Author Topic: Getting meals below $4-5/serving  (Read 22060 times)

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« on: June 07, 2013, 10:17:35 PM »
The food costs for me, the hubs, and our kiddo were $1900 last month. We just started tracking expenses a few weeks ago. I know a lot of this can be whittled away by eating out less and cutting alcohol. We've started to be more conscious about our expenses and that's helping a lot, but our grocery bills are going up. How do y'all keep your costs down on meals? I get bulk purchasing and freezing, and we've been doing that for while, but do y'all have ideas on cheap meals? Especially vegetarian meals? We could stand to cut back on meat.

tag

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2013, 10:46:04 PM »
Woah! $1900?!?! Holy smokes.

Beans and rice. Tons of different ways to make them. I've been making refried beans in my crockpot (super easy) and just doing beans/cheese burritos with salsa, avo, sour cream etc. Yum.

ScubaAZ

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2013, 11:09:25 PM »
Wow!  Yes, lots of room for cutting back.  We (2 adults and a 3 y/o) spend about $450 on food ($400 groceries, $50 eating out).  This used to be way higher because 1) we ate out a lot, and 2) we didn't pay attention to what we were buying/spending/throwing out.

Now that I've started tracking it better, it still seems pricey to me, but I am mostly paleo, (and running/lifting 5 days a week) so I eat a lot of protein in the form of meat.  I track the sales, and stock up when I can.  Costco uniformly has chicken for $2.99 a pounnd, which is my go-to unless there is a better sale.  Safeway had chicken for $1.99 a pound last week, so I bought 16 pounds.  Bag it into 2 breasts per freezer bag, its perfect for dinner for all of us, and lunch for me the next day.

We also don't buy pretty much any pre-packaged food, except graham crackers and apple juice for the child.  That helps cut the grocery budget a lot (lets see, $4.99 bag of potato chips, or 3 pounds of apples?).

Finally, once you start doing this, you will never eat out again.  I went with coworkers for lunch the other day (its seen as a comraderie thing in our office, so its hard to always say no), and was just pissed the whole time that I just spent $7 on 3 oz of chicken thigh meat, a handful of vegetables, and some rice (that I didn't eat because I don't eat rice).  I could have made that meal so much better for about $.40.  Other than mothers day dinner (which I got suckered into paying the whole tab ($175!) because I was the only one there who isn't a mother- well that is crap!  And I drove 150 miles to make it to dinner. Next year, def can't make Mothers Day dinner, haha), we didn't eat out at all last month.  And it was fine.

Russ

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2013, 11:58:32 PM »
hoo boy that's a lot of dollars...

1. Stop eating out
2. Eat down everything in your pantry so you can start fresh. If you need to buy an ingredient or two along the way that's fine, but the trend should be toward getting rid of everything in the house.
3. When you need to start buying things again, buy whole foods that you cook yourself or eat raw. There should be no artificially flavored and colored petroleum distillate / refined corn marvels-of-food-science in your cart. They taste like shit and are stupid expensive.
4. Eat everything you buy; that is, do your damnedest to not throw away any of your hard-earned cash in the form of food

Groceries for our house of 4 bottomless college students cost under $500/mo., and that's while feeding an extra friend or two most nights. Staples include expensive things like steak, berries, heavy cream, tasty veggies, expensive cheeses (mmmmm cheese...), and fish. This is of course balanced a little by dirt cheap bone-in chicken pieces, eggs, bulk dried beans and grains, not wasting spending money on big-agriculture "organic" products, and taking full advantage of our local Costco, but the point is when you buy fresh and cook all your own food it's pretty darn cheap.

Mrs WW

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2013, 01:26:20 AM »
For cooking inspiration check out Budget Bytes www.budgetbytes.blogspot.com and for a more extreme approach The Prudent Homemaker Www.theprudenthomemakerblog.blogspot.com!

BlackRat

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #5 on: June 08, 2013, 02:07:37 AM »
Risotto, curry or similar are good!
my normal curry:
2 cups dry lentils (put them in water to soak the night before), 1-2tbs oil, 1-2 onions cut up and fried, ~1tsp each of turmeric, cumin, garam masala, fenugeek, ground coriander, garlic and ginger; around 1/4 - 1 tsp of chilli/cayenne depending on strength/tastes and 1-2 tins tomato - I put the lentils on to cook in a saucepan, fry the onions in a bit of oil, add all the herbs/spices, drain the water off the lentils once they're cooked (sometimes I top them up with water and do it again, not sure it does anything, but the water does still get discoloured), add a bit of fresh water and the tomatoes and onion/spice mix... simmer for a bit longer.
Also good with potato, chicken, whatever else you have. Probably better if you serve it with rice or bread, yogurt on the side is good, especially if you make it hot.

Another one:
~1/2 jar curry paste, meat of your choice (if wanted,), veggies (green beans, onions, broccoli and thinnish cut carrot are all good, tin coconut milk, rice, cashews or peanuts are really good too.
Put rice and veggies on to cook. Brown meat, add onion, cook, add curry paste, coat everything with it, add veggies, add coconut milk, simmer, serve over rice. If you don't use meat mushrooms and nuts are good for giving it more taste(and protein) and pumpkin/potato/sweet potato for bulk.

