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.