Our Complete Guide To Frugal, Healthy Eating
Without a doubt and without contest, the absolute most frequently asked question I get from readers is: “how do I save money on food?!?” And it’s a darn good question! Food is a necessity and it’s not like we can eliminate it from our budgets in one fell swoop (a la cable, haircuts, or coffees out). But as I’m fond of saying, while food is a necessity, expensive food is not.
I’ve tackled the question of thrifty vittles over the years in a multitude of ways, and I encourage you to peruse my Food section for a complete treatment of the topic. Today, as part of my Uber Frugal Month Challenge, I’m going to outline the most comprehensive, the most thorough, the most delicious rundown of frugal food that I can possibly muster!! If you’re interested in joining the over 9,800 readers participating in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge, you can sign-up at any time. You’ll start off with Day 1 of the Challenge, so you won’t miss a thing.
A note on recipes: I know that everyone wants me to post recipes for everything we eat. However. I am not a food blogger and I’m also not a cook. Mr. Frugalwoods makes 99% of our food and 99% of the time, he doesn’t use a recipe. He cooks from memory, by taste, and with whatever ingredients he has on hand. Mr. FW’s mother–who is the best cook I’ve ever met–taught him and his siblings the art of delicious home cooking and he has refined his skills over the years through practice and self-guided research (he highly recommends the cooking show “Good Eats”). I’m sorry about this as I know it would be awesome to have recipes for everything. Fortunately for you, the internet is rife with recipe blogs!
Eliminate Excuses; Identify Your Parameters
Excuses: we all have them! But for the purposes of successful frugal eating, let’s eliminate the excuses mindset and instead establish that we all have different parameters and priorities for our eating.
Here are the top excuses I hear from people on why they can’t save more on groceries:
- I have a big family and so we eat a lot!
- I’m single and it’s tough to cook for one person!
- I eat a vegan diet and that food is expensive!
- I eat a lot of meat and it is expensive!
- I hate to cook and so I spend too much on ingredients!
- I love to cook and so I spend too much on ingredients!
I am not making this up. While the juxtaposition is funny, it’s also illustrative of that fact that we all have unique circumstances surrounding our eating. However, despite these idiosyncrasies, it’s entirely possible to eat frugally in each of these scenarios (and more!).
It’s key to realize that we’re not all going to eat the same things and we’re not all going to have the same grocery budget. If you have five kids, you’re going to spend more on groceries than I do for my family of three. Similarly, if you’re single, you’re going to spend less on groceries than me. It’s not about comparing yourself to me or anyone else, it’s about finding a way to reduce spending on your own family’s food.
So, identify your parameters and priorities for eating (mine are: mostly organic, healthy, for three people) and then embrace those, but eliminate excuses. Choosing your food priorities is a lot like choosing your priorities in all other aspects of life–spend on what matters to you, but realize that not everything can be a priority. By the way “food,” is not a viable priority, people. Be specific about what you value.
Where You Shop
Our first stop is where we shop. I am a big fan of conducting price comparison research between your different grocery store options and determining which is cheapest for which ingredients. It is 100% true that you might find a certain product cheaper at Whole Foods than at Costco. But you won’t know this until you do the comparison!
Once you’ve gathered this data, you can either: 1) shop at several stores each week, or, 2) choose the store that’s the cheapest on most things and only shop there.
Since I have the time, and Babywoods loves to shop with me, we go to three stores each week (it helps that they’re all located on the same street). I’ve price compared all of my frequently-purchased items and I know where they’re cheapest. Additionally, we’d found that some products are cheaper online–through Amazon or Jet.com. Anytime we need something we don’t normally purchase, we’ll check online first.
Be Wary Of Coupons
Coupons can be the best of times or the worst of times. If a coupon is for something you were going to buy anyway, then it’s a fabulous find! Use it! However, if a coupon is for something you don’t need, then it’s not so good. Spending money you weren’t going to spend in order to use a coupon makes no sense. So, don’t do it! Although I do use coupons (particularly at BJ’s), I have to catch myself and make sure I absolutely need what’s on offer. It’s not a sale if you don’t need it!
One of my beefs with coupons is that, for the most part, they’re for brand-name items or packaged, pre-made foods, both of which are vastly more expensive than generic, raw foods. Often, it’s less expensive–and less of a hassle–to simply buy the generic, raw food in the first place. I’d say your time is better spent cooking than sorting through endless piles of coupons.
How You Shop
The habits surrounding our weekly grocery shopping trips are another important factor in saving money.
- Don’t shop hungry! Take a snack if you’re worried it’ll be hangry-hour. We all know what happens when we try to buy food while we’re starving… I’m looking at you, bag of Cheetos in my cart…
- Shop from a list and buy ONLY what’s on that list. Make your list at home ahead of time and while looking in your pantry and refrigerator. This allows you to put eyes on an empty package of carrots or a full box of pasta you’d forgotten was shoved behind the peanut butter. If other people will be eating this food, include them in the list-making process so that everyone gets to contribute their preferences and isn’t surprised at what comes home from the market.
Shop when you’re not stressed or rushed for time. I’m fully aware that such a magical time doesn’t exist in many households, but do your best. A friend of mine shops during her lunch hour so that she doesn’t have her two kids in tow; another shops at 8pm–again, without her kids–and savors the time alone. When we lived in the city, Mr. FW and I shopped on Friday nights because the stores were empty and there were no lines! Hot date night, to be sure. Be creative and find a time that works for you so that you can compare prices and evaluate your best options and not make harried, hurried decisions.
- Full disclosure: this doesn’t always work out for me since I take Babywoods… sometimes she gets screamy if I price compare for too long (in her opinion, a grocery cart should always be in motion!), but luckily, since I’m shopping from a list, we can usually jet through the store pretty quickly. I always bring snacks and toys for Babywoods, which makes our weekly trips (mostly) pleasant.
What You Buy
Since everyone has different dietary restrictions, preferences, and priorities, this category will be, well, different for everyone.
However, the following guidelines work for almost every diet: purchase raw ingredients in bulk that are not pre-made. Now this calculation doesn’t pan out in every single instance, but most of the time, this is the cheapest route and it’s the cornerstone of how Mr. FW and I eat inexpensive, healthy, mostly organic meals.
I’m an advocate for bulk shopping and it’s something we did even when it was just two of us eating and we lived in the city. Bulk shopping allows us to take advantage of lower prices on higher quality ingredients.
What I mean by raw ingredients:
- Instead of pre-made hummus, buy the component parts and make your own: garbanzo beans, olive oil, and lemons (we skip the tahini since it’s expensive).
- Instead of pre-made bread, buy flour. Here’s the whole-wheat sandwich bread recipe I make weekly in my 25-year-old hand-me-down bread machine. Good, pre-made bread is ridiculously expensive.
- Instead of chopped baby carrots, buy the big, whole carrots. I get a 5lb bag of organic whole carrots from BJ’s for a mere $3.29. Do you know how long 5lbs of carrots last? A long time, my friends.
- These are but a few examples. Look through your pantry and fridge and identify anything that came in a package. Next, consider how/if you could make this yourself for less.
What I mean by not pre-made:
Ok this is kind of similar to raw ingredients, but generally, the idea is that you’re buying components of a meal that you will then assemble yourself–not a whole meal that’s been pre-made. A few examples: don’t buy frozen, pre-made burgers, buy ground beef and make your own. Don’t buy cans of soup, buy dried beans and make your own. Doing this is cheaper and also healthier since most packaged, pre-made foods are laden with preservatives and sodium.
These three golden guidelines–raw, bulk, and not pre-made–are the pillars of healthy, frugal eating.
Don’t Eat Out
This is kind of an easy one: don’t eat out or order take-out. In almost every single instance, you can prepare your own food for less than you’d spend at a restaurant. There are three main reasons why people eat out: 1) to socialize and/or celebrate, 2) because they’re too tired to cook, 3) to savor delectable, gourmet foods. Fear not, we can address all three! Here’s my mega post on the topic: How We Broke Our Eating Out Habit In 9 Steps.
In terms of socializing with friends, I have several posts on this very subject, which I won’t re-hash here. Please enjoy: Maintaining Friendships And Frugality and Frugal Hosting Ideas For Hanging Out With Friends.
For date nights with your lover, may I recommend a romantical dinner at home. This is what Mr. FW and I do and it is wonderful for several reasons:
- We don’t have to pay for a babysitter.
- We don’t have to waste gas driving to a restaurant.
- We don’t have to get dressed up.
- We can play Scrabble, cuddle on the couch, and otherwise enjoy one another’s company in the comfort of our own home.
- There are also about 1 million other things you can do for a free date that don’t involve dinner, such as: go for a walk/hike, visit a free museum, attend a free concert, go to a free festival, stroll the city streets and window shop, go on a picnic, etc…
I also think it’s important to do all things in moderation. Mr. FW and I, after not eating out at all for several years, have gotten into a grove of eating out once a month. It’s fun, we love food, and it’s not a very significant hit to our budget. If, however, we escalated this to once a week? Then we’d have a problem. If you know you want to eat out occassionally, decide in advance how many times a month you want to splurge. Then, when you do eat out, it’ll be a special occasion that you’ve specifically planned for–not a mad dash because you forgot to defrost the chicken.
Savoring gourmet food is my weakness. You might not know this, but Mr. FW and I are hardcore foodies. We’ve eaten at James Beard award-winning restaurants and Michelin star restaurants in New York City, London, San Francisco, Paris, Boston, Krakow, Washington, DC, and more. We know good food. We also know mediocre food. And let’s be honest, if you’re ordering take-out or running to your nearest neighborhood grill because you’re too tired to cook? It’s unlikely to be a gourmet, delectable meal. If, on the other hand, you make a plan to eat at an amazing restaurant? Then by all means, go and truly enjoy it. But these Tuesday night runs to Applebee’s must stop, my friends. Here’s how:
Emergency Freezer Meals: Get Them NOW (and by “now,” I mean yesterday… )
No one has the fortitude to cook a full meal every single night of the year. If they do, then a medal is in order. But for the rest of us, please familiarize yourself with the following key tenets of frugality:
- Frozen pizzas
- Other frozen food
We have freezers for a reason, people.
And now, please enjoy a story: You get home late from work after a terrible meeting with your boss, your kids/pets/partner are a riotous mess involving snot, you’re exhausted, you’re hungry, and it appears your neighbor’s rabbit has eaten a hole through your back porch. We’ve all been there. And what do we do for dinner? Order take-out!!! Oh wait, no we don’t because we are frugal. So what are we supposed to do, starve?! Eat a cracker?!!!!! Nope. We frugal weirdos go to our reserve of emergency freezer meals.
Here are a few real-life scenarios where Mr. FW and I have resorted to emergency freezer meals:
- We had a baby and were in the NICU with her for a week.
- One of our pipes froze and burst, which we discovered at 7pm on a Sunday night after returning home from a weekend away with our baby and dog.
- We spent the day in the ER with a sick Mr. FW.
- We were feeling tired/lazy.
But in none of those instances did we order take-out, because… we had emergency frozen meals all set to go in our freezer!
We keep several frozen pizzas in our freezer at all times. No exceptions. Running out of frozen pizzas would be tantamount to running out of soap or beer. It’s not acceptable. We also have a stash of frozen meals that Mr. FW cooked. On nights when he has the time, he whips up a gigantic batch of soup or chili and we use a food funnel to portion the extras in quart-size Ziplock bags (we find that a quart is about 2 meals worth) to freeze.
From personal experience, I can say that nothing derails a budget faster than the misguided assumption that you’ll play Julia Child every night. I mean seriously people, go easy on yourself and stock your freezer. In that same vein…
Go Easy On Weeknights
Similar to the plan ahead mentality of frozen meals, be honest with yourself about your capacity to cook on weeknights. Some nights, everything goes smoothly: children are well-behaved and do not smear banana in their hair, dogs do not whine underfoot and lick banana off the baby, mamas do not accidentally drop coffee mugs out of the dishwasher, daddies do not need to chop wood, and dinner comes out beautifully!
But other nights? Some people (aka babies) fling quinoa across the room, other people (aka dogs) eat said quinoa, which gives them indigestion, and everyone is a hot mess. And so, what to do about dinner? Prepare for the inevitable melee of Mondays and create an easy rotation of meals to fall back on.
I think a lot of people misguidedly assume Mr. FW and I eat Food & Wine Magazine-worthy meals every night and, while you’re right about the wine part (boxed, thankyouverymuch), the food part… not so much. Rather, we have a simple list of meals that we eat on repeat. Oh yes, you read that right, we eat the same, easy meals over and over again. And we’re happy about it. Why? Because it gives us lots of time and money to do other things. Frankly, I’d rather not have all my spare time and money going to the stuff we consume. Just sayin.
This approach also means that we often don’t do hardcore meal planning. We stock our pantry with the raw, bulk ingredients Mr. FW likes and he throws together whatever time and creativity allow for. Frequently, he’ll cook just once or twice a week and we’ll eat leftovers.
Here are some of our easy meals:
- Grilled meat atop a salad: Mr. FW will grill a huge mess-o-chicken/salmon and then we’ll eat it all week long, which means he only has to cook once that week. We like this meal in the summer since he can grill outdoors and a cold salad is nice, nice, nice on a hot night.
- Quinoa in the style of fried rice: quinoa with egg and veggies, topped with chopped green onions and Sriracha. Yum. Here again, Mr. FW will make a big ol’ batch one night and we’ll eat it all week.
- Hummus with veggies: Mr. FW whips up a massive quantity of hummus, which we enjoy all week long with fresh chopped broccoli, green pepper, and homemade bread. Yes, according to me and my 6’3″ husband who works outside chopping wood, this is filling enough for dinner–try it, you’ll be surprised!
Split pea soup: this is one of our favorites for freezing. Mr. FW cooks a giant vat and we’ll eat it for two nights or so and freeze the rest in quart-size bags.
- Chili: another freezer fave.
- Scrambled eggs and grits: has the advantage of being cheap, easy and quick, but has the disadvantage of not creating leftovers.
- No-cook Mediterranean plate: a combo of olives (bulk buy from BJ’s), sliced cheese, and whatever else we have floating around the kitchen, usually paired with a salad. If feeling very fancy and/or entertaining guests, we make this mega easy Focaccia bread.
- Pea pasta: we really need to come up with a better name for this one… it’s a summery combo of green peas, arugula, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of bacon for flavoring (because bacon!). Mix in with some pasta and squeeze fresh lemon on top. Bonus: tastes great cold and so is a good leftover candidate.