Peanut butter, the spice mix from the first recipe, chicken, veggies and coconut milk is really good too.

My recently invented risotto recipe:
2 cups rice (I use brown, and I soak it in water the day before so it cooks quicker) - boil it in stock (I use veggie stock powder), fry some garlic, onion, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. until soft; wait till rice is cooked and most of the water is gone then add veggies and tomato paste (~1-200 grams for this much rice), cook until nice and soft and the flavours are blended.  I usually put pumpkin/sweet potato pieces in with the rice to cook.

I lean towards very cheap, simple recipes, and not much processed stuff, these should all cost WAY under $4-5 per serve, the rice and the first curry should be ~$1-2, and still taste very good.

At the moment I'm really enjoying steamed cabbage with butter, salt and pepper - not nearly as bland as it sounds, very nice with steak


mahina

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2013, 04:25:41 AM »
lots of good ideas here already. i'll add that tracking alcohol and eating out separately from home cooked food will give you a better idea of your real situation. our food prices are astronomical here (hawaii, outer island) and also whacky--i can get a decent bottle of wine for the same price as a single bunch of kale.

also, look over your grocery receipts when you get home, and notice anything over $2, or whatever amount seems like 'a lot' to you. then think how many meals that item will provide. maybe it's a bargain after all. if not, decide if it's worth blowing your budget for.

now start looking for recipes using the items you consider really cheap. maybe it's eggs. maybe it's cabbage--depends where you live and what time of year. shopping for seasonal bargains is a great way to get the best flavor and nutrition, as well as the best prices.

here's a quick and delicious dish for the tomato glut months:
put some pasta on to boil
smash a couple cloves of garlic with some salt in the bottom of a big bowl; stir in some olive oil
step out on your patio and grab a couple handfuls of fresh herbs; tear them up and stir into the garlic oil
chop a lot of very ripe tomatoes; toss them with the garlic oil and herbs
drain the pasta, and toss it while very hot with the tomato mix
serve with a light grating of romano.

and do have a glass of wine!



nktokyo

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #7 on: June 08, 2013, 05:10:39 AM »
Prepare every meal from fresh base ingredients and steer clear of name brand food and expensive organic stuff for a month and you'll cut that by 75%.

or

Get $500 cash out of the bank at the start of the month. Once this runs out you're eating ramen for the rest of the month so make it last!

footenote

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2013, 05:44:33 AM »
I'm really curious about what you're buying to get the tab that high. Forced to guess, I assume you are spending a) too much on high-cost proteins (expensive meat vs beans) and b) too much time in the interior aisles of the grocery store. Others have said it, so I'll just re-inforce: do not buy pre-packaged foods! They are crazy more expensive than made-from-scratch cooking.

To start, find one or two low cost recommended recipes you really like eating. (My vote: beans and rice.) Start making that from scratch for supper(s), brown-bag lunches twice per week. That alone should decrease your spend dramatically.

Please keep us updated - excited about what you could do with an additional $1,000+ post-tax per month!

totoro

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #9 on: June 08, 2013, 08:28:38 AM »
I'll second the prudent homemaker: www.theprudenthomemakerblog.blogspot.com

Right now her blog has a post on how to eat for 40 cents a day.  She lives in Las Vegas.

avonlea

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #10 on: June 08, 2013, 09:58:10 AM »
We don't eat strictly vegetarian too often.  What helps us to cut down on costs and boost our veggie intake is to treat meat as a condiment, instead of the center of the meal.  There are lots of dishes that use a fraction of the meat in a normal American lunch or dinner but can still be quite tasty.  Here are some of our favorites:

1) Soups.  Chicken soup can be made in a number of ways and if you want to change it up a bit, add a fresh herb at the end.  (Cilantro is great and is very inexpensive if you don't grow your own herbs and buy them at the market.)  Use 1/4 pound of Italian sausage instead of chicken and you can also have a wonderful soup--and no need to add herbs with that one. We love pumpkin soup that has been made with chicken broth.  French onion soup is fun for a treat, not terribly inexpensive but definitely under the $4-$5 a serving threshold that you are looking for.  (What I've learned: Broth/stock makes or breaks the soup. Find a brand of broth that you really love.  Same with canned tomatoes.)

2) Stews.  We love the traditional type of beef and chicken stews.  We also love to make curries, usually with chicken or beef, but making curry with canned pumpkin or lentils is tasty, too.

3) Salads.  We pretty much keep this vegetarian but not vegan.  We do add boiled eggs usually.  Avocados and tomatoes are great this time of year. Roasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds add a lovely savory flavor.  A dash of dried or fresh fruit gives a little sweetness. It's also great  to throw in some basil or cilantro.  Making your own croutons with old bread, olive oil, salt and pepper can be super easy... and having croutons in a salad is the only way I can get my kids to eat it.

4) Stir-fry.  We love to make Chinese-style stir-fry.  I find that it's best to add chicken broth and oyster sauce for extra flavor and also to use potato starch/potato flour instead of corn starch for the thickener.  It's a little more expensive, but the flavor doesn't have the weird aftertaste that cornstarch leaves.

5) Egglant dishes. Turkish Moussaka is awesome.  Eggplant Parmesan is nice too.

