)
- 5 lbs. white whole wheat flour, $3
- 1 can tomato paste, $0.60
- 1 bag corn chips, $3 (organic — I could have skipped this)
- 1 bottle sherry wine, $8 (this will last a long time since it’s just for the bisque)
- 4 lbs. assorted whole wheat pasta, $5 (organic — I chose linguine, spaghetti, penne, fusilli)
- 1 liter avocado oil, $10 (you can feel free to use this in place of butter anywhere to make meals DF, or coconut oil)
This cost right about $300. If you skipped or reduced in the areas I noted, you could save $64 off that. Of course, you could save even more if you chose less expensive butter and beef. It depends on your priorities and prices in your area. This could easily be accomplished for $225 – $250 if you found sales and made the suggested changes. For two weeks, for 6 people, that’s not bad!!
From here, I’ll continue to try to reduce the grocery budget. Not allowing waste is big! The chocolate-banana muffins came about because I had 4 very overripe bananas sitting on the counter. Leftover rice and carnitas, along with a couple peppers that were about to go bad got turned into a big pot of soup. We’re doing lots of soups, stews, and casseroles.
Some of the more expensive ingredients, like avocado oil, Romano cheese, etc. I will try to stretch to last another 2 weeks or more. That will reduce the budget even more over time.
I’ll report back with some more ideas in a couple of weeks, and let you know how well we stuck to the plan and other tricks I used to keep costs down (and avoid more trips to the store).
How do you keep the grocery budget down?
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