- Sweet potatoes and quinoa: roasted sweet potatoes paired with quinoa.
Something you might’ve noticed is that most of these are one pot meals. In other words, our dinners aren’t an elaborate array of three different items on a plate: we’ll have one big bowl each of quinoa with veggies as opposed to separate entrees and sides. This makes cooking and clean-up easier and faster.
Judicious Use of Expensive Proteins (aka meat)
Let me dispel a common myth of Frugalwoods lore right now: we do eat meat! It’s just that we don’t eat a lot of it. We also eat dairy! We will basically eat anything! But I digress. What we do with expensive proteins–meat and cheese–is use them sparingly.
Instead of eating a big piece of roast chicken for dinner, we’ll have shredded grilled chicken mixed into a stew with black beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and perhaps some other veggies for good measure. Then, we’ll eat this stew atop a bed of whole grain rice. In this way, we’re extending our meat consumption by pairing it with cheaper proteins, veggies, and grains. This also has the advantage of being extremely tasty and easy to freeze!
When in doubt, add beans, onions, and garlic! I exaggerate, but not by much. Mr. FW adds these components to just about everything he makes. They’re healthy, cheap, and packed with flavor. As my mother-in-law (the chef extraordinaire) teaches: “start cooking every meal by sautéing onions.” It’s hard to go wrong and it smells fabulous.
We also eat grass-fed beef, which we buy locally from our neighbors. But we don’t eat whole steaks or burgers. Instead, Mr. FW mixes ground beef into homemade tomato sauce with crushed tomatoes and–you guessed it–onions and garlic.
Meat also freezes well, so I’ll buy a large batch when it’s on sale and pop it in the chest freezer. We also don’t eat meat for every meal–it’s just not necessary. Our lunches are vegetarian and at least several dinners a week are as well. Forgoing meat just a few times a week will lower a grocery bill in a hot minute.
Build A Pantry (that you’ll actually eat!!!!)
This is slightly counter to my previous “eat all the things” pantry challenge, but it’s what Mr. FW and I came around to AFTER performing a full clean-out of our pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. Eating through a backlog of stuff that you haven’t used in years is a good way to recalibrate your spending and identify the stuff that you shouldn’t buy anymore.
After figuring out what you DO eat on a regular basis, you can decide if you’d like to stock your pantry. This is rather crucial for us since we live 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store and get snowed in with some amount of regularity. Conversely, if you live in a small apartment in the city with easy access to a grocery store, this might not be a good exercise for you.
Mr. FW could, at any time, whip up a batch of soup or stew or chili from the staples we keep on hand. Furthermore, we typically don’t ‘meal plan’ in a traditional sense since Mr. FW knows we always have these base, raw ingredients to choose from.
Here’s our list of pantry staples:
- Whole grain oats (stored in these containers)
- Olive oil
- Black beans
- Garbanzo beans
- Split peas
- Sweet potatoes
- Crushed tomatoes
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
- Whole grain rice
- Whole grain pasta
- Whole wheat flour
All of these items are shelf stable for at least a few weeks and we cycle through them regularly. These are also the products that we buy in bulk since it’s much cheaper per ounce.
Plan For Snacks
Snacking: we all do it. Don’t try to pretend you won’t. I find the disavowal of the need to snack will fast track you to buying convenience food or zipping through the drive-through or popping over to the cafeteria at work.
How do I know this? Because I’ve done all of those things in search of my next snack fix. Have quick, healthy snacks at work, in your diaper bag, in your purse, your briefcase, your car, and certainly your pantry. Here are a few tidbits we like to snack on:
- Popcorn made with our air popper. I love this snack so much I felt compelled to write a whole post about it. You’re welcome
- Bananas! Nature’s candy bar, cheap, and in their own carrying case. Apparently I like snacks a lot because I have a whole post about them too…
- Almonds or other nuts, but almonds are typically the least expensive, healthiest option. I buy them in bulk from BJ’s.
- Hard-boiled eggs. Back when I worked in an office, I’d hard-boil 5 eggs every Sunday and then take one with me to work every day. Super cheap and packed with protein.
Granola bars. Ok these are sort of a snack-of-last-resort for us because they’re not homemade, which means they’re more expensive and less healthy. I’ve tried approximately 9,897 different recipes for homemade granola bars, none of which have turned out well… at all (sidenote: if you have a tried-and-true healthy recipe, please let me know!). Hence, I buy granola bars in bulk from BJ’s when they go on sale. It’s cheaper to buy a granola bar than a muffin at a coffee shop, and, I like knowing I can keep these in the diaper bag without them molding or going bad.
- Misc. fruit and veggies. I’ll chop up whatever we have on hand and munch. This is especially good for an afternoon snack when I just want to crunch something.
- Dried fruit. We actually eat this for dessert, but it could work for snacks too. The con is that it’s expensive and sugary, but we made our own dried apple slices this year with apples from our trees and this dehydrator!
What Are You Drinking?
Drinks are another element of a food budget. Mr. FW and I regularly consume the following, all of which have been frugalized and optimized:
- Seltzer (aka sparkling water). Instead of soda or store-bought seltzer, we make our own with our hacked Sodastream. In addition to being vastly cheaper, seltzer is healthier than soda and using a Sodastream eliminates plastic bottle waste.
- Coffee! We each have a cup of regular in the morning and a cup of decaf in the afternoon. I buy organic, fair trade whole beans from BJ’s at $12.99 for 2.5lbs. For decaf, I actually buy ground coffee, because the whole bean decaf is A LOT more expensive and really doesn’t taste any better (I’ve taste tested both). We make our coffee using Melitta cones and our electric kettle–the advantage here is that you can make each cup to order, which is ideal for us since we frequently have friends and neighbors stopping by. I like being able to whip up a fresh cup of coffee for them in minutes.
- Wine. I get either boxed wines or bottles that are circa $3 or $4 each.
- Beer. We like Founder’s All Day IPA and Green Flash IPA, both of which are reasonably priced and tasty. Life’s too short to drink bad beer.
In each of these instances, instead of giving up something we enjoy, we found thriftier alternatives. This is the backbone of my luxurious frugality lifestyle philosophy: do what you love, but frugalize it.
Don’t Waste Your Food: Leftovers Must Be Eaten!
The title pretty much sums this tenet up: DO NOT WASTE FOOD.
Common sources of food waste:
- Buying too much at the grocery store. Making a list (using the above guidelines) and sticking to it each week will help you winnow down your shopping to only the things you truly need. Combing through the backlog in your pantry will also ensure you’re calibrating your purchases each week.
- Buying foods you don’t actually like. We’ve all done this. We feel very inspired in the store by the buy 5 get 5 free eggplant sale, but then we get home and remember we don’t really like the taste of eggplant. Be honest with yourself about what you enjoy eating and shop to your taste and for your health.
Deciding to order take-out instead of the food you’ve bought. The culprit here is likely a failure to plan ahead or, a failure to have simple weeknight meals you can whip up. Do yourself the favor of making a list of easy meals you can cook each night. Or, follow our bulk example and cook once a week and either eat that meal all week long, or, freeze it and eat other meals you’ve previously cooked and frozen. You could eat a different meal every single night and only cook once a week if you followed this pattern!
- Not eating leftovers. This is simply not allowed. If you don’t want to eat the same meal several nights in a row, freeze the leftovers for a future date. If you don’t want to freeze the leftovers, start cooking in small portion sizes that’ll only yield one meal.
Food waste is expensive, bad for the environment, and 100% avoidable. It’s true that some bits of food will get wasted here and there because it’s impossible not to waste a single morsel. But dumping entire loads of vegetables or full casseroles in the trash? Not allowed. No excuses. I’m not a hardliner on many things, but food waste is one of those things. Have a good way to store your leftovers (we use glass containers) and for veggie odds and ends, get a compost bucket for your kitchen and start a compost pile!
A Note On Kidlets
Kids add a whole new dimension to frugal eating (and life in general, come to think of it… ). But, as with all other aspects of childrearing, it’s totally possible to feed them frugal-style. At 14 months old, Babywoods is still a neophyte eater, but, we’re sculpting her tastebuds now in the hopes of creating a lifelong appreciation for things like kale and quinoa.
In short, Babywoods eats what we eat. I cut up any large chunks (since she only has two teeth), but otherwise, she eats our diet. In this way, she’s exposed to a range of flavors and textures as well as Mr. FW’s style of cooking. We have no intention of making “kid’s meals” for her as she grows up, so by introducing these flavors young, we hope she’ll develop an aptitude for them. When she was younger, we cooked homemade purees for her and froze them in ice cube trays.
A few other kid vs. food tips I’ve picked up along the way:
- Only offer healthy options. This is frugal insomuch as it means I don’t have to buy separate foods for her. We have healthy foods in the house, ergo, the only foods Babywoods eats are healthy foods. This is awesome when she goes on a typical toddler picky stretch and will only eat one thing–I don’t sweat it because it’s a healthy thing. Sometimes all she wants are avocados. Other days, she’ll only eat quinoa. Other times, she only has eyes for carrots. Ok, kid, go right ahead and binge on those veggies!
Offer small amounts. We allow Babywoods to eat as much or as little as she wants at each meal. I don’t believe in forcing a child to “clean their plate” or in restricting healthy foods. However, I offer her foods in small doses. When she finishes what I’ve put down, I simply give her more. I do the same with her milk–I pour only a few ounces in her cup at a time and when she’s done, I pour more.
- Save leftovers. Despite giving small doses of food, there’s always some food left on her tray and in her bib pouch after a meal. And so, I simply scoop these leftovers into a glass container and store them in the fridge for her next meal. I don’t allow leftovers to linger for days, but that’s never a problem as I give her leftovers at the beginning of each new meal. In this way, we waste very little while encouraging our adventurous little eater to consume as much–or as little–as she desires.
- Don’t offer sweets. Dessert is not a necessity and so, Babywoods doesn’t get any. And she doesn’t know the difference. Since desserts are expensive and typically laden with sugar, we choose to abstain as a family. Now I do love to bake for potlucks and dinner parties (and the holidays!!!), but not as an every week occurrence. Naturally, Babywoods will enjoy desserts over the course of her lifetime (I’m not going to have cake-less birthday parties for her!), but there’s no reason to encourage or introduce them at this stage.
- Be mindful with beverages. There’s no nutritional benefit to sodas or juices and so, there’s no need to spend money on them. Will Babywoods drink these during her childhood? Of course she will, and that’s fine. But there’s no need to have them at home on a regular basis. There’s also no need to introduce them at a young age. Babywoods drinks breastmilk, whole organic cow’s milk (now that she’s over a year old), and water. Full stop.
Many of my baby food ideas come from my wise and frugal sister, who has three kids (ages 10, 8 and 4). Her kids eat healthy foods without complaint and don’t beg for sweets or junk because–get this–there is no junk food or sweets in their house. I also really like how my sister handles treats–when they’re on vacation or out for a special occasion, the kids get to eat some sweets. Otherwise? Nope. Seems to work well and avoids many a dinner table battle.
Eat Breakfast At Home
It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s $0.10 per serving, it’s… whole grain oats!!! I’m so passionate about thrifty, healthy breakfasts that I have an entire post devoted to this very topic: Breakfast: The Hidden Destroyer. Catchy, no? I thought so. Even if oats aren’t your thing, identify your cheap, healthy option and go with it. Don’t buy $3 bagels and $4 coffees on your way into the office. Just don’t.
Going Somewhere? Pack Your Food!
I never leave the house without food. Not a joke. I always take a water bottle, almonds, and other snacks with me. No matter what. I don’t like to be hungry and I don’t like to waste money on fast food. Ergo, I always take food.
When Babywoods and I go to the grocery store and run errands, I pack sandwiches for both of us along with almonds (for me), water bottles for both of us, and other sundry bits of snack. And, by the way, these are not gourmet lunches: it’s peanut butter smeared on my homemade bread. But hey, it is food!
Other examples of planning ahead and packing food:
- Pack your lunch for work. Every single day. For extra bonus points, pack it the night before to ensure it doesn’t get forgotten in the morning scramble. Here’s our favorite take-to-work lunch recipe, which–you guessed it–can be made on Sundays and eaten all week long.
- Have a stash of “emergency desk food.” This is the frozen pizza equivalent of office lunches. Keep a jar of peanut butter, some crackers–whatever you like–in your desk at all times. If your office has a bug problem and doesn’t want you to keep food around, then keep cans of soup (and a can opener) in your drawer.
- Pack your lunch if you’ll be out running errands circa lunch time.
- Pack snacks! Always have snacks! If you get hungry at work every day circa 3pm and hit up the vending machine, bring a snack instead. Know yourself and your routines and pack food accordingly.
And finally, as we discussed above, know what you’re going to eat for dinner and stick to it. For that matter, know what you’re going to eat for every meal. Have the foods you like on hand and the discipline to eat them (and not order take-out!). You can do this. There are almost no excuses you can come up with that don’t have a solution in planning ahead and packing your own food.
Buck Up and Eat It, Buttercup
Yep, sometimes our best intentions and most noble recipe plans just don’t pan out. While I think Mr. FW is an excellent cook, let’s just say that some of his meals are better than others… occassionally, something doesn’t come out tasting quite like he thought it would. And you know what we do? We eat it anyway.
As long as there’s nothing unsafe about it, it’s food, it was cooked, and so we shall eat it. And then never make it again. In the 10+ years of living together, Mr. FW has only made one meal that we really and truly had to toss. It was a most unfortunate fish stew that tasted awful. Truly horrendous. We ate it for one meal and then threw out the leftovers. I hated to waste so much food, but wow, was it unpalatable. So, aside from fish stew disasters, buck up and eat it.
What are your tips for frugal, healthy eating?
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Very comprehensive list. We tend to prepare crock pot meals given the kids. My wife also cooks by feel so there are no recipes to share. I grew up in a household where meals were separate plates, so its been an adjustment. But it is a huge savings. We supplement cost savings with our garden and some fruit trees in our yard. Fresh blueberries are expensive afterall 😉
Yeeeessss all of the above. 🙂
Also figuring out things that taste amazing and are healthy and cheap… for example, 2kg of frozen blueberries from Costco are 8.99$CAD right now. Surprisingly, per weight, this puts them at the same price as bulk apples and bananas at the local grocery store, and cheaper than most other fruit. Blueberry parfait for breakfast (homemade yogurt and granola), or blueberries for dessert (oh god the baby mess – FYI boiling water removes berry stains on clothing if they’re fresh), and you have healthy and affordable (as much as it gets during a Quebec winter…) fruit.
