When I first lived on my own I would go grocery with hardly a list. It would include items that I ran out of like ketchup or eggs. I would wonder from aisle to aisle putting whatever in my cart. My grocery bill would never be the same and the food I selected was mostly frozen or boxed. When I moved in with my future husband we would go shopping together and essentially do the same — roaming the grocery store putting random food items in our cart. Stock piling certain foods with no regard to health or budget. During the week we’d have the same conversation:
“What do you want for dinner.”
“I don’t know, what do you want?”
“I don’t know. how about insert name of nearby takeout place.”
We would end up eating out three or four times a week. It was bad for our wallets. We needed to make changes so I took the Internet for some ideas and soon implemented them. In those five-ish years our grocery habits have changed very little, our spending has been well managed, and our schedule has been kept. I find that a lot of people have the same trouble so here is what I did to get our food under control.
Cut It Out
Making grocery changes wasn’t just for budgetary reasons but also for health reasons. We wanted to eat healthier and a lot of the foods we had been purchasing weren’t that great. A lot of what we cut fit both of these categories so it was a win-win.
Milk and cereal. Have you ever noticed how expensive cereal is? Seriously. It’s fucking ridiculous. When you purchase cereal you then need milk but without one you don’t need the other. Money saved. As a bonus, a lot of cereals (at least the ones we were eating) weren’t the most well-rounded of breakfasts. As cliche as it sounds, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It gives you energy for your day. Maybe once or twice a year we’ll purchase cereal but it’s usually to put into snack bars or something. We’re a big fan of these and this French toast bake is delicious.
- No more soda. Soda isn’t the best beverage for you. It’s full of sugar, sodium, and is bad for you teeth. I like my teeth. They’re in pretty good shape and keeping them that way will be one less thing I have to spend money on. A few years ago I even cut out sweet tea. A huge triumph considering I was raised in the South. Get yourself a Brita filter and you’re good to go. I like lemon in my water because it’s refreshing and great for your skin. Recently I’ve started using those water flavoring drops. Drinking water all the time gets boring and these shake things up.
- Less red meat. Red meat is expensive so we decided not to buy as much. We buy more turkey, chicken, and fish instead and have experimented with different recipes to keep things interesting, including vegetarians meals.
- More fresh vegetables. I grew up on canned and frozen vegetables but when I found out, rather quickly, that fresh ones taste better. It also forced us to learn how to cook them. This also eliminated a need to stock pile cans of food so we ended up having more room in our pantry and freezer.
- More fresh food. This is basically a combination of all of the above. Buying and cooking fresher foods means you’re buying less frozen and packaged ones. The later are generally highly processed and in cutting them out we automatically were eating better. There is still the occasional froze pizza or nuggets.
Meal preps are pretty easy when it’s just two people. I can’t give any advice on food prepping with kids or with more people because we don’t do that. It’s just the two of us. We decide on three meals and a breakfast (if we remember) each week, write up a grocery list, and then cook everything on Sunday.
We select one slow cooker meal, one vegetarian, and one whatever. We try not to have too much pasta in one week or consecutive weeks but shit happens. The biggest challenge we’ve encountered are the sides. We normally start with the main dishes and then we get tired and then don’t make the sides which are normally veggies. We are constantly trying to to eat more veggies because of this.
When we make a large batch of something (sauce or chili) we freeze a portion of it. Every couple months or so we’ll do a freezer clean out. Between the freezer and whatever random shit we have in our pantry, we’ll create meals for the week. This is always fun because I feel like I’m on an episode of Chopped.
- You get all your cooking done in one day. Which means more time during the week to do something else.
- You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to eat. Not racking your brain about what you have and can make.
- You have more control over your budget. Restaurants have a price for their menu but when you’re creating your own you can pick and choose what to incorporate.
- You become a better cook. This is probably the best pro in my opinion. We have both become better cooks because we try new foods and recipes. It’s fun!
- Cooking can take a few hours or most of the day. Making plans can be difficult.
- The downside of trying new recipes is that sometimes they can be a major pain the ass. We made beef wellington once. We made it, I can say we made it, but we’re not likely to make it again because it was very involved.
- Another downside for recipe experimentation is that they don’t turn out as well as you want. It hurts when you’ve spent time making something and it sucks. I feel guilty throwing away food but if it’s inedible…
- Some foods don’t “leftover” as well as others. Like anything crispy.
I always get a few questions whenever the topic of meal prepping comes up. Here are the ones I get most often. If you have any that aren’t listed below, let me know!
- What if you get tired of the food? Like I mentioned above, I feel guilty throwing away food so I suck it up and eat the food that we made.
- What if you don’t make enough? This happens often. We always try to keep something easy and quick on hand to remedy this. Either peanut butter and jelly or something from the freezer like frozen pizza or chicken nuggets.
- How do you reheat everything? The microwave. We’ve talked about using the oven to help with the crispiness but that takes significantly longer than a microwave … we’ve lazy.
- How long does it take? A few hours to most of the all day. We start around 9 or 10am and are typically done by noon. It depends on the complexity of the recipe. When we made that beef wellington we finished around 3:30 pm.
- Doesn’t it go bad? Your biggest concern is going to be the meat. Cooked meat lasts four to five days in the fridge so we’re usually good. If it smells funky, then it’s probably not good.
Week 1 ($80 something, the sirloin and almond flour were the most expensive):
- Korean bbq burritos (slow cooker)
- honey Sriracha tofu with stir fried veggies (vegetarian)
- almond flour flatbread pizza (takes less than 20 minutes)
- sausage taquitos (breakfast)
Week 2 ($50ish, doesn’t include the chicken which we had in the freezer):
- baked honey mustard chicken with smashed potatoes (no cheese!) and roasted broccoli (lots of oven time which is almost like a slow cooker)
- pesto turkey meatballs with pasta and homemade sauce
- California roll sushi bowl (kind of vegetarian)
Week 3 (Around $65):
- Korean bulgogi kimchi tacos (dairy free yogurt as a substitute for the sour cream)
- orzo and chicken with sun dried tomatoes (one pot meals are the. fucking. best)
- buffalo cauliflower subs (I love making cauliflower like this and recently we started putting them on a sub which just makes it even better. Plus, it’s dairy free!)
- almond joy breakfast bake (dairy free!)
How we meal prep and saved money on groceries!