All of these dishes will be well below $4-$5 a serving.

« Last Edit: June 08, 2013, 12:17:20 PM by avonlea »

swick

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2013, 11:18:28 AM »
All of these are really good ideas - there isn't too much more that can be suggested unless you are aware of where the money goes and can share it with us.

Spending on groceries always seems to be a hot button topic around the forums because opinions, priorities and locations vary widely. Living in Northern Canada is more expensive for groceries then the South, all of Canada is more expensive in the US - different areas in the same city will be different. If you have ethnic populations in your community you will get way more for your dollar by finding the small local shops then say shopping at Whole Foods.

Even the same store can have drastically different prices depending on which Isle you shop. At our Superstore, the spices, beans, tea, baking supplies are all significantly cheaper in the Ethnic food isle then in their respective isles.

The key is to really know what is available and what the average prices are in your area. Focus on making your own substitutions and economizing your own situations instead of trying to meet a benchmark dollar value that we throw out there. We are all in different situations - and it is an easy way to get discouraged if you are trying to meet a target suggested by someone who might be in a different situation - although it is always good to have a goal.

Mr. Minsc

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2013, 11:29:27 AM »
I'm going to hijack some of these posts for my own benefit. :)

hoo boy that's a lot of dollars...

1. Stop eating out
2. Eat down everything in your pantry so you can start fresh. If you need to buy an ingredient or two along the way that's fine, but the trend should be toward getting rid of everything in the house.
3. When you need to start buying things again, buy whole foods that you cook yourself or eat raw. There should be no artificially flavored and colored petroleum distillate / refined corn marvels-of-food-science in your cart. They taste like shit and are stupid expensive.
4. Eat everything you buy; that is, do your damnedest to not throw away any of your hard-earned cash in the form of food.

Good stuff.

1 )  I've gotten myself down to eating out once or twice a month, something I should axe completely.  Right now it's viewed as a treat so I can do with out it.  On the beer side I head in to town for some socializing at a board game night once a week at a bar in town.  I limit myself to one beer.  They do discount pitchers so if I can chip in one I will.  I've even considered saying screw the beer and get a cheaper tea.  There are usually one or two teas bought elsewhere through out the week.

2 ) That sounds awesome and I'd be all for doing that.  I do have two brothers living with me so it would require putting my foot down and convincing them.

3 ) I'm all for it.  The foot will have to go down.

4 ) I hate throwing food away.  "Turn that chicken over, there's plenty of meat on the bottom."  Still, I know I can improve in this area.

Beans and rice. Tons of different ways to make them. I've been making refried beans in my crockpot (super easy) and just doing beans/cheese burritos with salsa, avo, sour cream etc. Yum.

I like this, starting with the basics.  It can be hard to learn the basics of cooking for yourself, especially when you have a mother living not too far away who doesn't like cooking just for two.  I want to ween myself off this, going to three mom cooked suppers three nights a week is a hard habit to kill.

Prepare every meal from fresh base ingredients and steer clear of name brand food and expensive organic stuff for a month and you'll cut that by 75%.

or

Get $500 cash out of the bank at the start of the month. Once this runs out you're eating ramen for the rest of the month so make it last!

I've never eaten organic yet but I do see the lure of it.  At the moment though I believe learning to cook on the cheap is more important.

swick

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2013, 11:38:19 AM »
One thing I forgot :) Go through your pantry/receipts and see what packaged food your family eats the most and make a list - choose one that has a big impact on your budget and try and find a homemade substitute. They are usually cheaper to make and healthier and it is really rewarding too!

I know you are trying to get your meal prices down - but many people do not include or count their snacks in their figures for daily food spending  and they add up really quickly. This is one of the easiest places to find lost grocery spending.                             

Crash87

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2013, 12:06:29 PM »
$1,900... I can't fathom this. You might want to recheck your math.

Cheaper meal ideas:

www.budgetbytes.com

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #15 on: June 08, 2013, 12:47:26 PM »
Risotto, curry or similar are good!
my normal curry:
2 cups dry lentils (put them in water to soak the night before), 1-2tbs oil, 1-2 onions cut up and fried, ~1tsp each of turmeric, cumin, garam masala, fenugeek, ground coriander, garlic and ginger; around 1/4 - 1 tsp of chilli/cayenne depending on strength/tastes and 1-2 tins tomato - I put the lentils on to cook in a saucepan, fry the onions in a bit of oil, add all the herbs/spices, drain the water off the lentils once they're cooked (sometimes I top them up with water and do it again, not sure it does anything, but the water does still get discoloured), add a bit of fresh water and the tomatoes and onion/spice mix... simmer for a bit longer.
Also good with potato, chicken, whatever else you have. Probably better if you serve it with rice or bread, yogurt on the side is good, especially if you make it hot.

Another one:
~1/2 jar curry paste, meat of your choice (if wanted,), veggies (green beans, onions, broccoli and thinnish cut carrot are all good, tin coconut milk, rice, cashews or peanuts are really good too.
Put rice and veggies on to cook. Brown meat, add onion, cook, add curry paste, coat everything with it, add veggies, add coconut milk, simmer, serve over rice. If you don't use meat mushrooms and nuts are good for giving it more taste(and protein) and pumpkin/potato/sweet potato for bulk.