Also, individually frozen lunches, if you work outside the home. There will always be days where there’s nothing ready in the fridge and you have to leave NOW – grab a frozen container of amazing soup and a frozen bun and it’ll be thawed by lunch, no use buying anything.
Oh, and final (best) tip: a lot of recipes use ground spiced Italian sausage as a flavour base for he rest of the meal. Replace with ground pork, add about 2tbs of oil or water (texture), and add spices (google for spicy Italian sausage blends…) . Using Costco prices, that usually works out to 1/3 of the cost of buying sausages. Freeze in 1-lb bags and tug out for easy meal bases. Family favorites include Smitten Kitchen’s sausage and lentil and chard (or whatever green veg is on hand, no need to be specific) soup, or Epicurious has a sausage and ramp risotto that is AMAZING (you’re not far from us, ramps should be available in spring in your woods… but otherwise, we replace the ramps with onions and garlic At the beginning and add frozen spinach at the end. Oh, and any water used to re-hydrate mushrooms makes the BEST risotto broth). Or Jamie Olivers recipe for sausage and fennel fusilli. All amazing, all family favorites, all way under 2$/portion. And the soup, specifically, freezes beautifully.
Yum! sounds good!
The Budget Bytes Sauasage and Lentil Stew is a staple in my kitchen. I haven’t tried Smitten Kitchen’s recipe though!. Cheap and delicious, freezes beautifully. I make it again and again: https://www.budgetbytes.com/2010/10/lentil-sausage-stew/
Re: Ground Pork
It tends to be quite expensive, at least where I live. I finally got a grinder for Christmas last year and grind up whatever is cheap, which is often a nice lean loin (which tends to be dry, but you can compensate). It takes a little work to do it right as you need to cut it up then par-freeze for the grinder to work well, but I do a number of pounds at once then throw it all in the freezer in meal sized bags. Often my ground pork is well under $2 per pound compared to $4 per pound on sale for pre-ground.
We buy whole legs of pork when they go on sale, usually in the fall, ridiculously cheap. My husband cuts them up and grinds them to make sausage meat. He usually just makes loose meat or patties, but he occasionally borrows a friend’s stuffer and makes links. On a totally unrelated note, I’ve just tried making garlic scape powder, which seems to have worked pretty well. A lot of people are happy to give the scapes away to anyone who has a use for them. Also, since I’m not fond of tea and coffee makes me violently ill, I’ve taken to drinking unsweetened cocoa most mornings. I just put about 3/4 of a teaspoon of cocoa powder in a mug, add boiling water, and top it up with a slurg of milk. A container of fair trade cocoa lasts me for months. Anyone else being hit hard by a rise in grocery prices since the COVID thing? I checked out the price of a beef roast the other day and nearly had a stroke. Ouch!
What a shame about the recipes! Food blogging isn’t for everyone though. 🙂
I used to be an extreme couponer and I know how badly coupons can be for your grocery budget. It’s still cheaper to eat homemade foods than it is to buy packaged foods with coupons. It’s hands-down always cheaper. Even if you get the packaged food for free, it’s not quality food. You can’t subsist on poptarts!
Once you make the switch to raw ingredients and transforming them yourself, you’ll see big savings. We did this with beans, rice, bread, sauces, soups, etc.
We’ve had success using the following grocery strategies:
1. Go through your pantry to use up existing items. I make a list of everything we need to use up.
2. Go through the grocery store’s sale paper. I only bother looking at the meat and produce; everything else is just noise. I make note of what produce and meat is on sale.
3. Make a menu. I combine what we have on hand and what’s on sale at the store to make a menu. This way, I get the cheapest meals possible. It also means we tend to eat a lot of grains like rice with cheap fresh produce, which is pretty healthy.
4. We always shop from a list.
5. I use coupons: But only for items that are already on my grocery list.
6. We shop at 7 am on Saturdays: This is when our grocery store is stocking and offers 25% off “old” meat.
We also recently got into freezer meals and HOLY COW guys, it’s a game-changer. Seriously. I would encourage you to make different types of freezer meals like soups, casseroles, enchiladas, desserts, etc. It really cuts down on the need to eat out and spend money.
Good list of tips, thanks for sharing :)!
I would add that if you pay attention a lot of the same sorts of things go on sale. If you already have a basic recipe for it you don’t have to do a lot of “what can I do with that cut?” agonizing. I have a half dozen things to do with boneless skinless chicken breast, a couple crock pot meals that will work with most cuts of beef and I’m usually set for most of the week.
When it comes to saving on food, I think so much depends on knowing yourself. For example, if I buy a butternut squash, I know I hate the process of chopping it so much that I’ll let it rot. But if I buy pre-cut butternut squash, I’ll absolutely use it. Is it more expensive, yes. But cheaper than buying a squash, letting it rot and ordering delivery instead 😉
Chopped frozen butternut squash is one of the few things that I will pay extra for the convenience of! I’m a big fan of cooking from scratch but it’s jut not worth it for me to struggle through cutting up a squash to save a few cents.
I absolutely hate chopping butternut squash too, so I cut it in half, clean out the gunk, and roast it cut side down on a baking tray with a bit of oil. Once it’s roasted, it’s easy to scoop out the cooked squash for use in soups or to eat as-is.
If your microwave is large enough, you can also cook butternut there. You cut in half and clean out, then put into a MW safe dish (like a glass pie plate) with 1/2″ or so of water. Pierce the skin in several place, then nuke on high for about 5min. Start checking every minute or so after that. This is a reasonable option if the oven is already full and/or when the weather is too warm… it’s overall faster cooking. I’m single, so this works out great when I buy the small squash and only want enough for a couple meals. Butternut freezes well though.
Jamie Oliver never peels butternut squash. Once I saw him cook it with the peel on, I never went back. Peel almost melts away and there is no taste of it.
I felt the same way until I went and bought a really nice, $10 Y-peeler. That, plus a clean kitchen towel to grasp the slippery gord, makes the job so much easier.
Though my emergency “I have 5 minutes to get through the grocery store and need to cook something to feed 4+ people” shopping list is: a loaf of bread, a box of butternut squash, and a box of mixed salad greens. At home I have salad dressing and veggie boullion. That all becomes soup, salad and bread.
This is so, so true Stefanie! For example, I find that when I keep those huge bags of pre-cut frozen veggies in the freezer, I eat 9 different vegetables before noon (seriously, I did it yesterday!). If I have to wash/peel/chop/etc? Ehnotsomuch.
Things have changed for me, frugality-wise, in different seasons of life. Frugalwoods is a young mom of one. I am an older mom with 7 (yep, s-e-v-e-n) kids, and we homeschool, and I run two blogs, and hubby runs a business, and… my energy at 41 is more precious. I might save a few shekels chopping all 9 of those veggies before noon but … I won’t. 🙂
Put those kids to work! Make each a specialist in one veggie and you only have 2 left ;).
I used to struggle with this until I learnt to put the whole squash into the oven and bake it, then chop when it cools 🙂
I also hate chopping squash and it can be very hard indeed. I cook it whole in the oven and then scoop it out.
Also same for pumpkin, except with next step to get the seeds, and roast them after. Can stab with a knife as it cooks to see how it’s coming.
Totally, me too. I know it’s cheaper, but quite a lot, but oh.my.word. I cannot bear the prep. I also tend to stock up on chopped canned tomato when it’s cheap. I know you can skin and chop and de-seed yourself, but even the thought makes me need to lie down quietly!
And I am indeed a mostly-from-scratch chef!
If you ever need smooth cooked butternut squash (versus chopped browned squares which sometimes you need), you can cook the entire butternut in a crockpot. Stab with some holes, add 2 cups of water and cook it whole 8 hours on Low. Let it cool in the fridge before you slice it open, and you have magical squash puree without giving yourself a hernia!
Sweet! What happens to the string?
For any squash place in the crockpot with a small bath of water. Cook on high for about 4hrs. The skin will slide off and your squash will melt off the fork. No more cutting your hands off trying to get into the shell. Works every time.
Just a note on tahini; a little bit of peanut butter makes a fine tahini substitute when making homemade hummus 🙂 Love your blog!
Good to know! Thank you :)!
Great tip! I made homemade humous once I really hated it. Perhaps this will be better? Otherwise I’m afraid I’m sticking to store-bought. There’s no point making something you won’t eat, even if it’s cheaper!
I’m a little concerned by all this advice to cook for and eat it for 5 days straight. The official advice in the UK at least is that it’s only safe to keep leftovers for 3 days in the fridge. Same goes for open packets – like yogurt, cream, meat etc. Also rice is such a high risk food that you should only keep it in the fridge for 1 day and you have to be super, super careful if you are planning to re-heat it. Stay safe people, if in doubt – throw it out. Your health is worth more than a little bit of money! http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/can-reheating-rice-cause-food-poisoning.aspx?CategoryID=51
What I find is that most food expiration dates are remarkably conservative. In the US anyway, these dates are not regulated by our Food & Drug Administration, but by the manufacturers themselves. Most food is just fine for a few days/week if kept refrigerated. And if you’re concerned, then simply freeze it for later. I tackle this very topic in greater depth in this post: How I Fight Food Waste At Thanksgiving And Beyond.
Interesting. Are you saying that if you have an open container of yogurt or cream, in the UK you’re told to throw it out after 3 days? I wonder if our dairy products are more pasteurized than yours because neither product would go bad in a properly cold fridge in 3 days. Also not sure where the rice fear comes from. In the US, if you cook something, properly cool it down, then immediately refrigerate it, it’s usually fine to be re-heated within several days. We do this all the time,. Now if it was rice leftover from a restaurant…probably not.
I’m in the UK too. I certainly don’t throw away milk or yogurt just because it’s been open 3 days!
A big yogurt pot once open can happily sit in my fridge 10 days. Use clean spoon to serve from pot, keep refrigerated, no problem. I’ve never had any issues nor any mould growing on it.
Milk in my experience lasts 5 to 9 days once open (fresh, pasteurised, not UHT). Organic milk goes off faster but I’m happy to allow for that as I prefer the taste.
PSs just to add.. Yes on milk it says ‘once open consume within 3 days’.
But that doesn’t mean I agree with that!
I make a batch of rice and eat on it for a week. I have never been sick while eating rice…..I usually eat it with either turnip greens or collards with the “pot likker”, which is the spices and water that the greens are cooked in. I am Southern, and I sometimes eat the greens with cornbread, but rice works also. The rice is really good soaked in the pot likker. I add the pepper sauce (which is hot peppers in a vinegar sauce. Pinto beans and a slice of raw onion with sea salt on top make for a fine meal.
I spent about a decade in the UK and something I noticed is that they are completely obsessed by best-before and ”do NOT EAT if it’s 1 minute past” dates. I think health and safety culture does have a lot going for it certainly, but the nannying endless food policing is insane. If it smells fine and a tiny taste reveals it to taste fine… it’s fine.
Rice can go off quite suddenly and with not a lot of visible evidence, but even so, cooled, properly stored and eaten in a reasonable time frame… it’s fine.
I found that hummus is one of those foods for which you must acquire a taste. I started eating it when my parents lived in Saudi Arabia and it was novel to Westerners. Then I worked with a group of people who were from the Middle East, and hummus was their favorite dish. That was back in the 60s and 70s before it became a popular item in the United States. I make my own hummus, and adjust the seasonings for my taste.
You might try making a batch and adjust the garlic, oil, salt to your preference. But, remember, it’s not yo everyone’s liking.
Yogurt and sour cream – They’re technically already spoiled. If there is no mold on it it is safe to eat. It won’t go more sour.
Other milk products – You can tell if they go sour because they…well..go sour.
Meat – Fresh meat is detectable via smell and/or texture when it goes back. Often the color too, but you can’t always tell because (at least in the US) many meats are colored artificially to make them more pretty.
Rice – That is a misunderstanding between two issues. Eating rice that isn’t properly refrigerated is dangerous because it is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria due to the wet warm nature of fresh rice. There is a bacteria that loves rice that has a poisonous byproduct. Therefore even if you re-heat it and kill the bacteria the byproduct remains and can make you quite ill. HOWEVER if you properly refrigerate it it’s not an issue. It is only an issue for rice that is left out.
Leftovers – This is the only thing I would worry about keeping for more than a predetermined amount of time simply because you can’t know all of the little ways it could go bad, and it’s harder to detect after you mix ingredients and spice it in ways that could mask bad color/flavor/smell. I’ll keep things for 3-7 days depending (meats don’t last as long).
Why am I not dead yet? I also cook for the week and eat off of it. And if it goes past five days the dog eats it.
Once again just goes to show that I expose my body to enough bad stuff that I never get sick! I was planning on using Saturday night’s leftover Chinese food rice in a stir fry… I’ll still do it. 😉
Rice is a high risk food? I’ve never heard of that. When I was young I lived and worked in the amazon with no refrigeration whatsoever and some hot and humid weather. We often had rice and beans for dinner and then packed them up to carrry with us for lunch the next day. I did find that I had to eat the beans by 10 am or they start to go off, but I never knew the rice to be a problem. I also have Costa Rican relatives and I’m pretty sure they leave rice out on the counter, in the rice cooker overnight all the time. I’m mostly curious about this rice warning as I’ve never heard of it. I’d be interested in hearing more if anyone has information or experience.
And almond butter works too!
Just warn people if you share it…. Allergies! 😁
Thank you for this! I made hummus yesterday and we were out of tahini, so I subbed peanut butter. We liked it even better. I will never buy tahini again!
I don’t know if you do “product endorsements,” but one cookbook I have found that is really good is “Saving Dinner” by Leanne Ely. Leanne is a nutritionist. I’ve owned this cookbook for over 5 years, and almost every recipe I’ve made from this book is a hit. Leanne also gets it about making sure dinner is on the table in 30-45 minutes. The recipes are flavorful and made with stuff you can easily find in the supermarket.
I’m guilty of Having been a big family excuse maker. Also guilty of letting our 4 kids become too picky with their food, which resulted in too much waste 🙁
We’ve recently made a concerted effort to shop smart. As a family of six living on a single income in an expensive city (Seattle), it’s imperative that we do so in order to maintain out food budget.
I get jealous when reading how cheap produce an other items are cheaper in other areas of the country. I have even noticed the Kroger affiliates here(PNW) are more expensive than say Arizona or even California.
