Soup to nuts: Preparing meals to save money

Being careless with spending on food can be a budget-buster.  If there’s enough cushion in your budget that you can be a bit careless, that’s great, but when a pinch happens, careful grocery purchasing could be the difference between staying out of the hole and getting into one.  Cutting the fat out of a grocery budget is one of the easiest and best ways to save money.

Northern Cheapskate retweeted an archived article from Being Frugal on four tips to avoid the fast-food takeout lane.  Following through to this article I was pleased to see that we were already doing these things!  Here’s how we implement Lynnae’s four tips (which are in boldface):

  • Use the crockpot.  We’ve tried a number of crockpot meals, from beef stew to pad thai to chili.  (Award-winning chili, no less!)
  • Cook ahead.  If there’s a meal ready, it’s really easy to grab one, throw it in a little cooler, and take it to work.  My father-in-law makes a mean pasta e fagioli soup.  (In fact, I’m going to go get a container now … back in a sec …. )   He makes it in huge batches.  It keeps well in the refrigerator.  And I haven’t gotten sick of it yet.
  • Eat early. We eat dinner at all kinds of different times, so being a slave to schedule isn’t one of our problems.
  • Keep it simple. I’m all for simple when it comes to food.  When I find something nutritious that agrees with me, I’ll stick with it to the end.  My favorite simple food:  raw almonds.  We buy a couple of bags every time we go to Costco, because I go through them.

Lynnae certainly came up with a good list.  Here are some of the common threads that make these tips work:

  • Perhaps dial back “gourmet” a bit.  This isn’t the same thing as dialing back “taste.”  (The food can be delicious.)  But five-course meals, these are not.  Unless you have someone in your family that absolutely loves to cook and has the time to produce five-star meals consistently, keeping the meals more meat-and-potatoes will improve the chances that you’ll stick with it.
  • Experiment to find meals that you’ll enjoy for a while.  Not all of the meals that we tried were winners.  But in Thomas Edison style, each time that happened, we found another meal that didn’t work.  Eventually we’ve found several that we know will be great.
  • Prepare to … prepare.   The expensive parts of many foods are the processing, the packaging, and the service.  But take away those expensive parts, and you’re left with preparing the food yourself.  The meals don’t make themselves, unfortunately.  That’s where the preparation comes in: having the meals already made when you’re hungry.  Preparing food isn’t a whole lot of fun when you’re hungry — which is why it’s a lot easier to just call out for pizza.

What other tips do you have for streamlining meal time on a budget?

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize the good deals in life.

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  1. Good points! I would add that part of meal planning is menu planning which will control your expenditures. Our meal planning includes using a shopping list and using existing products in your kitchen.

  2. Food is probably one of the biggest money wasters for people that want to save money. Eating out, buying too much food at the grocery store and all those stops at the convenience store add up. All you have to do is put a little effort into planning your meals and you can save more money then you think.

  3. Given the amount of money we spend over time on food, it is financially prudent to keep a keen eye on that portionn in our expenses. You provide excellent points. I think for most, ordering takeout or eating out is a result of not having the time to prepare or well, sheer laziness to. However, if one keeps it simple, prepares before hand and looks for healthy alternatives…you end up with the whole package: reduced food expenses, healthier meals and well. you learn new food stuff :)

    • John Wedding says:

      I know that I personally discount the value of learning how to cook. It would show God’s sense of humor to put me in a position where I would need to cook for myself. Excellent points. Thanks for stopping by!

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