Peanut butter, the spice mix from the first recipe, chicken, veggies and coconut milk is really good too.

My recently invented risotto recipe:
2 cups rice (I use brown, and I soak it in water the day before so it cooks quicker) - boil it in stock (I use veggie stock powder), fry some garlic, onion, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. until soft; wait till rice is cooked and most of the water is gone then add veggies and tomato paste (~1-200 grams for this much rice), cook until nice and soft and the flavours are blended.  I usually put pumpkin/sweet potato pieces in with the rice to cook.

I lean towards very cheap, simple recipes, and not much processed stuff, these should all cost WAY under $4-5 per serve, the rice and the first curry should be ~$1-2, and still taste very good.

At the moment I'm really enjoying steamed cabbage with butter, salt and pepper - not nearly as bland as it sounds, very nice with steak

These sound delicious. Thank you for these!

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #16 on: June 08, 2013, 01:08:07 PM »
Thanks for all of the suggestions and tips! To put this in perspective, when I found MMM a few weeks ago, our costs on food dropped a lot. In April, we spent $2400 on food--mostly because of some spendy restaurants we went to--so it can and has been worse!

Our costs are high because we've developed some really bad habits. We also live in a high COL area, but I certainly can't blame it all on that. I had no idea how bad we'd gotten until I started tracking things. Here's how things broke down last month:

$165 on lunches
$110 on coffee and ordering in (we're planning to get the hubs a coffee maker for his office so he won't buy coffee anymore. I drink the free coffee at work but they don't provide it in his office.)
$190 on alcohol and bars
$375 on restaurants (I know, I know. About half of this is work-related and will be reimbursed)
$1045 on groceries

As I said in the first post, some of these lines will be easy to cut back. I can fairly easily eliminate the coffee, ordering in, lunches, and can cut back drastically on restaurants. But I actually thought we were doing ok on groceries...clearly we weren't. We go to Whole Foods a lot because it's within walking distance of our house. We don't have a Costco membership but will pull the trigger on that soon. Honestly, I'm going to have to start saving our grocery receipts and looking for culprits. I'm really not sure what we're buying that adds up so quickly. We eat meat for almost every meal, so that's an obvious thing. I don't know how to cook many vegetarian meals. So all of the grocery tips are really helpful.

One other thing--I want to permanently make some healthier changes for our family. I'm not interested in trying to get our costs down to an arbitrary number like $400/mo (although that would be awesome). Mostly, I just want to stop this runaway train of food spending and become more conscious of what we're doing.

Okay, one more thing--we're TOTALLY guilty of throwing food out. So clearly we're being super wasteful. I just haven't tracked it closely enough to see where the patterns are.

Mr. Minsc

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #17 on: June 08, 2013, 01:17:41 PM »
$1,900... I can't fathom this. You might want to recheck your math.

Cheaper meal ideas:

www.budgetbytes.com

I have added a new bookmark, this 31 year old male thanks you.

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #18 on: June 08, 2013, 01:28:46 PM »
$1,900... I can't fathom this. You might want to recheck your math.

Cheaper meal ideas:

www.budgetbytes.com

I have added a new bookmark, this 31 year old male thanks you.

+1
These recipes look amazing.

Dr.Vibrissae

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #19 on: June 08, 2013, 01:41:27 PM »
Okay, one more thing--we're TOTALLY guilty of throwing food out. So clearly we're being super wasteful. I just haven't tracked it closely enough to see where the patterns are.

^This.  Whenever I see someone spending so much more on groceries (even while eating out for dinner and lunch frequently) I assume they are buying much more food than they are actually eating, tossing it when it gets bad and then repeating.  Grocery shopping can get to be habitual, so that you buy some of the same things every week without really thinking about what you're actually eating/going to eat.  Looking into the food that we were frequently not finishing helped me be more conscious of what we buy, and when we need to freeze or eat up certain dishes. 

StarryC

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #20 on: June 08, 2013, 05:48:58 PM »
Yeah, I'd start making a list of the things you throw out and why.  Some of it can't be avoided, but a lot can.

Especially for produce, don't shop someplace where you are mostly buying prepacked collections (Trader Joes does this a lot).  I find if I buy 5 apples, they will all stay good.  If I buy a bag of 5 apples, usually 1 is already partially bad and "spoils the whole bunch." 

When you cook, think "what needs to be eaten soon," instead of "what do we feel like tonight?" 

When I was in college, I had a meal plan but friends also wanted to eat out.  But, every time I bought dinner at a restaurant I was paying for that dinner, plus the wasted dinner I paid for in my meal plan.  Every time you go out to eat while you have fresh food spoiling at home, you are paying for one dinner to eat, and one to waste. 

N

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #21 on: June 08, 2013, 09:23:26 PM »
whole foods is really expensive. When I used to almost exclusively shop there, I could easily spend 2-300$ a week there.