I shop at Cash and Carry(Not sponsored😀) for bulk dry goods, hot sauce, soy sauce, potatoes(50 lbs $5).
My daughter has bball practice in the central district and the least expensive fruit and veggies stand is a block from her school.
I try to shop when I take kids to activities so best use of fuel and time.
We’ve noticed when visiting in the PNW how food costs two or three times what it does here in WNY. But then, so does housing or land. If you keep getting “our” winters, the PNW may eventually be less crowded/expensive. Mixed blessing, that!
what a great post!
Mrs. Frugalwoods, you answered my question about the oats, thank you, I am so happy!! I can’t believe the price. How do you store them? On the Granola Bars, are you familiar with Alana Chernilla’s first cookbook, Homemade Pantry, she has a couple of great granola bar recipes and so many other recipes to make stuff ….http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/
Hi Amy! We store our oats in these food-grade containers: http://amzn.to/2ka7nDA
Awesome post, Mrs. Frugalwoods!!! I totally agree that kids throw everything for a loop, haha! Lately, we’ve been loving green smoothies in the mornings! Super easy and it gets our day off to a healthy start! We use OJ as our base (though you could use water), add in a banana, frozen pineapple chunks, blueberries, etc and then TONS of spinach or kale! My girls gobble these things up and they really are mostly spinach/kale!
Our weakness is without a doubt coffee and dessert. However, we don’t drink beer or wine really at all (maybe once a year on a special occasion, haha), and like you said – you have to choose your priorities and then allow room in your budget for them!
We get Starbucks a few times per week; but our daughters will only nap in the car now (they are 3 and 4!). It’s worth the $6 or so for two coffees to allow us to drive around and chat while the kiddos rest.
Love all your tips!!! I’m really trying to get into cooking more. This week I made vegan sweet potato and black bean enchiladas that were amazing; and then made spicy potato and black bean burritos two nights later since they used the same ingredients! You are totally right that black beans are a must; and every meal should begin by sauteing an onion! 🙂
Hope you have a great day!! Really enjoyed this post!!
One of the key incentives for me to eat my own food instead of takeout/restaurant has been to master tasty, homemade alternatives to my favorite meals. For example, I used to eat a Chipotle burrito bowl once (or even twice) a week. So I set out to master the best vegan burrito bowl I could. I Googled “Chipotle burrito bowl recipes” and, after some trial and error, actually found excellent recipes for the rice and beans. (The key to the rice is adding lime juice and a little olive oil.)
More recently, I had an amazing batch of vegan tacos featuring crispy smashed potatoes (yum!), mushrooms and spicy peanut sauce. So now I have a perfect topping for my burrito bowl. About every other week, I make big batches of “Chipotle” rice, beans, and crispy smashed potatoes. I put about 2/3 of the batch in the fridge for the week’s lunches and lazy suppers and freeze the rest for “emergencies”. I layer those on lettuce, tomatoes, some chopped peppers and store-bought salsa (or homemade peanut salsa) and I’ve got a meal that’s healthy, filling and significantly tastier than either of those restaurant dishes.
The next challenge (still working on it) is coming up with a tasty vegan substitute for Vietnamese rice noodle salad bowls.
I like your Chipotle hack. I did the same, but for us it was their barbacoa beef for burrito bowls. I located a great copycat recipe and every few months, if beef is affordable, I make a batch and freeze it in meal-size portions. I can’t even remember the last time I actually went to Chipotle. Probably at least a year-and-a-half.
The best granola(ish) bar recipe we have found, after many many failures, is the Bird Seed Energy Bars from AllRecipes (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/156785/bird-seed-energy-bars/). It’s also a great recipe to use up what you have on hand. Our common substitutes are wheat bran for wheat germ (just because I have a crazy amount of bran in my freezer), replace half of the oil with applesauce, reduce the brown sugar, and instead of the seeds/chocolate chips listed, we use 2-3 cups of whatever nuts, dried fruit (chopped), chocolate etc that we have on hand. I’ve used practically every nut/dried fruit combination I can think of with zero complaints. It’s a really wonderful recipe for using up odds and ends (or that giant bag of hemp seeds you purchased on impulse at Sam’s), lasts really well in the fridge, and the bars actually hold together so that it travels decently.
will babywoods eat regular oatmeal? I keep offering it to my 1 year old and she keeps spitting it out =( I even put some maple syrup in it!! I think she just doesn’t like the texture but I want her to eat oatmeal cause I eat it everyday!
Yes, she has regular oatmeal plus a banana for breakfast (no sugar added!). We’ve found that she likes her oatmeal chunky, so that she can pick up globs of it. Looks weird, but she likes it that way :). Good luck!
I am with your daughter! I purposely make my oatmeal and cream of wheat lumpy.
My 14mo won’t eat oatmeal either! I think it’s a texture thing, but she still doesn’t eat much at this point in general. My other 3 kids love oatmeal, I do steel cut oats in the crockpot, so good!
Food can be such a challenging aspect of frugality because there are so many emotional, family, and political elements tied up into how and what we eat. I very much agree with other commenters who noted the importance of working with your habits. We’ve focused on eating out less so that we can continue to buy our produce from friends who are local farmers. Neither of us enjoy cooking so more frequent simple meal planning to prevent the take-out meals is the next battle to fight!
Great article, but I wonder if you could do a similar one for housing and/or taxes? Food is so cheap in the US, and the average family spends less of its income on food than ever, but housing costs have skyrocketed. My rent budget is five to ten times what my food budget is, and my income tax budget is three times that.
Cutting my grocery budget from $300 to $200 a month is not a significant savings, but cutting may taxes from 10k a month or my rent from over 2k a month would really help.
If you live in the U.S. you might want to give TurboTax a try. The program is greatly improved and it’s a snap to do your taxes. TurboTax knows about every tax deduction there is and can save you quite a bit on your income taxes when you file. You do have to pay to submit the taxes but it’s a fraction of what you’d pay a professional income tax person to prepare and file it for you.
I don’t know if I’d do it, but perhaps you could get a roommate to help share the cost of your rent.
Great post. I am vegan so I chuckle at comments that a vegan diet is expensive. Like you point out, if you avoid the processed stuff and stick to whole foods then it can be crazy cheap! I do buy vegan cheese and ice cream every once in a while, but because of the cost it is always a thoroughly enjoyed treat ($7 for a litre of ice cream).
We do have slightly higher grocery bills because we balance shopping for a committed vegan (me) with my omni husband and kids. The family eats lots of vegan dishes with the odd bit of meat served on the side to keep them happy. It works.
As requested, this is a homemade vegan granola bar that we love. The “glow bar’ by Angela Liddon of the “Oh She Glows” cookbooks is quite delicious. Here is a link to the recipe. She also has a blog which has some fantastic (and freely shared) recipes if you google her name (for those looking for recipes).
Like you I am an avid hiker. I am in the process of completing the Bruce Trail in Ontario (just shy of 900km). These bars, along with a pb and banana sandwich are my go to hiking snack.
I too am vegan and whole-heartly recommend the “Oh she glows” website/cookbook. Delicious recipes! I also love the cookbook “Vegan on the cheap” by Robin Robertson. Good, basic vegan food. This post is excellent! Thank you!
Pretty epic post you have here!
We follow these rules/guidelines in general and do very well with food costs while still eating very very well (and sometimes healthy too!).
We buy whole ingredients, waste almost nothing and bulk cook so we always have something to eat even if we are lazy. Just ate NC pulled pork bbq last night. From the freezer! That will be pulled pork tacos for lunch today along with home cooked crock pot beans (from the freezer of course).
Keep winning my frugal friends!
That was pretty much a perfect list. Whenever I get into discussions on MMM on how to eat frugally – often people are frustrated that they cannot get their bill as low as others. I make many of those points. The big 3 for me:
1. What you eat. Paleo, Vegan, Omnivore, whatever – everyone has different needs (I, for one, cannot maintain my weight at a healthy weight by eating a carb-heavy diet anymore. So sad. Carbs are cheap.)
2. Where you shop. We have a couple of stores that have produce REALLY cheap, and we eat 2-3 pounds per day. It adds up. We also get a local produce box delivered, which is NOT cheap, but it’s a balance people!
3. Where you live. Some areas of the country are more expensive. Some towns do not have a lot of competition. You can’t control this.
I’m the same regarding carbs – I keep trying, thinking my body will change its mind 😉
Today I was telling a coworker I feel so tired this week and she blithely pointed out I’ve eaten oatmeal every day when I usually eat eggs and veggies. Noooooooo haha — a 40 pound bag of oatmeal just looks so pretty in the Frugalwoods’ photo; a 40 pound bag of eggs would not after a week or so 🙂
I love your list. And I love that it sounds like you help people figure out what will work in THEIR situation – or at least to think about their own variables. It took me about a year to get my grocery budget down after I had to change how I eat, but now I can’t even remember how in the world I spent so much.
I have Poly-cystic ovaries, so I can’t do lots of carbs either. But I have found that roasted sweet potatoes are okay for me for whatever reason. I roast up a couple a week and eat those for breakfast. I also throw them in soups. I also have found fruit can work for breakfast but I’ll need a snack mid-morning…
Ahhh food. Such an expensive thing, that. We have a few allergies, some of which we choose to buy our way out of and boy does it get expensive!
I’m also on the (fairly passive) hunt for a good granola bar that will last for ages. My spouse eats one between work and squash, 2-3 nights per week. Not having found one that we both like (spouse loves these ball things that are TEDIOUS to make, but don’t work as bars, so I hate making them), we stock up on Clif bars when they go on sale. From both a health and cost perspective, we’d prefer something homemade.
One thing that we’ve taken to doing in the past year is buying gigantic bags of spinach. I always bought the organic plastic tubs, but one day my spouse came home with this *huge* bag that cost the same amount. I gave in on the organic front, as it’s literally four times as much food. The risk is that the big bag goes off, which it did a few times, becoming compost worm food, until we figured out a few ways to use it up when it’s about to die. Now we’re quite good about cooking it down with olive oil, garlic and salt, as a side, when it’s on the verge. It’s also easy to add chopped handfuls to stir fries, pasta sauce, etc. The good thing about food is once you get in the hang of a new habit, it’s easy to continue with it.
My parents alive on green smoothies and they throw the Entire Bag of spinach straight I to the freezer when they get home from the store, then take what they want. That obviously wouldn’t work for salads, etc, but might save a half bag thats looking sketchy.
We buy the big bags of mixed greens – spinach, kale, etc. and the big size of broccoli at Costco and I blend it with some whey from my homemade yogurt and freeze it in cubes. We throw them into our daily fruit smoothies. I found trying to use the greens fresh all week did not work as they didn’t last and I was throwing it out when it “turned”. Now I keep some out to use fresh and freeze the rest.
Eating in is just a matter of habit and practice. Mr. Cheapheart and I are in the food and wine business. In our breezy childless days we felt like we “had” to go out so we could be immersed in the new happenings in our industry. It sure was fun and it sure was expensive, and in the end, if you don’t choose carefully, you realize that you can make most meals better and healthier at home (plus you can eat them in your pajamas).
There is absolutely no excuse not to learn to cook. There is an endless wealth of information about how cook anything and everything on the internet. Serious Eats is a great resource. Ordering takeout does not “save time”. Poring over the menu, placing the call/entering your order, then being told that it will be a 45 minute wait (plus the fact that I can’t think of a single type of food that gets better as it hangs out in a takeout container) all for a pile of money. If I’m feeling lazy I upend a frozen block of pasta sauce or soup that I made and froze when I wasn’t feeling lazy and relax on the couch with a drink while it bubbles away. It is ready in half an hour.
Batch cooking is a true time/moneysaver and doing a soup and pasta sauce side by side is quite efficient since they are both based on celery, onion, carrots and garlic. Mr. Cheapheart and I banged out a big pot of lentil, sausage and kale soup and a pot of tomato sauce and meatballs in a half an hour. As they bubbled away, we enjoyed a beverage and then served ourselves up a two course meal, sampling a bit of each and tucked the rest safely away in our freezer for a rainy/lazy day.
Long ago, I gave Mr. Cheapheart the gift of a pizza making class at the awesome King Arthur Flour Baking Center (near you Frugalwoods!). It was not cheap, but it was nice to spend time together away from the baby and learn something new. Years of confidence in pizza making have certainly paid for that class many times over. The dough takes 5 mins to asssemble and 45 minutes in the bread machine (unstylish and very useful appliance, buy one used, people are always getting rid of them). Tastes way better, and is healthier and cheaper than delivery, plus the pride of doing it yourself is the best part!
Now, on to the bread machine: I’ve plugged them here before and I will plug them again. I have been encouraged to embrace them by two women I admire. You can assemble a loaf in10 minutes. Takes 2-4 hours of bread machine magic for a nice loaf of tasty homemade bread at a fraction of the cost. Bread is not cheap and if you don’t spend the extra $ on organic, it is full of some pretty shady ingredients. Once you become accustomed to eating homemade bread, the stuff out of the bag is pretty appalling. Better, healthier, cheaper. The “extra effort ” is just an excuse. I recommend the Panasonic YD-250, look on Craigslist or eBay.
Yogurt is another easy thing to make that is just a matter of practice, a million recipes on the internet and no special equipment required other than maybe a thermometer. For the price of a half gallon of milk I can have a half gallon of yogurt for 10 minutes active time. Lasts 2+ weeks in the fridge. Plus no stabilizers and gums. Better, healthier, cheaper, pride!
Now I’ve just got to get back into my yoga habit…
Love my bread machine! And, love King Arthur Flour!! Do you live in VT?
For better nutrition and even more savings, have you considered milling your own flour? Most modern whole wheat flour is actually white flour with the germ added back later. It’s just not as healthy as true whole wheat flour.
Home mills are cheap, and you can mill anything you want- rye, oats, spelt etc.
Is that a challenge @snowcanyon? I’ve thought about it and think you can mill grains in a vitamix, which I already have. I guess it’s time to stop thinking and start researching and doing.
Lol. No. I use premilled flour, but I live near a local mill so it’s about the same price as commodity flour, but local and healthier. When I lived in the city I did not have this option!
King Arthur has a great website and they are customer-friendly, but their flour is mass-market and not particularly good, nor do they have all the varieties necessary for classic European-style unsweetened whole-wheat bread.
You can mill flour in one minute in a vitamix! I will give it a try for sure. KAF has a beautiful teaching facility in Vermont that offers lots of great classes with state of the art equipment. I’m sure milling my own flour will be another revelatory experience, thanks for the encouragement.
