Tips for Saving Money on Weekly Groceries:

August 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm 1 comment


Ah, meal planning.  I’m by no means an expert.  This list is an accumulation of wisdom that I’ve gathered from friends, family, and internet strangers. If you have any suggestions, I’d LOVE to add them.  What do you do to save $ on food while still eating healthy? Just post it in the comments section.

MEAL PLANNING IDEAS: (tasty, time-saving, planet-saving, money-saving ideas)

1. Make a list of what you have in the fridge and take note of what is needed most needed to be used up.  Aim to not throw out a single scrap, if possible.  If you need a few ideas for using up produce, here are some suggestions:

  • make veggie broth with wimpy celery and whatever else you have that needs to be salvaged.  Obviously, the best broth is made with fresh vegetables, so get ’em while they’re hot.
  • make soups with veggies that are over-abundant in your fridge….some of the best soups I’ve ever made were conceived without a cookbook.  Just be sure to add the harder vegetables in before the softer ones, and don’t go crazy with 10 different herbs and spices or anything….curry spices like coriander, cumin and turmeric go well with potato soups, while herbs like thyme, oregano, and basil are great with tomato-based soups…. experiment!
  • Freeze items before they spoil.  Whenever I have a mass of brown bananas on hand, I unzip them, throw them in container and freeze them, and then wait for the midnight ice cream urge.  Throw 2-3 frozen bananas in the food processor with 1 cup of fresh fruit- mango, strawberry, whatever you have- and voila! Fat-free ice creamy goodness! Ten points if you wash the food processor before you go back to bed.
  • Juice it before you lose it! (Even if you don’t have a juicer, you can always try “Mock juicing

2.  I am not convinced that crispers work.  In my opinion, the crisper is where produce goes to die of neglect, in a pool of festering brown goo.  Instead, I’ve found it better to keep condiments that I rarely use down there, like mustard, relish, pickes, etc.  I know that I have them, so I don’t need to see them everytime I look in the fridge.  This way, I can give the priority fridge real estate to the perishable items.

3. With your list of things needing to be used up, imagine that it’s nuclear winter, you are stuck in your cold-war bunker, and must prepare a delicious meal for your clan with only the items from your fridge and bombshelter pantry.  Use your imagination- try something a little crazy.  The god of leftovers is a benevolent force.

4. If you can’t come up with anything to make based on the random contents of your fridge, start thinking about what you could buy to help use other things up.  For example, if you have a lot of cilantro that is staring to turn on you, maybe plan a mexican or southwest theme for a few meals.  It ain’t going to use itself up.

5. Consider:

  • what is in season locally?   It’s cheaper than buying it in winter, and it’s guaranteed to taste great! (Have tried a “tomato” in winter??)
  • what is the weather forcast?  If it’s going to be a scorcher, think no-cook or Raw:  Smoothies, fruit salads, gazpachos, veggies and dip, hummous, guacamole.  You won’t want to turn your oven on, and raw food will keep you peppy through the heat wave.
  • What does your body want?  Within reason, your body know what it needs.  I don’t mean coffee/sugar cravings.  My boyfriend is really good at this. He has a system when he tries something new like a tea or health food power like rooibus or spirulina.  First he samples it,  then waits a few days, and then takes another sniff of it.  Sometimes he’s attracted to it, and other times he’s put off.  Using this information, he is able to tell whether or not it is good for him.  He’s my little German Shepherd, lol!  But it works really well for him.  At any rate, think about what your body needs before you go to the grocery store. More greens this week?  More nuts and seeds?  Less starchy roots?  Lighter food? Heavier food? Cooked food? Listen.

6. Consider becoming part of a Food Coop or Bulk-Buying Club.  Save $ on your staples. If you live in Vancouver, the UBC farm has a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Programme that you can sign up for in the spring.  For $25, they deliver a box of local, organic produce to your door each week.  You could split the cost with a friend if it’s too much food…$12.50 on organic produce is a steal!  You can base your meal plans around what the farmer delivers- it adds an element of anticipation and surprise each week that is fun to work with.  I’m totally signing up next spring. (Thanks Heather, Liz, and Jimmie for the great idea!)

7. Try splitting your shopping over 2 days- I like going to the Farmer’s Market in the afternoon, getting inspired by a certain ingredient, and then going home and fawning over my recipe books.  The next day, I head out with my shopping list and fill in the holes.


8.  Never shop on an empty stomach.  Bad for the brain, bad for the bankbook.  I always remind myself to eat something before I leave- a smoothie, a quick salad, heck- even just a piece of fruit is often enough to take the edge off.  The opposite is sort of true as well.  Shopping on a heavily satiated tummy might take some of the drive away.  The same goes for menu planning- if you are too hungry while you flip through the tantalizing cookbook pictures, you wont be able to focus.  If you aren’t hungry at all, you will be disinterested.  I like to have a small snack while I do my menu planning.  Keeps the Hungry Bear and the Sleepy Sloth both at bay.  Plus, it’s tasty!

9.  When you get home, resist the urge to collapse!  Now’s the time to wash and prep your veggies to go into fridge containers.  I have a large, flat tupperware for salad greens, and several clear containers carrots, celery, and fresh herbs.  It takes a few minutes, but you’ll thank yourself later.  Plus, leaving things like carrots and celery uncovered in your fridge causes them to wilt within 3 days.  (Ewww rubber carrots!) Have a system for these fridge staples.  I’ve heard really good things from a number of people about Debbie Meyer’s green bags.  Pretty hokey infomercials, but apparently these things are gold. Plus, they are reusable!

10. I’m still new to this menu planning thing, in the past I’ve only worried about one meal at a time.  If you are just cooking for yourself, try buying groceries for 3 well-planned dinners.  Most recipes feed at least 2, so as long as you don’t mind leftovers, you should be able to eat for an entire week on just 3 nights of cooking.  And don’t forget your greens!  Have a container of pre-washed salad greens ready in the fridge to drizzle your favorite dressing over.  Delicious homemade dressing = no wasted greens at the end of the week.

11.  Lately, since I put so much time into planning dinners, I like to keep breakfast and lunch more laid back.  Oatmeal porridge with almond milk, bananas and berries is the default breakfast setting around here, and I LOVE having a fresh green juice transfusion every morning (got a Breville Juice Fountain off Craigslist for $70!).  Lunch is usually one of the 4 S’s: Soup, Salad, Shake, or Sandwich… Just depends what’s in the fridge.

Phew!! This is such a huge topic, I’d better post this now before it becomes an epic.  I’d love to know what you like to do in the meal-planning/kitchen prep department!




Entry filed under: Budget.

Eating for $3/meal, Week 1: Of Saffron, Blueberries, and Duckpears

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Sheeba  |  April 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Nuclear winter reminds me of my aunt’s family, that was stuck in a Kuwati village during the war. The locals taught my aunt a (delicious) curry recipe, made with watermelon shells, which she passed on to us. Before this, we didn’t know the shells were edible and used to throw them away.
    It’s worth browsing recipes and other cusines, to learn what you could do with what you have…


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