“Why would someone say they love to cook, but not eat? May as well just say “I enjoy building models of food.”—my buddy Jordan
A good point, that. Why spend all that money on meals just to satiate a stunted childhood urge to play kitchen?
Seeing as how I shamelessly enjoy putting food in my mouth, I thought I’d share a different kind of blog post. I draw my inspiration today from Glamour magazine.
Believing that every woman (and man) should be privy to good fashion sense without breaking their budget, Glamour posts a few items of clothing each month that can be mixed, matched and made into at least a dozen different combinations.
To me, this is a brilliantly innovative idea. It not only helps keep your outfit ideas fresh in between laundry days (and if you’re like me and you don’t spend a lot of time planning what you’re going to wear) but also shows how less can be more.
Having a good personal style is not a luxury, and neither should your diet be. You are what you eat after all.
My goal in this post is to give some grocery list ideas that will be good for a week’s worth of meal combinations. You will be able to use these in multiple recipes, and as a result, you’ll save more money and be less hungry overall.
Good food and saving my sweet moolah are probably two of my favorite things ever— especially since I lost my job last month!
To top it all off, I’m going to put up some links for coupons. I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with these coupon sites. It’s kind of like a game, and if you play it right, stores are essentially giving you free produce. That said, you know those 50 little leaflets you get in your mail for Dollar General and Aldi with pages of brightly colored coupons? You might want to hang on to those from now on and consider becoming a cutter. NO, not that kind. More on that later.
First, ask yourself some questions to get a grocery plan together:
Step 1: Think about what you eat the most of. My roommate loves her some Triscuits, almond milk, frozen dinners and sausage links.
Step 2: When do you normally eat? Are you a breakfast person, a big lunch eater or a late night snacker? To use my wonderful roommate as an example again; she works late nights and rarely is awake before noon. So she gets up, makes herself a big lunch and then heads out to work in the evening. When I see her come home, she typically has tracked down some fast food for her dinner cravings.
Step 3: How big is your appetite? This also takes into account any diets you may be on. Portion size is a very important part of this planning process. The majority of the time that I waste food is because I have much more than I can reasonably eat on my plate. Most times I’ll save what I don’t eat later, but that’s not always possible. Be honest about how much it takes to fill you up. When I say fill you up, let’s be clear. There’s a big difference between appetite and hunger. You can look at that cheesecake and think, man, I want to eat that delicious confection. But you’re not really hungry for it. Get the difference? Hunger is a natural physiological process of your body that tells you it needs to be nourished, but how much you need to eat is different for everyone. For me, it only takes very small portions for me to fill satiated and energized. My friends tease me because I often ask if I can order from the kid’s menu at restaurants, but hey, it works. No point in paying for food you’re not going to eat, right?
Step 4: What’s your budget? All this is of no use to you if you don’t have an amount in mind that you could reasonably invest into this hypothetical grocery run. I will tell you one thing though; no matter how much or how little money you have set aside for your meals, you will save hella more bucks going to the grocery store once a week and cooking your own food then going out to eat once or twice a day. Even when you buy fast food.
Using my roommate as the hypothetical shopper here, let’s say her grocery budget is $50. We’ve already established that she likes carbohydrates in the form of crackers and TV dinners. Much like myself, she gets the munchies when she’s just sitting around the house, and doesn’t want to necessarily make a whole meal just for herself. We like having what I call some “tasty nibblins” around (aka finger food).
She also enjoys toaster strudels because they’re easy to pop in the toaster and eat when she’s running out the door. She probably only eats one big meal a day, if that. Like many 20 somethings, she often subsists on a scavenger diet of eating “small meals” multiple times a day, rather than having 2 or 3 planned meals.
So, here’s what we’re going to do for this mash up.
- Chicken Breast
- Rice Cakes
- Salad Mix
- Peanut Butter
- Graham Crackers
- 1 tray of mixed vegetable “snacks”
- 1 dozen apples
- 1 loaf bread
- 7 cans soup
- 5 oz of Boar’s Head lunch meat (turkey, pastrami and peppered beef).
Now the fun part! Let’s go couponing!
Here’s my favorite coupon web site. This site is genius, because when you go to this database, you can search for coupons on anything. The people running this site are constantly updating it, and adding new resources as they become available. You can also search by merchants, to get coupons for your favorite stores. I personally am a big fan of Aldi and Target. Walmart can suck my nonexistent phallus (why I hate Wal-Mart is a post unto itself).