What mill do you use?
We live in Boston, but made a special trip, what a beautiful area!
I was just planning to mention that King Arthur chewy granola bars are the best. I make them weekly. The recipe calls for “sticky bun sugar” but I use regular sugar, and also cut it back to 1 cup for the recipe. It calls for 2-3 cups fruit and nuts, any combo, so it is good for remnants of bulk purchases. Also, I have subbed up to a cup of extra oatmeal for some of the nut/fruit and it works well, and is even cheaper. http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/chewy-granola-bars-recipe
Thank you! I LOVE King Arthur Flour recipes, so this sounds great! I really want something that’s low-sugar, so I’m glad to hear it works with less.
And in a frugal win- we got our bread machine for free when a family member was moving. My husband likes to buy fancy premade bread mix (stoppppp) but I promised him I’d research some recipes to make our own!
If you can make split pea soup, you can make lentil. The primary difference is you WANT to cook the peas into oblivion, with lentils you generally want them to retain their shape. We love both. Leftovers are great. Random bits of leftover veggies can go into either. A dollop of sour cream or yogurt on top makes it seem more special, or a (very) little sherry.
Homemade pizza can also accommodate bits of leftovers. Also, if your bread machine claims you can’t make dough on a timer, play with it. If it’s got a you-program-it feature, you can for sure do it. One of mine in the distant past wouldn’t let you set the dough program on the timer, but the custom settings would.
Use leftover small pasta mixed with cheese or cheesy soup to create a ‘pizza shell’ in a greased pie plate or baking dish. Top with pizza-type toppings and heat in the oven. (I think this was originally from Campbell’s, pushing a cheese soup.)
“Pea pasta” can be called “pasta primavera”. Sounds fancy. It isn’t. Pasta, veggies, and a sprinkle of parmesan, a little pepper. Can be hot or cold. Warming even slightly may be preferable to stone cold out of the fridge.
Even if you don’t make your own yogurt, you can buy large containers of store brand plain and add whatever strikes your fancy. This means you also get less added sugar.
Frozen veggies when on sale can be a great find, especially for things not seasonal or not readily available in your area. Kroger often has “10 for $10” on their house brand, and that is the time to stock up.
And don’t forget smorgasbord night – pull all the little bit of leftovers out of the fridge, and fight – I mean negotiate – over who gets what.
I like to cook dry beans for chili. So cook a batch of beans (pinto or kidney), make some into chili, the rest into refried beans. Both freeze beautifully.
Explore vegetarian and vegan recipes to cut down on meat consumption. Don’t get bogged down in some of the contortions they go through for substitutions if you are neither, but you can learn a lot from them.
Also, don’t continue to cook things you don’t really like, because you think they are good for you. Find something else.
How Jen Does It is a great youtuber I love. She has a great granola bar recipe.
I really appreciate your note at the top about being sure to find your food priorities and then figure out how to frugalize (is that a word? Ha!) accordingly. We try really hard to buy organic and to be frugal. However, it’s also a huge priority of ours to cut our packaging waste. So sometimes we choose items like the milk in the reusable glass bottle, even though it’s a bit more expensive (but man is it good!) Even that though has changed our habits to encourage frugality. Because we buy expensive milk, we don’t drink milk (including our kids) except as a special treat. It’s only for cereal or as an oatmeal topping. So it’s great to think through options as you discover what is most important to your family.
I really enjoyed this post, and thank you, thank you, for saying what I’ve always said and always got shot down for saying it — most coupons I see are for brand-name items, pre-packaged foods and items that, even with a coupon, cost more than the store brand. I kept hearing that people got coupons all the time for produce and meat and milk — I’m glad for them, but I sure never have. I don’t use coupons unless it’s for something I really was going to buy, coupon or not, and only if the generic brand is not cheaper still or not available.
I shop for probably 90-95% organic, locally when I can, and we grow some of our own produce organically as well. I follow many of the tips you gave, already, but somehow, seeing it in plain writing makes it impressed upon me to really watch how and what I buy. I know I can still reduce our food budget if I think more strategically. Thanks for the encouragement and reminders! I’m about out of freezer meals — time to get some more back in there.
One tip from me — if one has a pressure cooker/canner and maybe a water-bath or steam canner and a little time, some foods can be canned and thus don’t even have to be thawed. I have always canned green beans, peeled and cut sweet potatoes, baked beans, pear halves, some berries, pear sauce (we don’t have apples much in FL), pickles, including pickled okra, tomato sauce and whole or cut tomatoes. I work outside the home, full-time, so I do this on weekends or evenings — it can be done!
I second your comments about coupons. The only exceptions to that will likely be from a local market. Kroger or Giant Eagle (central Ohio) will sometimes have coupons in the paper or their mailings for their house brand products (usually a good deal), or occasionally for produce.
Favorite go to meal during the week is garlic, onions, tomatoes, rice,shaved carrots, and jalepenoes. I throw in sweet red peppers and sometimes left over chicken. Saute in some olive oil and yummy. Babywoods is so darling!
Thank you very much for the list! May I ask how long do you store the homemade food in the freezer and at what tempetature? We have a small freezer inside the refridgerator, not a separate freezer, and I am not how long cooked food will be good there. How long do you store food (soups, lunches) in the usual fridge and at what temperature? Do you maybe know if there are any safety rules in this respect? Thank you very much!
Food stored below freezing will stay safe indefinitely, as bacteria cannot grow in freezing temperatures.
I finally feel very secure in feeding my family and myself… it only took 10 years of trial and error! I mostly use BudgetBytes recipes these days and I’ll be honest, my kids don’t eat the same foods as I prepare for my husband or I. Their taste are so simple and so I make them the same 4 meals week after week (homemade pizza, bean and cheese quesadillas from home cooked beans, Mexican alphabet soup and mac & cheese) and only try to get them to taste our food. I have also learned about cutting down food waste by going through my kitchen once a week and putting stuff on the counter that needs to be used up… right now I have corn meal, a can of cream of chicken, a can of cream of mushroom, fried onions, apricot preserves and pie crust mix… all items gifted to me by my Buy Nothing Group. I make it a point to collect unwanted food items from my BN community and then build recipes around them. Last week we had salmon cakes and pumpkin pie because of my BN gifts. Next week I am planning green bean casserole, cardamon cornmeal cookies and a apricot coffee cake using this week’s collected items. My food bill is still not as cheap as others, but I think it has to do with geography. In general living on the west coast means that our costs are higher.
My favorite (and kids’ favorite) granola bar recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/81298/playgroup-granola-bars/. I reduce the sugar to 1/3 c. and you can sub different types of flour and mix-ins (nuts, seeds, etc.)
Our biggest foods savings, besides raising some vegetables and chickens in the summer, comes from eating bone-in chicken. I can get it on sale for 69 cents per pound, or regularly around $1/pound. If you buy organic, it’ll be more, but it’s also an even better deal to go with whole chickens or bone-in pieces in that case. My $1/pound chicken is less expensive than canned beans, dairy, or eggs for equivalent serving of protein (though we eat all those others too, for nutrition & ease of preparation). I agree that being judicious about your proteins can make a huge difference. See calculations one protein price per serving here: http://www.pretendtobepoor.com/meat/
Love the tips! We use most for our family of five healthy eaters–buy bulk raw ingredients, add beans and onions to everything to stretch it, slow cooker soups and stews, planned leftover meals, etc. We also finally invested in a pressure cooker, which is proving to be a game changer! Less temptation to give into take out or eat through our entire stash of freezer meals when you can cook beans in 30 min or frozen chicken in 10! We used to do more of our meal prep on weekends, but as the kids get older and have more activities popping up on weekends, it was getting hard to keep up with the prep. In the month since we added the pressure cooker to our rotation, we’ve successfully avoided take-out or freezer meals (which in all honesty need to be replenished at this point). Our other strategy is frittatas of every variety. Eggs are cheap, filling, and tasty, and a frittata can be filled with whatever leftovers/fresh veggies/other proteins you have lying around. It’s a great “disguise the random bits of things languishing in the fridge” meal!
I’m not trying to trick you into being a food blogger, but do you have any tips for how to make home made hummus actually taste good? I’ve tried all kinds of methods–even taking the casing off all of the chickpeas once, but it always comes out super grainy and just not nearly as good as the store bought version.
Do you make it in a high speed blender (like a Vitamix?) I never enjoyed homemade hummus made in the food processor, but in the Vitamix( or other comparable one) the texture is so much smoother.
I have a Cuisinart food processor.
Try adding more oil– you’ll want to blend everything together and then add a drizzle of oil at a time (pausing to scrape down the sides of the food processor if you need to) until you make it as creamy as you like it. In my experience the “low fat” type hummus is the grainy kind. Higher oil = creamier smoother texture.
Good tip, Kel! That’s how Mr. FW makes it too.
We’ve been loving this one lately: http://www.inspiredtaste.net/15938/easy-and-smooth-hummus-recipe/
It’s all about blending for longer, each step of the way. I’ve also found that different beans are firmer than others. We bought canned beans from target most recently and they were super firm and make very chunky hummus. If you cook your own garbanzo beans, you can make sure to get them thoroughly softened first. 🙂
using a Vitamix or other powerful blender is the key those achieving smoothness for hummus or anything else you want to liquify/break down.
So Mr. FW uses a food processor, which blends it up super smooth.
Are you using dried chickpeas? (which I personally think is superior) Is your water hard? Our new house has very hard water so I now use distilled water to cook my chickpeas and other beans. It makes a big difference with the texture of the chickpeas. I suffered though a year of horrible beans before I discovered water can make or break your beans and it is definitely worth the extra dollar for distilled water. Also, try adding baking soda to soaking/cooking the beans if the distilled water doesn’t work for you (although you might have already tried this) Good luck!
I tried those once with no luck, so I went back to canned, though that may have been at my old apartment which had really hard water…. I may get some dried ones though and try out the crockpot method of soaking. I don’t want to give up on this! Dumber people than I have mastered homemade hummus!
You might want to check out America’s Test Kitchen for how to correctly cook dried beans or anything else causing issues… If you’re not familiar with them, they do all the cool geeky science research behind what is actually physically & chemically happening with food…and figure out the most foolproof approach. They’re the folks behind Cook’s Illustrated. I’m a foodie and an engineer, so you could say I’m biased 🙂
I’ve fallen in love with red curry hummus: http://ohmyveggies.com/thai-coconut-curry-hummus/ (not my website – just love the recipe).
Otherwise, make sure you blend, blend, blend. I use a Cuisnart as well – it should get fluffy. Don’t skimp on olive oil. Make sure you have a little lemon juice in there. The grainy part makes me think you aren’t blending enough.
Great post! I’m vegan and I hate when people say “oh, veganism is sooo expensive”. My food staples are potatoes/grains/rice, legumes and whatever fruits and veggies are in season. It’s really really inexpensive!
If you want to get all fancy with your hummus (because I like the taste the tahini adds to it), you can always make it yourself. And the bonus is that you can also use the sesame seeds for your homemade breads (which we do quite a lot).
We fed our Demon Child the same way and I can report, three years on, that she is willing to eat just about anything. It’s about the only thing she’s ridiculously easy about. The kid asks for snacks of broccoli and fourth helpings of beans! We haven’t had really any instances of toddler pickiness. She’s started saying, “That sounds yucky,” lately (where did she pick this up so I can murder that person?!) but she eats it just fine.
The only other thing we’ve done (and you can’t do this yet because Babywoods isn’t quite old enough) is that we’ve gotten the Demon Child to cook with us. She’ll help cut veggies with a small knife (and adult hands holding hers), she stirs the pot, she bakes with me. It’s awesome. Not always the easiest thing, but she has a blast and I know I’m teaching her great skills.
Smart! Thank you for sharing! I’m sure Mr. FW will have her in the kitchen with him as soon as possible!
Isn’t it awesome having a foodie toddler? I used to indulge in my fair share of drive through but my toddler refuses to eat at any fast food restaurant, which has forced me to stop going to them because I can’t feed him from there so win win on my cholesterol levels and my wallet!
Hey guys! Pretty excited to see “Good Eats” get dropped in the post. It just might be my all time favorite tv show!
One thing we’ve been doing more of is getting spices from your local Indian grocer. You’ll get literally 10x more for the same price as your big discount chain.
It’s great to see how great the move to VT is going for you !
Good call on the spices! Come visit :)!
Just wanted to share the link for my favorite granola bar recipe. My husband and I, and everyone we’ve served these to, has loved them.
One thing that has helped us consume more of our leftovers is packaging them in individual serving size containers. Then, when we need to grab food for lunch or dinner, we can just grab a meal out of the refrigerator and warm it up. It also helps to keep track of just how many servings of leftovers we have on hand, so we don’t cook more than we need to.
We make and really like the America’s Test Kitchen granola bars from their first How Can It Be Gluten Free cookbook: https://howcanitbeglutenfree.com/downloads/sfs_granola-bars_028/ The ingredients can be purchased in bulk so you can make them over and over. We typically make a batch and it lasts us at least a week of snacking (2 adults + 1 kid).
The book itself is available at our library. Most of what is in there isn’t frugal (ATK isn’t really known for that!).
As someone who lives in a city with limited grocery stores but TONS of restaurants I have had to work on this- especially since I have a LOT of severe food allergies (one epipen or ER visit is definitely more than my grocery bill!) so I have to be careful of what I eat. I love making soup from scratch and taking it to work, and buying basics rather than premade food. Something that I don’t think was mentioned is that a lot of grocery stores have online coupons that customize to what you buy- my grocery store regularly has $3 off $30, produce, milk, etc listed so I go online for a few minutes before I leave and save a bit that way. I also do use coupons a few times a year when I know basics like tp, paper towels, shampoo, etc will be on sale. The rest of the year I don’t waste time clipping coupons, and saving on basic toiletries and household goods leave me more money to spend on fresh produce or meat. Also, befriend your local butcher! I make stock for soup from scratch using chicken bones the butcher saves for me that are local and less than $1/lb- this is a lot healthier than boxed stock (and cheaper!).
Also, Babywoods makes an adorable little food model 😉
Since BJ’s almost always has coupons for 2 pound hummus tubs, it really doesn’t make sense to DIY this staple when it costs $4 for this volume. BJ’s 3 pound roasted chickens are also a huge bargain – more food for less, even less than Wal*Mart’s smaller and more expensive roasted chickens. Easy protein source.
