Eating out is convenient when your meal is prepped and cooked for you. You never have to worry about the clean up afterward, and your only job is to show up and eat.
It all sounds nice until the bill comes. There was a period in my life when I was eating out all the time, and by the end of the month, I started to ask myself where my money went.
After that, I developed seven simple habits that help me cook on a budget, eat healthily and helps me save a ton of money.
If you want to save your money, you have to keep track of your spending and plan the meals you want to cook. To prepare your meals, you first have to make a plan for the ingredients you want to use.
You will be able to find cheaper food once you know which ingredients you need to buy. You can then figure out which meals you want to prepare, and that is how you can save a ton of money.
It’s not that hard at all! Take it from me, and try this out: go to google.com and type the ingredients you have and add the recipe to the end of the sentence, for example, eggs spinach potato recipe. You will have a dozen of recipes to choose from. (Or check out $5 Meal Plans.)
Once you master the skill of meal planning, everything will be much easier, and the amount of money left in your pocket will be surprising. You can track your meals and groceries by using pen and paper or by using an app on your phone. There are a lot of apps available for meal planning and shopping; they are also very easy to find. Inform yourself about the various groceries and their nutrients so you can not only have a cheap meal, but it will also be healthy.
BUY GROCERIES THAT ARE IN SEASON
Buying groceries that are in-season can have multiple benefits. Not only will your meals taste better, but ingredients that are in-season are also often less expensive.
One more benefit of produce that is in the season is that it’s at its peak in nutrients at that time. You can also buy more of the produce in season and freeze it so you can still pay less and use it later for future meals.
You should pay attention to one thing though, a lot of supermarkets sell frozen vegetables and fruits that are in-season at the lower price. Don't be fooled. Frozen is not the way to go when the product is already in-season. It's a trick grocery stores like to use when they didn't manage to sell the product by a specific date.
BUY LESS EXPENSIVE MEAT
People tend to connect the meals on a budget to recipes that don’t include meat at all. Why? Meat can get expensive. This doesn’t have to be true. You can still eat meat and save money at the same time.
Buy less expensive cuts of meat, and you will save money without leaving the meat out, the only thing you will have to add is a little effort. And this is why you should look for bone-in cuts, tougher cuts of red meat, skin-on, and chicken thighs instead of the breasts.
You will have to put some extra effort in deboning and trimming the meat, but the taste will be the same, and the nutrients will be intact. Now you’re probably thinking: how am I supposed to eat tougher cuts, should I grind them?
Well, it’s simple really. Just use a different cooking method. Try using a slow cooker. The tougher cuts of meat will be juicy and tender. Fish turns out nice and tasty, and it’s cheap too. Why not try to fry the fish fillets or cook soup? Whole chickens can also be a lot cheaper and pork belly, there are a lot of different meats that are cheap and still make a great meal.
BUY IN BULK
Bigger volume shopping can save a lot of money; all markets have discounts on bulk items at the grocery store. Plan big, buy big and save big.
If you come across a discount, buy as much as you can. You won't need to throw the excess away. Just pack it and freeze the rest if you don't need it in the next few days. It’s really that simple and easy.
Not only you will cut your budget; you won’t have to go shopping that often. You will be backed up with various groceries, and you won’t have to go shopping each day.
The smart thing to do would be to buy the groceries you use the most. As time goes by, you will know what item you will need for various meals, so you will be safe to buy it in more significant volume. Potatoes, for example, or carrots or any basic vegetable can be used in a lot of different meals.
BUY WHOLE FOODS
Buy brown rice, beans, and quinoa. Whole foods are inexpensive and can be meals by themselves. Not only do they bulk up the meal, but they cut the price almost in half.
Whole grains keep you full for a longer time, so they can even help you lose weight. Not to mention they will improve your digestion. Get a block of cheese instead of the shredded one, and keep it in the freezer.
The beauty of whole foods is that you can also buy them in large quantities, so there’s an extra trick to save money. I tend to buy rice as much as I can, black beans as well since they can be used in a lot of different recipes.
Today I might cook burritos, tomorrow Chinese food, the day after I might make a rice salad. The key is preparing different types of meals with the same ingredients, so you don’t grow tired of eating the same thing every day.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LEFTOVERS
If you notice that you are throwing away a lot of food or you can’t finish the meal, this can be solved in two ways.
The first one is to prepare smaller meals, and the second is to make use of what is left if you don’t plan to eat the same meal over again.
Think of it this way. If you had chicken today and you have some meat left over, use that meat to make a sandwich. If you cooked white rice as a side dish and you have a lot you didn't finish, add some sugar and cocoa, and you will have a delicious treat for later.
Wasting food is wasting money, and you can make the use of everything with just a little bit of imagination. If you find yourself stuck and out of ideas, get on the internet, and you will solve that problem in no time.
GO TO THE FARMERS MARKET
The farmers market can be a lot cheaper than supermarkets, but it depends on where you live. Some farmer markets can actually be the expensive option.
You should check them out and compare the prices anyway. Farmer markets are an excellent source for finding cheap vegetables and fruits, especially if the seller wants to bargain – sometimes they will even throw in a little extra just to make a good impression.
Here’s a handy little tip. Go to the market an hour before it closes. You will get a lower price guaranteed because tomorrow those groceries will not be as fresh and they will have to sell it at a much lower price.
These are the seven simple habits that help me cook on a budget without eating low quality and processed food. I hope that these habits will become yours as well and that you will manage to cut your grocery budget and eat healthy at the same time. It's all a matter of putting in a little effort, and that can mean making all of the difference. I sure am happy with my results, and I'm even proud of how good of a cook I became.
What habits are you using to save money in the kitchen? I would love to hear about your ideas in the comments below!