Right now there are a handful of stores that I shop at, usually a different one each week. They all have different things I like about them. Aldi, Food4Less, (those are both large chains) a couple of smaller, independent stores, and Costco. Sometimes I will stop at a particular butcher's and stock up on meat there. Im particular about my meat. :)

Try ethnic grocery stores, produce markets, etc, stay out of premium grocery stores. If a particular store has something you really like and can only get there, and its a good deal, fine, but dont get sucked into buying everything there!

eta: Meal Planning is really going to help you reduce waste. I will cook two chickens or a large turkey breast, use some for that nights dinner and then the rest goes into later meals, all planned. If you have a meal plan and a list, you dont end up missing crucial ingredients, or with tons of small amts of leftovers that have nowhere to go and get tossed.
« Last Edit: June 08, 2013, 09:25:31 PM by startingfromthestart »

swick

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #22 on: June 08, 2013, 10:14:45 PM »
eta: Meal Planning is really going to help you reduce waste. 

Startingfrom the start has a lot of good points! It reminded me of a post I wrote a while ago in the Grocery Shopping FireDrill! Thread - which has some great hints and tips and recipes people have shared! The main thing this site has done for me is made me aware of what is in my fridge/pantry so my food waste has gone WAY down.

 http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/throw-down-the-gauntlet/fire-drill!-skip-this-week's-grocery-shop/

I basically wrote a mini-review of the website I use to do all my meal planning. I have been using it since Dec 2012 and am still loving it. I have also found it really useful that it allows you to customize and divide your shopping list by store - very useful if you have a few you can frequent!

Anyway here is that post:

Hi Everyone!

Had some successes I'm pretty stoked about and wanted to share. I have a complete inventory of my cupboards, freezers and pantry!

I was given a three month trial to a website called Plan to Eat*. I was really skeptical because I have tried tons of recipe organizing software and they all seem bulky, time consuming and not that useful. Well after test driving it and playing around with it, I can definitely see it's uses!

Might not be for everyone, but for someone like me who loves to cook...is horrible at organizing blog recipes I want to make, and can only grocery shop one a month at the most, this is brilliant. I don't know how many items are in my pantry because I wasn't sure if I needed something so bought another "just in case" or was upset with myself because I forgot something I really did need.

The website is divided into three main categories: Recipes, Menu Planning, and Shopping List. The brilliant thing is how these categories interact.

You input your recipes either copy and past or there is a widget you can put on your search bar that you click and it will take the recipe from whatever site you are on. This works really well for the main recipe sites, it is hit and miss for blogs that have lots of text and pictures (Hubby was very impressed with what it could do, he says the coding would be a bear) but it usually gets the ingredients, a picture, the title and it saves the link to the recipe.

This works fine for me because I like going back the original recipe to read all the comments anyways. I love this because I have a very bad habit of looking up countless recipes and then keeping them all open in tabs because I want to make them but might not have the time or ingredients. Now that I have closed all those tabs, my computer (which I thought was dying) is working much faster:) and I have also saved lots on ink and paper!

There is a "recipe book" where all your recipes are and you can hover over it without clicking on it to list the ingredients, it also tells you have many ingredients are in the dish, and how many of the ingredients are already in your pantry.

Then there is the menu planning feature...the recipes are on one side divided by category and you can drag and drop them onto a calender to get your meal plan. Then the ingredients for any recipe you select are automatically put on your shopping list. This is accessible by mobile...but I don't have one so can't test out those features. The very coolest part of it, given this particular challenge, is there is a "Pantry" section...you have to enable it though by using the little gear on the shopping list section. It allows you to type in everything that you have in your pantry...even better it allows you to search for recipes based on your pantry ingredients! (can you tell I'm excited?) So I can do a pantry search, it lists recipes I have in order of least ingredients needed - then I add those recipes onto my planner and automatically get a shopping list for the ingredients I don't have.

The pantry also allows you to break it down into categories  I have tried to do this on a spreadsheet in the past one for the fridge, one for the pantry, one for the freezer...not only did it take forever, I wasn't good about updating when things got moved around or used. I'm hoping it will be easier and more fun to do online:)

There is also a bit of a community  around it so you can share recipes and such with other people and use their recipes as well.

*The site is run by a husband and wife team and the regular subscription rate is 3.25 a month or $39.00 for the year. I actually think the time, food,  and money it will save me is worth the price. However, they do have an affiliate program that gives you 20% of anyone you refer. The neat thing is they offer you a free month trial to see if it is something you really will use. Like I said, it probably won't be as perfect for many people and it does take a bit of time to set up. You can sign up for the free trial and the affiliate program right away, but you won't get paid unless you subscribe...so in the first month you can test it out and if you like it share and perhaps get your subscription paid for - and more people to share recipes with.

 If you are interested in getting an invite for a free month trial and don't mind if I get a bit of the money if you do end up subscribing, link is: http://www.plantoeat.com/ref/y0ycnpcikm

davisgang90

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #23 on: June 09, 2013, 04:23:28 AM »
I'm not rocking the super low grocery bills of some, but I've found that using the online recipe box and shopping list on www.allrecipes.com is a godsend.  I pick the recipes I want to make for the week, add them to the shopping list and all the ingredients are added to my list. 

Super easy way to organize your trip and ensure you are cooking some kick ass meals all week instead of calling Dominoes or going out to eat because "there is nothing to eat".

footenote

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #24 on: June 09, 2013, 06:44:40 AM »
Florence - Whole Foods - well there's your problem right there.