Great list of tips and resources! I’ll be sharing this with friends and colleagues who love to read about frugal living and food frugalness. Thanks again for always impressing!
A big key for me has been to reduce the thinking behind . . . well, everything. Every two weeks I put on a pot of dry beans to cook for two hours, and add seasonings and oil as they cook down. Then I scoop out half cup portions into lunch containers, let them cool, add cheap bulk frozen veggies, and shove all ten plus containers back in the freezer. At the beginning of every week, I portion out nuts in small containers for lunch, and oatmeal with cinnamon and chia and yogurt with honey for breakfast. All that’s left for me to do to ‘make’ breakfast or lunch each day is to grab the containers out of the fridge, freezer or cupboard, add hot water or microwave as needed, and take a couple pieces of fruit. The savings in time, money, and stress have been terrific. All I have to do is fend off the folks who think eating beans and oatmeal every day reflect a serious lack of imagination. : ) I’m busy imagining a long, healthy, full-funded retirement.
Very thorough list to eating healthy while being frugal!
The things I don’t think about when grocery shopping are usually snacks, which I then tend to splurge out on because I feel a craving for sugar. I’ll start budgeting it and spending it on healthy and easy snack bites instead as they makes more sense than splurging out on snacks.
Great article! My approach is similar, but I have yet to give up the semi-weekly meal out at UNO or one of our local establishments. You mentioned that you buy granola bars… I thought I would share this recipe for homemade granola bars, which I made recently and LOVED.
I changed a few things around, like adding toasted sesame seeds, pecans, walnuts, and I used sliced, skinless almonds instead of whole ones. Oh, and I added a tablespoon of butter and a little bit of salt to the mix. I toasted the oats and all the nuts first, which I think adds a nice flavor note. 15 minutes on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven. After cutting the bars, I kept them from sticking together by wrapping them in little pieces of waxed paper.
When I have had dinner failures…. hot sauce. We make what my husband calls salsa soup. Any bulk hot sauce you have can save a bad fish stew or similar.
I actually save up my scrap vegetables in a freezer bag in the freezer…when I have a couple full bags I make a batch of vegetable stock.
Love this post and your blog. You’re such a gifted writer: natural and spunky and with such heart. Compelled to leave a comment because truly, your photo & caption “these two…” is priceless.
Thank you! They love each other, especially when there’s food involved… 😉
Do you ever buy Frugalhound treats? Or do you make them homemade? I’ve made my dog homemade treats but I’m never sure how long to keep them around so I end up throwing some out or giving them away.
Dog treats are one of the food priorities in our house.
Reading these comments I’m struck by how easy life is inodern America, and has been for generations, at least food-wise. My mother grew up in wartime Europe and these were lessons necessary for life, not just lifestyle.
How privileged we are…
Great post! We are currently working on less packaged food. More of a health choice than frugality actually.
I will say you are lucky with your little ones eating habits. My oldest daughter has always been a great eater. My 2-yr old toddler on the other hand has definite sensory issues and won’t eat very much at all. We are working with an occupational therapist to expand her horizons. Unfortunately feeding your kids is not always as straightforward as one might think.
Fresh veggies are usually cheaper than most packaged options, you can get a lot of vegetables and fruit for less than it would be for prepackaged foods
The best part of this extremely informative article is the picture of Houndlett licking food off of Babylett. Yes, you have been upstaged by the younger generation.
They’re pretty hilarious together. I don’t encourage the whole dog-eating-off-baby thing, but when I do catch them, the photos are priceless ;).
My desire to eat gourmet food often was my incentive to learn to cook. The restaurant scene in Vancouver was vibrant (and expensive!) so I began researching recipes. 10 years later, and no kids, I’m glad to say my husband believes I can cook almost anything better than any restaurant can.
And, of course, the savings have been incredible.
Because food is our hobby, we have no problem with sourcing great ingredients, eating out and generally spending most of our variable income on food.
Having said that, there are plenty of things we happily do without to fund that one particular lifestyle choice.
It all works out, and we get to have our (gluten free/sugar free) almond raspberry lemon cake, and eat it, too!
Me too. My wife makes the best food.
Your discussion about babywoods and healthy eating reminds me of our toddler. He’s going through a berry phase right now, where all he wants to eat is berries (blue, black or ras- are all acceptable!). It works for me if that’s what he wants!
On another note, you can freeze flour. I freeze my whole wheat flour to keep it fresh longer, which lets me buy larger bulk amounts than I could use in the normal run of things before it went bad.
I love this post. Your column has helped me so much in changing my mind-set towards frugality.
All of your ideas are great and the remark that you need to “expect the unexpected” is right on. But, may I point out, there are also things you CAN expect. Not to get too personal, but, every month there are a few days that come where I know I will not be cooking. The week before, since I’m ridiculously timely in that regard, I buy a few things that my husband and son (18yo) can prepare easily. Like spaghetti, really any type of pasta, with a package of frozen veggies to go along with it. I can be in bed resting and I know they’re not going to order in or fetch fast food because it would be just as quick to prepare what I have ready for them. They’re easy going fellas so a sandwich for dinner isn’t out of the realm of possibility too but I do try to have something partially prepared for them since they pick up the slack for me during those few days. The frozen dinners would be wonderful but, as I mentioned, I have an 18 year old son with a full-time job who devours any and all leftovers; either a few hours after I’ve made them or the next morning for breakfast. He takes them for lunch too so I never seem to have any full dinners around for those occasions. I do plan on working that in though so thanks for the ideas. We have been able to keep our groceries to around $550 for the three of us for several months now. A huge leap from the $800 or more that I was spending before starting the frugal journey! We eat out rarely partly because the guys say it’s hard to find a place that makes better food than I do. *blush* So it’s a real treat and we plan well for it.
Thanks for all the encouragement and the regular flow of ideas. It helps so much!
Would your son honor labels that say “dinner tomorrow” or “emergency meal”, especially if you can also label some leftovers “snacks” or make unlabeled foods free access?
We have many of the same tactics. We stay regimented with our grocery shopping (always on the weekend and always one trip per week). We compile the list as we go throughout the week (adding items as we use them up or think of recipes to make). Little ones do throw a wrench in there, but if you continually expose them to a variety of foods the hope is they will enjoy eating the same food we do (which we’re successful with majority of the time).
Thank you for all the great posts on grocery expenses! Like you, I’ve also been blessed with a spouse who cooks magically delicious meals and taught me to love Costco. (We do love those Costco pizzas!)
Grocery budgeting is a fun challenge, but the other big killer of flexible expenses for me is non-food consumables: toiletries, paper goods, disposables (I have cut down our plastic consumption drastically, but sometimes you just need freezer bags for frozen meals!), cleaning supplies, batteries and other random things. We try to buy as much of this in bulk as possible, but it’s still crazy how much it costs. (So. Many. Toiletries.) Do you have any advice on these, or could you point me to a post on it? (I know you’ve mentioned some of these categories, i.e. not wearing makeup and getting LASIK.) I would love a comprehensive post on non-food consumables in the same vein as your grocery posts.
I’m a newcomer to your blog and completely hooked, by the way. I love your writing! Thank you!
Good question and not something I’ve covered! So, real quick: I make my own cleaning solution (half white vinegar, half water), and I buy other household goods wherever they’re cheapest (I price check between BJ’s, Wal-Mart, and Amazon). And, like you mentioned, there’s a lot of stuff we just don’t do or buy (such as make-up, hair dye, perfume, body wash, etc). We also try to use re-usable products as much as possible. For example: our glass tupperware gets used over and over again, I store our bread wrapped in a tea towel, I use rags instead of paper towels. And I buy stuff when it’s on sale–the cheapest toilet paper on earth (at BJ’s and Costco) goes on sale for $3 off every 2 months–hence, I buy it then. Same for our shampoo–when it’s on sale, I buy it then! We also invest when it makes sense, such as in re-chargeable batteries, low-energy-use lightbulbs, etc. I hope this helps!
Our power company lets us order LED lights at a HUGE discount. Check and see if yours does.
Coconut oil makes a divine moisturizer. I also make a whipped body butter I love for winter (coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, and almond oil in equal proportions, chilled and whipped).
I make a whipped body butter too with those same ingredients! Smells heavenly! Did you get from the Trash is Tossers website, like me? I’ve also made deodorant too, it really works!
Frugal weirdo toiletry tip: try Tibetan crystal deodorant! They’re not expensive, and I’ve been using the same one for 3.5 years, and still going strong. It’s not an antiperspirant, but I’m not a super sweaty person, so it works well for me!
Non-sucky granola bar recipe: (Basically this is Nigella Lawsons) 1 bag of bob’s apple granola, a handful of walnuts (or other nuts), I can of condensed milk. Mix previous. Press into a baking sheet. Bake. Slice. Enjoy.
I tend to think we have the food thing down, but even I picked up some great tips here! I also really enjoyed how long it was, much longer than you usually write. More Frugalwoods is a good thing in my book!
As always, Babywoods is insanely cute! I’m impressed with her palate too!
Great post, and I’ve already gleaned some excellent tips from the comments!
My current frugal boss move is to make a giant egg bake for the week. I gather all the wilty sad looking produce from my fridge, and all the random meal leftovers I didn’t eat the previous week, cut up and onion, maybe some random spices, and throw it all together in a 9×13 baking dish. I top with whatever bits and bobs of cheese are still hanging about, then 12 beaten eggs. Pop ‘er in the oven at 350F for 35 minutes, and YAY, breakfast for six days (it’s just me) and no food waste!
So far I’ve been very surprised that it’s tasted great. This week’s is leftover chicken/rice with salsa verde, a bunch of carrots/celery/potatoes that were previously roasted, three baby peppers, cheddar, and paprika on top of the eggs. Yum!
Love this post! Forgive me if someone asked and you already answered – what’s your best source for bulk organic whole grains? I have bought barley, millet, buckwheat, wheat berries, amaranth, and more at Whole Foods and is just insanely expensive. I would love to source these great grains online and see big box. Any suggestions?
I buy mine at the local grain elevators; wheat berries, oats, rye and corn. Just notice when and what the farmers are harvesting to determine when to stop at the elevator. You can not pick up oats when they are harvesting wheat!
We eat a lot like you do Mrs. Frugalwoods – We buy raw items in bulk and don’t eat a lot of meat. We rarely eat out. It makes a huge difference in our food budget, but we do splurge on the specialty ingredients to make yummy Asian dishes.
Call it a vice, but we like to eat yummy stuff, not just blindly consuming calories.
Flavor matters, and I think it’s part of living a great life. So we pay a little extra for that good life.
Stay awesome FrugalWoods!
Such great advice all around. We had split pea soup last night and there is enough in the freezer for several meals. I had exactly one bowl’s worth left after I poured it into our freezer containers, so that will be my lunch tomorrow — because — must eat leftovers! I want to give another thumbs up for freezer meals. They have saved me so many times. Monday I got home from a weekend out of town and we had lasagna from the freezer. (I make 3 at a time — still one left!) Today we skied all day and came home tired and famished. There was a time this would have meant order pizza or Chinese take-out, but I had thawed a chicken and noodle casserole before we left. That and some steamed broccoli will make a great meal. We are also big on packing lunches for road trips and anytime we will be away at lunch time. We prefer a homemade sandwich (with homemade bread!) to fast food, and so does our bank account.
Food is hard for me, since I have 14 allergies. They’re all healthy foods, and many of them are the cheap staples. Onions, garlic, rice, wheat, oats, eggs, peanuts, etc.
That does mean that I never eat out, which is budget friendly. I buy only raw food, in bulk when I can. I usually have 2 smoothies a day because I don’t like trying to modify recipes into something I can eat. It’s healthly, but produce adds up quick.
I have a friend who has a severe corn allergy along with concurrent related food allergies. Having seen firsthand what it took to make sure her kitchen isn’t contaminated and what it takes to eat out in the U.S., I can sympathize with you!
Both my kids have multiple food allergies , (including wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, nuts, peas/lentils, dairy) and one has Oral Allergy Syndrome as well. So totally hear ya about how hard it can be dealing with food. I’m also starting to feel really fortunate as I read all the comments where people are trying to break their habits of eating out so much. Like you, that’s never an option for us. There’s never a night where I can say “I’m really not up for cooking, let’s go out.” 🙂 When you say you don’t like to modify recipes, though, have you tried just making stuff that doesn’t require modification? For instance, I’m baking a butternut squash and some yams right now. Most of the squash will be the main ingredient in soup. I have one kid who’s vegetarian, so I usually use water, but you could use chicken or veg stock/broth. I season with herbs, a little bit of salt, and a dash of chipotle chili, but you could use anything and could make it more sweet than spicy.If you can’t have sugar, you could add apple or carrots. I guess what I’m saying is that if the recipe doesn’t need your allergens to begin with, then you don’t have to modify. Also, are you familiar with the Allergen-free Baker’s Handbook by Cybele Pascal? It’s really good and everything is made w/o the top 8 allergens or sesame. You would have to skip the few that involve oats.
This is my favorite homemade granola bar.
If you’re busy and you like homemade food and you *gasp* can’t eat leftovers all week or the siren song of takeout will be too loud (I know myself well) – get an electronic pressure cooker (I have an instant pot). Yes, it’s a kitchen gadget – but mine has paid for itself many times over in just a few months. Potatoes in 15 minutes, brown rice in 22. Beans, lentils, kale, soup – no more standing over the stove – dump in and set.
Love these tips. We put on a “root soup” in the crockpot overnight, the rice cooker is making a new batch of quinoa–it’s an induction cooker and saves money on electricity, and a huge pot of split pea soup is on the simmer. I have brown basmati rice frozen in pint-sized packets for quick meals, too, plus lots of quart-sized soups and stews ready. Our biggest food priority is eating healthy fish sourced in the most environmentally responsible way. So we invest in shipping 120 pounds of wild-caught Alaskan salmon every year, plus 80 cans of sockeye for salmon salad and fish patties. Some people buy a side of beef, we buy Alaskan salmon and follow a Native American version of the Mediterranean Diet, which is a little seafood, lots of greens and vegetables, and some nuts, beans, legumes, and a few grains.
Wait, wasn’t there a post awhile back where you were going to start doing more cooking? 😉
That quinoa bowl looks yum! Do you scramble the egg? I’d like a fried egg for the runny yolk.