Aldi captured my heart when they started the quarter for a cart system. As an accountant, I can appreciate what a great external control system this is. Basically, you have to put a quarter into the cart rack to get a cart out. When you bring the cart back, it gives you back your quarter. This has almost completely nixed cart theft for the company. Shopping carts are an expensive investment, and so this attention to risk reduction at the most basic levels impressed me. They also have hella good deals on their groceries. You will save a lot of money shopping there, and they have great coupon incentives every week.
When I went to CouponDivas and typed in “salad” in the database, here’s what I got.
You have all kinds of choices on what types of salad mix, dressing, etc that you could try. The value column shows you exactly how much you’re saving.
So, keeping in mind our $50 budget, and searching for coupons for the 10 products I listed, here’s what I found:
- Chicken Breast (save $3 1 time coupon for Tyson.)
- Rice Cakes (buy one get one free coupon from Quaker)
- Salad Mix (half off coupon from Kroger)
- Peanut Butter (buy 2 get one free coupon from Coupons.com)
- Graham Crackers
- 1 tray of mixed vegetable “snacks” (no coupon)
- 1 dozen apples (no coupon found, this time)
- 1 loaf bread (bought from the clearance rack at the bakery, which means it’s approaching 5 days old. Saved 1/2 off. Still tastes fresh and will keep for much longer if you need. Just freeze it!)
- 7 cans soup (buy 2 get one free coupon from coupons.com)
- 5 oz of Boar’s Head lunch meat. (buy 5 oz, get 1 free from Boars Head website)
What’s the total damage?
This time around I went to Kroger ( I went to the store and got price checks on the little laser scan thingies but didn’t actually buy anything for myself) and I would have spent $36 for a weeks worth of food. We’re under budget and that’s a little over $5 a day. Consider how that compares to going out to grab fast food or restaurant food every day, for several meals!
Okay, now time for the mash up. These are just my ideas for meal planning, but you could adjust it as needed or desired.
Day 1: Morning snack, have some apples and peanut butter.
For lunch/dinner try making a chicken salad. Cook some of the chicken breasts, and cut them into slices. Add some of the veggies from the snack tray and you have an easy, tasty meal. If you’re still hungry, make yourself some soup! You won’t feel weighed down afterwards.
Day 2: Morning snack, try some of those rice cakes. I love the chocolate ones, but also the apple cinnamon. They’re very light but surprisingly filling!
Lunch/dinner, make a big sandwich. You can use some of the salad mix, the Boar’s Head meat of your choice (no fillers or preservatives, so this brand is extra tasty), and of course, the bread. I even enjoy adding some apple slices. If you’re still hungry later, have some graham crackers. I like them with peanut butter/nutella, but if you have some chocolate hiding out somewhere, I highly recommend melting it and then spreading a little of it on the cracker. mmmm!
Day 3: Get some vinegar (or balsamic dressing), some of the lunch meat, some of the veggies (carrots/baby tomatoes/celery), and some of the salad mix. Chop it up in a bowl until it’s cut into bite sized pieces. Put between two slabs of bread. Utterly delicious. If you make enough for more than one meal, save for later. It will keep well in the fridge.
Day 4: Take some bread, tear into pieces, cover with olive oil or butter and some salt/garlic. Put on tray and bake in the oven at 450 for 10 minutes. you now have home-made croutons. Make yourself some soup and enjoy.
Day 5: Grill some chicken breast in a skillet with a little bit of cooking oil. Add some of your left over homemade croutons and crumbled graham crackers. Instant breading! Add some cheese and tomato sauce for chicken parmesan. Have a side salad.
Day 6: Pick your favorite soup, add the remaining veggies, boil. Add left over meat from chicken/Boars Head, cut into cubes. Voila stew. Some of the cheese flavored rice cakes are perfect with this.
Day 7: Dessert. You’ve earned it. Mix peanut butter, crumbled graham crackers, sugar, butter and an egg. Line bottom of a greased baking pan. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Drizzle melted chocolate on top. Result? The best peanut bars you’ve ever tasted. Keep forever and are absurdly tasty!
Well, those are just some ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure my readers can get much more creative. My point in this post is just to show it is possible to eat well and still save money. Let me know if this works for you or if you have questions about coupons.