I met a friend for lunch Friday. I needed to pick up mushrooms and pepperoni for our Friday night homemade pizza night. Whole Foods was right across the parking lot. I thought "Well, it's just those two items. And it will save me a stop on the way home."

I hadn't been in a Whole Foods for about a year. I traversed the entire store, mesmerized by the prices. (I have calculated our Costco per-unit prices, so I had a good baseline in mind.) I left without buying a thing and saved $2 on the mushrooms (bought at a local grocer) alone. If you kick your Whole Foods / Trader Joe's habit, get a Costco membership and use it wisely, you are going to be pleasantly shocked by the savings.

I agree with your philosophy of not trying to get down to some magic number btw. You will find plenty of motivation in preparing fresh, cheap, nutritious, home-cooked meals.

mpbaker22

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #25 on: June 09, 2013, 07:16:12 AM »
I'm going to suggest starting small.  If you've been spending $1900/month, cut 10% first.  Try next month at $1810.  The following month at $1729, etc.

netskyblue

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #26 on: June 09, 2013, 08:01:24 AM »
Your food budget is less than my take-home pay   O.O

What is an example of some of the things you eat?  We do eat meat for most meals, but not more than once every week or two is it a big hunk of plain meat.  Last night, dinner was leftover taco meat with beans mixed in (we had eaten all the taco shells previously) over some rice, with a glass of milk.  I know I should have had a fruit or veg, but it was 11:30 pm when I got off work, and I was tired!  A side of frozen corn and maybe a banana or something wouldn't have added greatly to the meal cost.

Lasagna is another favorite. 

Cooking a whole chicken (rather than paying a premium for chicken breast) is another way to save.  Have roasted chicken one night, a casserole with the chicken meat another night, and  make chicken soup from the bones, with a little extra meat added in.  For two adults and one child, that one chicken could probably feed you for about a week, if you add fruits, vegetables, maybe a salad on the side.  Conventional chicken goes on sale around here for $.99/lb pretty regularly (making a bird under $5).  Even if I choose a pastured chicken, locally grown, fed no GMO feed it's $3.25/lb - this is direct from the farmer's website, or through our local co-op.  $13 for a 4lb bird.  If you get 10 servings out of that (and you could probably get more, if you ate smaller portions of the "main dish," that's < $.50 a serving for meat from the conventional bird, or $1.30 from the pastured bird.

Are you eating leftovers, or just throwing them out, to spend $1900/month? 

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #27 on: June 09, 2013, 12:32:09 PM »
All of y'all are so good at this!! I'm in awe. I want to quote everyone because the wisdom on this thread is amazing.

I've been taking everything in and planning meals for the week. I also did an assessment of what we have. Sadly, I ended up throwing out a lot of things that were beyond expired. That's definitely been a problem. But the upside is that I now have a clean fridge and pantry, and have ideas of what to cook with everything else. I actually just made some yummy rice and beans with things we already had. I did make a grocery run for some staples we needed. I saved about 20% off the bill with coupons, but I still spent $80. Cringing. I think I have what we need for a couple of weeks, though. I'm actually really excited about the cheap recipes I'm planning. The roasted chickpeas are in the oven now :).

I'm going to try to improve this month and report back. THANK YOU.

netskyblue

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #28 on: June 09, 2013, 01:09:28 PM »
Are you on Pinterest?  You can find LOTS of frugal meal ideas (with pictures!)

http://pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=cheap%20meals

Mozactly

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #29 on: June 09, 2013, 01:19:37 PM »
For cooking inspiration check out Budget Bytes www.budgetbytes.blogspot.com and for a more extreme approach The Prudent Homemaker Www.theprudenthomemakerblog.blogspot.com!

Great sites! Thanks for sharing these links. I'm making one of the recipes from Budget Bytes tonight, I think!

Mrs WW

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #30 on: June 09, 2013, 01:30:07 PM »
For cooking inspiration check out Budget Bytes www.budgetbytes.blogspot.com and for a more extreme approach The Prudent Homemaker Www.theprudenthomemakerblog.blogspot.com!

Great sites! Thanks for sharing these links. I'm making one of the recipes from Budget Bytes tonight, I think!

Go for the dragon noodles, we are hooked!

totoro

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #31 on: June 09, 2013, 02:47:49 PM »
I really like the budgetbytes website a lot. Thanks for that link.

Villanelle

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #32 on: June 09, 2013, 02:56:45 PM »
I lot of people recommend meal planning, but I think that can also end up costing you more.  I like to have a general meal plan, but I've found that being flexible saves a lot.  It allows you to buy in season and sale items.  If you stick to a strict meal plan then you end up buying the corn you planned instead of making a chicken asparagus salad when you find asparagus on sale. 

limeandpepper

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #33 on: June 09, 2013, 09:00:15 PM »
I lot of people recommend meal planning, but I think that can also end up costing you more.  I like to have a general meal plan, but I've found that being flexible saves a lot.  It allows you to buy in season and sale items.  If you stick to a strict meal plan then you end up buying the corn you planned instead of making a chicken asparagus salad when you find asparagus on sale.