Moi? Cook? Did I really say that?!? Must have been a moment of delusion (was I pregnant at the time?). The thing is that Mr. FW is really good at cooking and he enjoys it, whereas me, not so much on either of those. If I absolutely had to cook, I would. But I prefer to clean and do the laundry while he manages all things culinary :).
Have you considered purchasing an instant pot? Worth every penny in my opinion. I use it to make yogurt, rice, quinoa, and so on. I currently have frozen chicken breasts in there that will cook up in 15 minutes flat. It helps me avoid to the temptation to buy takeout and premade foods because it is so quick and easy to use.
Ps I’ve been following the principles of some of your food posts and we are on track to save over $100 on our food bill this month! Thanks!
Yes, I agree the Instant Pot is great!! I make yogurt, soups, stews, and breakfast and lunch preps for the week. It’s a huge timesaver for me.
After considerable research, and hemming and hawing, I finally purchased an instant pot for many of the same reasons. They’re not cheap by any means, but this was one purchase I felt made a lot of sense from a frugality and healthy eating standpoint.
If you watch for deals on Amazon, occasionally the Instant Pot is on sale for $70. (As opposed to $119 or $130). Totally worth it! One big purchase we feel has paid us back tenfold.
On the granola bars, I haven’t had much success and gave up (we don’t really buy granola bars either though, every so often for a road trip will pick up a box but they aren’t a regular purchase). A friend, however, makes them regularly and said the secret is brown rice syrup. She buys it from a co-op grocery store, it seems to be the kind of thing you either find at a health food store or at an Asian supermarket. It’s used in a lot of commercial granola bars because it holds them together but remains soft, giving them that chewy texture. So if you use brown rice syrup as your sweetener you’ll have a more “store bought” feel to them. Worth a shot!
My best frugal tip for meat is chicken leg quarters– we far prefer dark meat for how flavorful it is, and you can’t beat the price on leg quarters. Around here, regular price is about 59-69¢ a pound, but every so often they go on sale for 39-49¢ a pound and I buy the max the store will allow. I bake them, shred off whatever meat I can, and then turn the bones (lots of bones!) into broth. I priced it out as being about 50 cents per quart of broth made to store-bought strength, though I do reduce it for the freezer to save space. Compared to a box of broth for $2, that’s a great deal. And that’s just counting the broth I get out of it which is my primary goal as a soup-lover– the shredded meat is a bonus that I’m not even using in that calculation. The meat is useful for soup, casseroles, chicken salad, etc.
Other protein– the cut of meat called top blade steaks, or Spencer steaks in the midwest, or flat iron steaks. All the same. They are usually rather thin cut, oblong shape well-marbled meat with a line of gristle down the middle. You can eat around the gristle if you don’t like it (I don’t mind it) but the meat is amazing. It’s more flavorful and more tender than filet mignon, and usually runs $4-5 a pound. So it’s pretty much the cheapest steak dinner you can get. The other cut I get is called chuck eye, only one of my local grocery stores carries it. It’s also around $4-5 a pound, and is as good as ribeye but strangely shaped.
Oh, and salmon– if you have Aldi, they have frozen salmon fillets, wild caught and boneless/skin on, for $3.75/lb! I use that to make homemade cured salmon, aka lox. Can’t beat that price. It isn’t difficult to do, and the results are great. I’ve used a few different methods. We also use that salmon to make salmon sandwiches, basically eaten just like a burger with a piece of salmon instead of beef. Each piece is about ¼ lb so a sandwich runs about a dollar.
Can you provide a recipe for the cured salmon? It’s one of those things I often have cravings for, but it’s always crazy expensive so I only have it as an occasional treat.
Great post. We have a lot in common when it comes to food and groceries. My wife and I buy mostly whole foods, and organic when it matters. What we put into our bodies is very important to us. Sure we splurge every now and then on unhealthy food, but we keep it to a minimum.
Making meals ahead saves us big time during the week. Our freezer is often full of meals we prepared on the weekends, bags of tomato sauce cooked from tomatoes from my wife’s garden, etc. After a long day of work, the last thing I want to do is think about making food. Having something frozen that I can heat up is a life saver during the week.
I loved reading this article! Grocery shopping for healthy food is definitely a challenge when you’re on a tight budget! Also, I have 100% learned my lesson from going grocery shopping when I am hungry (I bought WAY more food than I actually needed)!
Hey guys, Apart from all the great tips from Mrs. Frugalwoods, I have a great tip I came up with while shopping for groceries. Say NO to one of the products in your cart! Put SOMETHING BACK at the end of each shopping session! OK, after you’ve written your shopping list, bought everything on it, take a second look at your cart and just put back ONE single ingredient you think you can live without in the following week. I have done that several times, and as expected, when I got home I realized that indeed I didn’t need that product. I am saying this because I, as probably many of you, love to just throw in ingredients or foods that we love, that are not necessarily cheap nor healthy. 1. It saves you money 2. You’ ll really see what you can or cannot do without in your kitchen.
What a super, easy way to save money on groceries. It’s something simple I could do that wouldn’t take a lot of self-discipline. Thanks so much the the great tip.
I really love spinach rice (greek recipe “spanakorizo”) . Being cheap,tasty, healthy +easy to make, it has everything! If spinach is cheap in your area you should really try it out!
So much great information here. I would just like to add that condiments are a frugal person’s friend. A cheese sandwich tastes so much nicer with a good green tomato chutney, or dill pickle. And it is very empowering (not to mention cheap) to make your own. My homemade mango chutney is streets ahead of any of the sugary commercial stuff, and a lot spicier too:-) When a friend gave me a free bag of nectarines I made chutney out of those as well. Making sweet cucumber pickle is so quick and easy, and I felt so stupid for believing canning/perserving was difficult.
PS Totally off-topic, but we gave our greyhound puppy the empty peanut butter jar to lick this morning and she was in seventh heaven:-) No need to wash out the container for recycling.
I have AdBlocker After I read through the whole article there were Zero Ads blocked. This is the first time I ever saw this. Way to go frugalwoods.com
Yep, we’re ad-free!
RE: cooking, I completely thank the Food Network. My parents did teach me plenty, mostly about the importance of home-cooking and having food on the table every night. But I don’t love a lot of what I grew up eating, and I’ve branched out a lot since then. From the Food Network watching, I learned a lot about how to do different techniques, like butterflying a chicken breast (helps avoid the super thick and bland problem). So, we’ll batch cook chicken one night and then find ways to use it other nights to help us save time. Sometimes, I do one sauce in a big thing (a Le Cruset or a casserole dish or pyrex). The other night, I used smaller ones and did two different sauces, but it gave me three nights worth of dinners where all we had to do was prepare a side veggie.
Meal planning helps us a lot to avoid the “let’s just go out” dilemma. And, honestly, I find going out doesn’t really save time when I’m busy — it just saves effort. In the hour+ it takes to go out, I can usually cook, eat, and clean if I have energy.
What are some of your favorite brands of box wines and styles-cabernet, merlot? I don’t want to spend a lot of money trying out different types but I really like the idea of being able to have a glass here and there and not worrying about the wine going bad.
I was wondering, do you guys have an opinion on the zero waste movement? I love your recommendation of buying carrots en masse from BJs, however, I personally probably wouldn’t do that because those carrots would come wrapped in a plastic bag. Same with granola bars–I would probably make a ton of Angela Liddon’s Glo Bar before buying a huge box of Nature Valley granola bars.
You guys have offered a ton of great zero waste options–Sodastream, make coffee at home, make hummus or bread by hand. I’m just curious to know if zero waste is something you have consciously thought of or are considering to transition to in order to make your homestead more environmentally sustainable.
Your article gave some great advice but I had to laugh out loud when you suggested hummus and veggies is enough for dinner. My husband would absolutely freak out! It was the only part I thought was completely unrealistic expectations and points to why you guys are so thin and America as a whole is overweight. Eating whole homemade food in small quantities and snacking on fruits and veggies is what the majority of American would call a diet!
I made the epic-ly frugal lunch recipe yesterday. Eating it while I type. Curious as to the use of canned black beans vs. buying bulk?
Great post, Ms.FW. For folks looking for cheap recipes, I’ve found a (free!) PDF cookbook designed for those living on SNAP benefits (food stamps). https://cookbooks.leannebrown.com/good-and-cheap.pdf
This post was very informative. I agree that bringing snacks and your lunch to work can save you SO much money. There are several people at my office that eat out every day or go pick up fast food. I drink the free coffee at work and if I don’t want that, I keep flavor packets in my desk to put in water (not a fan of plain water with no ice/bubbles/flavor). We also purposefully make too much food for dinner so that we can have leftovers for lunch the next day. My husband and I also like to drink alcohol, but we limit that to the weekends now because it is so expensive. We are doing the low carb diet so I have to limit wine intake. My favorite drink is a chilton (club soda, lemon, salt, and vodka).
Food has always been my struggle. I love food and spend way too much money satisfying cravings and experiments. I’ve gotten better since I began my frugal journey. I’m glad you posted a picture of the oats you buy because I’ve been trying to figure out which brand to buy in bulk!
Here’s my granola recipe. I make a batch of this every Sunday and eat throughout the week. They are great for work, hikes, and post run/yoga. I also pack them when my toddler and I are running errands to keep hunger at bay.
1 cup oatmeal (I see you have a 50 lb bag there…)
1/2 cup nut butter (I use peanut butter most often but also do almond butter)
1/3 cup honey or agave nectar (sometimes I use less)
2/3 cup coconut flakes (I leave this out if I don’t have coconut)
1/2 cup ground flax seed (OMEGA 3s!!!!)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract (I usually forget to put this in and they’re still tasty)
The base of this is the nut butter and oats, and you can really play around with the rest. I sometimes add dried fruit or chopped nuts to it. If I find chia seeds on sale I will add a tablespoon of those. It’s super versatile.
Mix all ingredients together (your hands will work better than a spoon) and then mold into a glass dish and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Cut into the portions you want. I keep these in the fridge all week and take out as I want to eat them. You can also just mix all ingredients in a bowl, refrigerate, and then mold into balls.
Looks like a yummy, sweet dessert!
Canned soup is our luxury item because it’s still cheaper than going out to eat and doesn’t go bad in the fridge. I don’t eat meat so I like to buy some chicken or beef options for my husband to munch on if he’s craving something different. I grew up with my mother canning and making us healthy food, and unfortunately I’m a sugar fiend and hate most cooked vegetables as a result. I am getting better (I eat red sauce!) but I don’t think I’ll ever start canning myself…
I’m working on eating more from home and resorting less to going out. I’m proud to say we rarely get takeout but we love our weekly dinners out. We have reduced it to every other week.
Our friends also love to host and vice versa. We pick a theme and everyone brings dish. My favorite is “Chinese food” which is usually everyone’s favorite mix of Asian recipes. It’s way healthier than takeout and though the recipes can be elaborate, it’s cheaper than dinner for 6 people out. We also do grilled pizza in the summer which is a steal! I’d rather spend $40 on food for a large party than go out to eat and spend $60+ depending on where we go.
Here’s a recipe I made up last year for protein bars:
2 cups old fashioned oats (uncooked) ground up in a blender
6 Dove Dark chocolates chopped medium fine (one of life’s little pleasures!)
3 T coconut oil, melted
1/2 banana, pureed
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup dried milk powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
Mix everything together until blended and bake in a well-buttered 9″ pie plate at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. Makes 12 wedges at approximately 220 calories each. Don’t use margarine to butter the pie plate.
I forgot to mention that this makes a chewy and not a crispy protein bar.
A yummy oatmeal variation is what I call my banana bread oatmeal. Add 1/2 of a banana (chopped up), maybe 6 pecan halves broken into pieces (Costo pecans are the least expensive) and some nutmeg and cinnamon. Cook as usual. I always cook my oatmeal in the microwave. It won’t boil over if you cook it at 50% power and if you make sure the bowl is big enough. In the past few months I’ve been making my oatmeal with 1/2 milk and 1/2 water. It tastes so much better and you don’t need to put any milk on top when you eat it.
Great post and comments, too. The only thing I would add is that once in a while I’ll shop at an ethnic food market and score super deals. For example, I bought a bag of fresh turmeric for a few bucks at an Indian store. Compared to the health food store super cheap. It freezes perfectly. At Asian stores, I get teas for much cheaper.
Hi, I’ve been following your blog and we already follow many of your tips but there is something that we have trouble with, which is the fact that we live in a tiny (~35m2/375ft2) apartments with a small fridge and a tiny freezer compartment so we end up cooking almost every night (we’re in Ireland, by the way, where apartments are costly and small). We have been doing it for years and have no children. We try to do bigger portions so as to do multiple lunch meals (which we take for our respective offices) and soups for most dinners of the week. Do you have any other ideas come to mind? Thank you very much and keep writing!
Have you thought to purchase (garage sale) a pressure canner?. I pressure can all my soups, chili’s etc so I have a pantry full of ” fast meals”.
Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for great granola bars. You can use whatever nuts or dried fruit you have on hand.
This is my go-to for granola bars. It’s very versatile! And not too sweet and sticky.
Boiled eggies are da bomb:
Bring water to boil
Gently add a dozen eggs
Boil 6 minutes
Take off heat, let sit 20 minutes
Drain hit water, add cool water,ice 20 mins
Put in fridge
Similar to above, we call them power balls not granola bars: 1/4 c. honey; 1/2 c. nut butter (usually peanut and almond)/ 1 c. rolled oats; mix together and roll into balls. Store in fridge and grab when you need them. I usually add 2-3 T of flax seed meal for omega-3s and vitamins. Can add choc chips, coconut flakes, raisins, etc. But I usually make them plain. My kids LOVE them. Like granola bars, they have sweetener, so we consider them a treat-like snack/lunch.
I have a great granola bar recipe that’s really easy. The recipe is on my website. They’re no bake, and they freeze great. I cut them into bars and freeze each bar. They thaw quickly, like by the time you’d get to work or get ready in the morning.
I totally agree that finding a workable granola bar recipe is tough. What I do is make loose granola to top our homemade yogurt.. I like the crunch it brings to the meal.
I have found that it is much easier to save on groceries, eat clean and healthy and not to throw away food when ordering all food via e-shop. For few months now I have planned our meals (family of 4), ordered the stuff online and my husband just went to pick up the prepacked goods from store. Much less destraction and impulse bought items, much better planning and lots of saved time.
P.S- where we live it is free of charge to preorder and pick up groceries.
Excellent post! I love that you keep weeknights simple. That is something I try and do also. I also try and keep Thursday nights a slow cooker meal and Friday nights for leftovers so I know I’ll be ready to relax and play with the kiddo more those nights.
As for granola bars. I love having a simple snack and this recipe has been my go-to for years. I double the batch and put it in a 9×13 pan and leave it in the fridge. Out family of 3 can polish off a pan in a week or so and they taste simply amazing on top of a little bit of plain greek yogurt.
Side note – I am loving the UFM!!
I have a great granola bar recipe. I just mostly just wing it.
1/2 cup peanut butter (sometimes almond butter)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup coconut flakes
sometimes I put organic rice crispies or rice/kamut puffs in there too
Melt peanut butter, honey and butter together. Then add any ingredients you want. I will add more or less peanut butter/butter/honey mixture if I have more ingredients.
Looks like you guys do consistent lunch and breakfast and then a more varied dinner. Great strategy.
At the end of the day, spending perhaps 15% more on healthier foods will pay off when it comes to spending less on healthcare.
I would love to hear more about how you make your hommus.
Your girl sure loves Avocados!
We are in Milwaukee, so we shop on Sundays during the Packers game. It is like a ghost town. Just don’t try to go an hour before, it will be mobbed! 🙂
Do you have an average cost per meal per person that you try to maintain? For 2017 we are shooting for an average of $2.67 per person per meal. We are mostly utilizing the recipes link from BlueApron, but rather than use their service we go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients ourselves.
No, we don’t usually calculate our meals out anymore–we used to, but now we just rely on our frugal standbys and pantry to see us through. I think that type of optimization is awesome when you’re first starting out with frugal eating. I’m just too lazy to continue doing it 😉
This might sound like an odd one but it worked for me and when I pointed it out to my colleague she noted the cost savings too.
I rarely eat meat but when I do I eat halal meat. We have a very large Muslim community in my city – large enough that there is a section at the grocery store for the halal meats and products (in a very basic sense like kosher for Jewish).
The overall price point is different and when they do markdowns they are more substantial.
I have similarly found that when buying things like tahini a jar or huge jars of roasted peppers that would have been $10 in the regular aisle – if I’m willing to buy it in an unrecognized ethnic brand likely in the original language – I can buy it for $3.50 or $2.00.
Food has always been my easiest area to tackle with frugality. And I swear, even though I’ve been doing it for 6+ years (since husband and I embarked out on our own) I learn something new ALL the time. Some of my tried and true methods
When making a grocery list, I first write down everything I’m going to buy based on what I need to restock and what I’m cooking that week. I then go back and write a new list, re-ordering my items based on my path around the store. I’ve been to my store enough times to know where almost everything is located (to the point where I may throw an internal tantrum when they move stuff around for “streamline purposes” or whatever they wish to call it). If you are NOT familiar with your store, ask customer service for a map. Seriously, most grocery stores have a map.
Anyway, write your items down in an order from door to register in one straight trip. This cuts down on weaving back and forth between aisles you’ve been down, cutting through aisles you have no business being down (soda & candy! unless it is ON your list, which it usually only is on mine if it’s the free coupon of the week deal). I have saved SO much by doing this because I am a HUGE compulsive buyer and my persuasive snack side is far stronger than my practical frugal side. So if I just avoid it altogether, there’s no worry.
The other thing I do is buy whole raw chicken. Out grocery store usually has them for .99/lb (sometimes even .88/lb in which case I buy 3 and throw two in the freezer) I buy one, cook it (a little olive oil and some no salt seasoning I got from a neighbor on Buy Nothing) and we have roast chicken one night. With the leftovers, I can usually squeeze out 2-3 more chicken meals that are all cheap. Then with the bones, I make my own chicken stock and throw that in the freezer for other meals. I tend to roast chicken once a week and then rotate through about 6 or 7 different chicken soups/pastas/other dishes every week until we’re chickened out. It’s great because for about $5-6 I can get easy protein for a good 4+ meals. When my freezer starts to overflow with chicken stock, we just have chicken soup. I make the stock, but after straining out the bones, I just add onions, carrots, rice (or whatever tiny pasta is in the cupboard). Served with some homemade bread and it’s SO great for cold winter nights, especially when the kids are feeling a little run down from all the fun school germs they bring home.
Last, ask if your store has markdown sections. Ours regularly has a bread markdown (randomly located in one of the frozen food aisles….yeah), a meat markdown stuffed in the corner of the meat department, and a shelf goods markdown randomly located in grocery carts placed in the middle of “sale” displays…you know the ones that are still more expensive than regularly priced store brands. I make it a point to always browse these. I don’t always walk away with something, but a lot of times, I’ll find some great things that I usually buy marked WAY down. A steak marked down to $3 that I made awesome jerky out of (beats the insanely priced bags), a giant box of fruit snacks marked down to $2 because they were Halloween themed and it was a few days after the fact. It was about 4 times the amount I usually buy for my daughter for only about half a dollar more.
Excellent guide. Thanks. I wonder what do the Frugalwoods use to store some of the bulk items, such as the big bags of oatmeal, quinoa, etc.?
I have been buying higher volume items, such as big bags of brown rice from my Chinatown store near work, and I am unsure if everything needs to be in an “airtight” container. Those airtight ones are a bit more expensive and I don’t know if there’s a cheaper alternative? Thanks again.
We store our oats in these containers.
Homemade bread is also a good place to add good stuff. Flax seeds are good for you with omega-3 & fibre & can substitute for the oil/butter you use. Ground flax is expensive & goes rancid fast. Just blend twice as much whole flax seeds as you would use oil. Flax seeds keep for years.
For real whole wheat bread, add in wheat germ . Wheat germ can also go rancid – buy from a place which refrigerates it & freeze it when you get home. It can be bitter, so add as much as tastes good to you.
Also, fwiw, if you are making bread, use warm water(100F, 38C) and leave your bread to rise, covered, on top of your refrigerator, toward the rear where it’s warmer.
It’s also easy & cheap to make your own yogurt. Use your favourite plain yogurt as starter, use powdered milk, and keep your yogurt container in a cooler half full of water at 110F/43C for 10 hours, then refrigerate.
Great post! Our son is about to turn 2, and we’ve found that we’ve been going out to eat a lot less because it’s just easier to stay home and cook. He’s always trying to make an escape from the high chair when we go out and throwing (and spitting) stuff on the floor! I think the biggest reason that we don’t cook at home more often is that we have a limited number of things that we know how to cook. I totally agree with your view on the judicious use of proteins. My wife tries to use meat with every meal, but eating too much protein can be costly and even unhealthy. This is my first time commenting on your site, but I’ve been following your blog for a while. Keep up the great work!
We eat out a couple of times a month. Yes, it costs more than cooking at home but we have some strategies to keep the bill reasonable. We always portion out at least half the meal to take home and take any leftover bread to use for breakfast or lunch the next day. We don’t order drinks, (NYC tapwater really is delicious!), and share dessert if we really want one. We also try to avoid buying coffee or tea out. I have good travel mugs and will make drinks at home to take with us when we go for walks in the park.
Other than that we do cook at home from scratch as much as possible. We make big meals on weekends so during the week it’s usually a quick reheat with a salad that takes 5 mins to prep. Soups are one of my favorite things to make since you can often add in odds and ends and it still comes out good. I added leftover rice to my split pea soup and it helped to thicken it nicely.
A great way to use up leftovers is to keep a “soup box” in the freezer. When you have a spoonful of peas left on the dinner table–too little to serve again, too much to finish off–put that spoonful in the soup box. Repeat with whatever spoonful portions are left at the end of the meal. When the soup box is full, all you need for a great soup is to make the base of your choice (broth, tomato, etc) and add in the goodies. Avoids waste and saves both time and money.
Equal parts raw nut (cashews typically, peanut is also good) and dates. Pinch of salt, vanilla and cinnamon. Awesome backpacking food. Awesome snack. Have to use a Vitamix.
How do you make pea pasta? Could you provide a loose recipe? Thanks!
Just came across your blog and I’ve been enjoying reading through all this amazing info! For the granola bar question, I make these granola bars religiously. They use brown rice cereal and brown rice syrup (those ingredients are a bit more expensive), but making these homemade certainly saves and they are SO. MUCH. BETTER. than store bought. They’re really, really delicious and easy to make. Everyone loves these. I swap it up too, depending on what’s in my pantry for nuts/seeds/dried fruit.
Now that you have a garden, you’ll be able to grow many of your present grocery purchases and only pick what you need for that day right outside your kitchen window!
If you have a food processing, another fun thing to do is to see how many things you can make in a row without having to wash it in between! Like, always keeping a bag of fresh peanuts on hand (almonds, too) so that you can make your own peanut butter/almond butter without any unnecessary additives, and without getting a new container each time. You’ll never run out of peanut butter and/or almond butter that way, ‘cuz all you have to do is reach into your pantry for another cup or two of nuts, etc,
Then, without washing the food processor, continue on by making a batch of cookies, or muffins, or whatever goes good with peanut butter. Keep a few to eat, and freeze the rest for later!
The same holds true with grating cheese! Just buy chunks of cheese, and grate it yourself in your food processor! Begin with Parmesan, as it is the driest (and doesn’t mock up your food processor bowl, then continue on with the moister cheeses. Bag each type of cheese into a freezer ziplock bag, and toss them into the freezer. Grated cheese at your fingertips whenever you want! But, still don’t wash your food processor bowl! Continue on with finishing up with some bread dough, even if you don’t want to bake it right then, and since that cleans up the bowl quite nicely, continue on with some pie dough, for ex., which you can freeze as is, or just roll out right then and there, put in a pie tin, and toss it in the freezer! Then, when you end up with a batch of raspberries, for ex., the pie is half-made already, OR, grab some veggies from the garden, and together with your already grated bags of misc cheeses, make a quiche for dinner! Easy peasy, right? You could continue on, if you’d like, or just finally wash the food processor bowl, and call it a day! Got the idea? 🤓
You have inspired a new game in my life! Love this!
My trick to saving on baby food is skipping purée, homemade and store-bought, and doing baby-led weaning… Baby had what we had from the start and all we had to do was forfeit one or two spoonfuls from our plates to the little guy. Bonus, we started having way less pre-packaged food and restaurant food because of watching little guy’s sodium intake 🙂
I really like how you limit junk food in Babywoods life by not exposing her to it and not keeping it in the house but are realistic enough to know that she’ll be getting sodas and candies as she grows. We’re much the same way as we’re expecting, and I want my baby to eat good, nutritious food just as mommy and daddy do.
Just thought I’d share a granola bar recipe. I think the Classic Glo Bars from Oh She Glows are pretty darn good and fairly healthy. It’s in her cookbook or here https://emilycoppella.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/oh-she-glows-classic-glo-bar/
We eat very healthily and our only treat/junk food is dark chocolate, sometimes with nuts in it. I’m coeliac and my son has a list of allergies as long as his arm so it is a bit more costly as some cheap foods are not available to us to eat but we still do our best. We do have coffee out occasionally but never as a takeaway, it’s more for the experience. We don’t eat out unless there is a family occasion but that’s rare and we avoid it due to our son being on the spectrum and not really coping with that type of environment. I am definitely guilty of stocking up on things I already have like rice or noodles etc, but I’m getting better as using what we have. Bulk foods are hard to find in Australia in the way they seem available in America. Things like rice are available but other things that are suitable for coeliacs are not. For example, we don’t have gluten-free oats in Australia. Here they are considered ‘gluten’ due to the cross contamination. Sometimes I buy them from iHerb and get them delivered but it’s expensive.
I just discovered Walmart Grocery Pickup. I may never set foot inside a grocery store again. I hate to grocery shop and I don’t like to cook, but I have a feeling with more time to plan and cook and not shop, this could be a game changer for me. I’d be very interested to hear what others think.
We struggle to lower our monthly food bill, though we do not eat out and cook almost everything from scratch. Oddly, perhaps, produce is the killer. It is nothing to spend $50 in the produce aisle for vegetables and fruits that will be gone in one week. In summer, the farmers’ market does the trick. We are pretty committed to buying meat from animals not raised in factory-farm conditions, and because this is more expensive, we eat a lot less meat than we used to. (And are raising meat chickens in the backyard! Quite the adventure.) But I still marvel at the low grocery bills I see posted from others. We live a major metro area in the SE.
I recommend checking out ethnic grocery stores near you. It might seem daunting at first, but just jump into it and explore.
For example, here in LA there is a store called Jon’s market. It stocks Hispanic/Caucasian (like Armenian, Georgian, etc)/Middle-Eastern and Eastern-European (Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Latvian, etc.) foods. Those are pretty good and cheap, good for buying beans, various grains and flour. Produce and meat not too expensive either, and there are many interesting selections. You would see many of the same foods in fancy international departments of your bigger grocery stores, and they would be a lot more expensive.
Asian markets are great too. For example, oyster and shiitake mushrooms (those are wonderful health foods and very filling) are about 2-3 times less expensive at my local Thai grocery market than at my local Gelson’s where it is considered a fancy food. I also used to go to a big Korean grocery store when I lived near one to get cheap seafood and the variety was amazing. Grilled octopus, anyone? Asian markets would offer cheaper rice in bulk.
Love the blog, but could you please make the color of the letter’s black and pick a bigger font as it is kind of hard to read, especially smaller font comments.
I know! We have lots of great Latino stores here in FL and we love getting our cheap spices there!
I always keep blue tape on hand for writing on food containers when I put them in the fridge or freezer. I put the name of what is in the container, along with the date of when it was put in the fridge. This helps for ensuring that we know how old something is before we eat it!
1 1/3 thick-rolled oats
¾ cup flour
½ light brown sugar, packed
½ cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
½ cup pecans, chopped
½ cup honey (spray measuring cup with vegetable oil before measuring)
½ cup butter, melted
Preheat oven to 325. Butter 8” square baking dish.
In large bowl, mix oats, flour, brown sugar, cranberries, chips, and pecans.
In medium bowl, mix together honey, melted butter, and egg. Add to dry ingredients. Pour in prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes before cutting
From Mary Jane’s Farm magazine, December – January 2019
Leftover sandwiches which have been in the refrigerator become delectable treats when I smear a bit of soft butter on the outside and heat them up on a nonstick pan for a few minutes!
Try making flatbreads.Espesially good for hungry kids.My favourite recipes are Rachael Koo no yeast and ready to cook in 15minutes and Jenny can Cook.You tubeVideo on how to make them is so easy.
Seltzer with a splash of tart cherry juice makes a delicious cherry soda.