Yeah, I don't really meal plan. I buy what's cheap and then work my meals around the ingredients I have. I guess it depends on how comfortable/creative/bold one is in the kitchen, but actually I've found most vegetables can go well either in a soup or stew or stir-fried or roasted, and have never had issues using something up, even if it's not particularly familiar to me (some Google research can help).

mikefixac

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #34 on: June 09, 2013, 09:22:12 PM »
Eating out for lunch.

Being from SoCal I eat my lunch at Baja Fresh and El Pollo Loco. Baja Fresh has a rice and bean plate and I load up on their salsas and also get a side order of tortillas. Makes for great tacos.

El Pollo Loco has bean burritos and I fill the burrito with salsas. In the range of $1 to $4 for lunch.

grantmeaname

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #35 on: June 10, 2013, 07:18:06 AM »
Being from SoCal I eat my lunch at Baja Fresh and El Pollo Loco. Baja Fresh has a rice and bean plate and I load up on their salsas and also get a side order of tortillas. Makes for great tacos.

El Pollo Loco has bean burritos and I fill the burrito with salsas. In the range of $1 to $4 for lunch.
That's still more than making them from home. Rice and beans both cost approximately zero dollars.

thefrugaltwo

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #36 on: June 10, 2013, 07:51:34 AM »
I plan before grocery shopping, I make a menu of exactly what I'm making and then a list of what I need to make each dish. I write the list in the order that I will come across it in the grocery store, this way my shopping time is also more efficient. If you eat mostly produce, and supplement with dried and canned goods your costs will nose dive. Without knowing you I can guarantee that you spend most of your money on pre-made sauces, pre-cut vegetables, frozen meals, yogurts, those types of things. Basically you're paying for packaging.

Focus instead on fresh produce, dried grains, canned beans, canned tomato paste, spices. Use produce that has a high and varied nutritional index. Sweet potatoes are probably the single best thing on a budget, they have a higher percentage of more vitamins than almost any other food in the world. And they're cheap. Buy too many? You can freeze them too. Start with this list:

The Short/Basic List of Cheap/Excellent Foods:

Cauliflower (you can even puree this to make "cauliflower rice" if it's on sale and you want to use a bunch at once)
Broccoli  (veg up your pesto with some broccoli)
Collard Greens (these are almost always the cheapest green, don't be fooled by kale evangelists)
Sweet Potatoes (use for sauces, binding agents in veg. burgers/loafs, curry, baked, fries, raw pasta-just spiralize, fritters, gnocchi, the list goes on)
Garlic
Ginger
Mushrooms
Peppers (buy when they're in season and freeze, these will get VERY pricey in the off season)
Canned or dried Chickpeas
Tomato Paste
Canned Fire Roasted Tomatoes (between this and tomato paste you can make any tomato based sauce or soup stock or curry that you will ever need)
Rice
Couscous
Millet
Hominy
Canned Corn
Cornmeal (People who buy boxes of "polenta" are wasting their money. It's all corn meal, and it's dirt cheap. You can make polenta, porridge, polenta loafs, grits, fried grits, use as a thickening agent as well in sauces,etc.)
Bones (yep, most places that sell meat also sell bones for practically nothing, make your own bouillon, people used to do it all the time)
Pickling Cucumbers or Carrots + Spices + Garlic + Apple Cider Vinegar = Fridge Pickles (if you're paying $2 or more for a jar of pickles, you're getting ripped off. make these during cucumber season, do real fermentation for the ones you want all winter.)










herisff

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #37 on: June 10, 2013, 08:00:58 AM »
If you get the local grocery store flyer, then review it when it comes, plan your meals from what's on sale, and buy accordingly. Be careful not to buy more than you can consume in that week, though, unless you have the freezer space to accomodate the extra.

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #38 on: June 10, 2013, 07:05:26 PM »
I just had to share...I showed my husband our grocery expenses last month and he goes, "What?! Did somebody steal our credit card?!"  Um, no. That was alllll us. Here's hoping to a better June.

chucklesmcgee

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #39 on: June 10, 2013, 07:41:03 PM »
Focus instead on fresh produce, dried grains, canned beans, canned tomato paste, spices. Use produce that has a high and varied nutritional index...

I'd throw in frozen produce and vegetable oils. I've found it's often just as cheap if not cheaper than fresh produce and it's shelf life means less frequent trips to the store.

Protein is always the most expensive. Eggs, tuna, and chicken breast are usually cost-effective. Get it with the skin and remove it yourself for an even better price.

netskyblue

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #40 on: June 10, 2013, 09:25:45 PM »
I'd throw in frozen produce and vegetable oils. I've found it's often just as cheap if not cheaper than fresh produce and it's shelf life means less frequent trips to the store.

And flash frozen produce can often be better nutritionally than fresh, when fresh isn't "in season."  It often has to be picked well before being ripe, to withstand cross country transport.  Frozen is often harvested at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen, which helps to preserve vitamins & minerals.

happy

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #41 on: June 11, 2013, 04:31:19 AM »
I just wanted to add that sometimes you can make substitutions that are just a matter of habit: eg recipe calls for canned salmon...but would it make much difference if it was tuna, at half the price?

8 little single serve sachets of flavoured oats for $4 or 500g of rolled oats<$1 with some flavours you add yourself? (And rolled oats are even cheaper if you buy in bulk)

Also convenience costs: block cheese is much cheaper than packets of sliced or grated cheese. A whole chicken is often cheaper than pre cut. Sliced chicken breast for  stir fry etc is $2 a kg more than whole chicken breasts in my supermarket. Yoghurt mix to make at home is half the price of off the shelf yoghurt. Making my own bread saves me at least $1 a loaf and I cheat using breadmix and a breadmaker.

It probably takes a couple of months to "de-junk" but once you get used to fresh whole foods cooked at home, most commercially produced food tastes like fake crap.

amyable

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #42 on: June 11, 2013, 12:36:36 PM »
Sadly, I ended up throwing out a lot of things that were beyond expired. That's definitely been a problem.

I think it will really help if you keep your fridge super tidy--if my fridge is too full or messy, I become overwhelmed looking at it and can't easily envision a meal the way I can when it's really neat.  You may want to try putting things that are closer to expiring at the front, so you'll be more likely to use them.

FlorenceMcGillicutty

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #43 on: July 02, 2013, 03:02:16 PM »
Hi! I wanted to report back for June. We're still not doing nearly as well as we'd like, but we did cut $300 from May. The breakdown is:

Groceries: $898
Restaurants: $211
Food and dining: $195
Alcohol and bars: $159
Fast food: $77
Coffee: $50 (half of this is the cost of a coffee maker for the hubs at work)

I know this is still ridiculous. I'm not looking for any high fives here--I just wanted to let y'all know that the comments were helpful and we're making some headway.

This was an unusual month because my husband went on a trip with some buddies and we also had guests in town for two weeks. So the costs reflect the extra food $$ for the trip and for feeding two more adults than usual.

We still haven't made a trip to Costco because we've been clearing out what we already have and trying to figure out what we would actually eat in bulk. We've gotten WAY better about shopping smartly and not throwing things out. I've also tried a lot of the yummy recipes that y'all shared. Thank you!!

My goal for next month is to shave the budget down another $300. One thing I'm realizing--living within walking distance to Whole Foods is a hazard. Damn you, WF!

kkbmustang

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #44 on: July 02, 2013, 03:11:19 PM »
You know what? You've gotta start where you are. And you clearly brought it down quite a bit given that you spent $300 less AND had house guests for an extended period of time. Are you where you should be yet? No, but you're paying attention and working on it. It won't happen overnight.

StarryC

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #45 on: July 02, 2013, 04:34:22 PM »
I hate to recommend a product to purchase, but I bought these a month ago after throwing away lettuce about 4 days after buying it: http://www.amazon.com/Rubbermaid-Produce-14-Cup-Storage-Containers/dp/B004RLNER4/ref=pd_sim_hg_3

I put lettuce in one and it has, so far, lasted 2 weeks.  I put grapes in the other.  They don't taste so great, but they are still crisp and not moldy after 2 weeks.  I was really pleasantly surprised.  If you are going to buy WF produce, at least make sure you don't throw it away.

I think the next thing to work on is fast food.  It isn't especially delicious, you can have convenient food at home or packed with you, and it isn't an enjoyable experience you'll feel like you are giving up.  You can get that $77 down to less than $20 with almost no effort.

Russ

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #46 on: July 02, 2013, 04:49:29 PM »
Fuck yeah, congratulations

avonlea

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #47 on: July 02, 2013, 04:58:48 PM »
Thanks for the update, FM!  Congrats on the good start.  I agree with kkbmustang; paring down costs while hosting visitors and paying for your husband's trip definitely deserves a nod of recognition...and why not a high-five, too? :)  I'm looking forward to hearing more in the future!

Eric

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #48 on: July 02, 2013, 05:25:29 PM »
Great job so far!  Keep paying attention to prices and I'm sure you'll get that cut even further.

I feel like I was in a similar situation.  You are walking distance from Whole Foods.  I'm walking distance from my farmers market.  So I buy all my produce there.  Or I used to.  I was buying carrots at $2/lb or potatoes at $1.50/lb, because that's what they cost at the farmers market and that's where I buy my produce.  Ummm, pay attention Eric!  Carrots are $.49/lb at the store down the street.  And the other store has 10lb bags of potatoes for $2. ($.20/lb)   I've found that there are large price discrepancies on many items if you pay attention.


nktokyo

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Re: Getting meals below $4-5/serving
« Reply #49 on: July 02, 2013, 06:37:36 PM »
Hi! I wanted to report back for June. We're still not doing nearly as well as we'd like, but we did cut $300 from May. The breakdown is:

Groceries: $898
Restaurants: $211
Food and dining: $195
Alcohol and bars: $159
Fast food: $77
Coffee: $50 (half of this is the cost of a coffee maker for the hubs at work)

I know this is still ridiculous.

Yup that's still crazy. It's good that you are starting to be aware of your spending but to put things in perspective, it's like someone who's vastly overweight reporting back that they only ate 8 king size bars of chocolate and not the usual ten last month.

What does your whole budget look like? Rent/mortgage, entertainment, cars, gas, trips etc. I ask because very rarely do you see a tight ship with only food costs being overblown. I suspect there are several leaks.