I consider myself a foodie—it’s the one vice I’ve held onto over the years. Cooking and trying out new foods doesn’t come cheap, though, and over the last few months, I’ve noticed my food bill creeping up.
Recently, I spent more than $25 for ingredients to make chicken curry for lunch—a dish that lasted just two meals. That’s a good chunk of change, and got my thinking about how many meals I could make for the same amount. Could I cover 10—a work week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches?
The answer, it turned out, was yes—and it was a lot easier that I thought. Here’s how I did it.
1. I meal-planned before hitting the grocery store.
This accomplished two things. I avoided buying stuff I already had by checking the fridge and cabinets before shopping. Having a list also helped me stick to just what I needed.
Here’s my menu, which actually offered more variety than usual. (What can I say? I’m a creature of habit.)
|Monday||2 fried eggs, toast, banana||Caesar salad and black beans|
|Tuesday||Eggs and bean scramble, toast, banana||Noodle and veggie saute|
|Wednesday||2 fried eggs||Leftover noodles|
|Thursday||Eggs in purgatory, toast, banana||Caesar salad and black beans|
|Friday||French toast, banana||Lentils and rice|
And my shopping list:
- 1 loaf of bread, $2
- 1 dozen eggs, $1.79
- 1 can crushed tomatoes, $1.09
- 1 pound dried black beans, $1.79
- 1 pound dried lentils, $1.74
- 2-pound bag of rice, $5.39
- 2 packages of shirataki noodles, $4.98
- 1 bag of Caesar salad mix, $1.99
- 1 bag of spinach, $1.50
- 5 bananas, $0.96
- 1 bag of frozen broccoli, $2
2. I substituted cheaper proteins.
A pound of chicken breast—my go-to protein—costs, on average, $3.24, and sometimes lasts just one meal. (I get hungry, okay?) A dozen eggs, by comparison, costs $1.79, and a pound of dried lentils and black beans costs $1.74 and $1.79, respectively. Depending on the bean, I can get 10 servings from one bag, and easily stretch a carton of eggs four or five meals.
Bonus: I recently lost 60 pounds in a year by not eating meat until dinnertime—and exercising more—so there are health benefits, too. That’s not to say meat lovers can’t save money: A few slices of turkey breast, for example, shouldn’t add much to the bill.
3. I gave each ingredient multiple jobs.
Cooked the same way, eating eggs and beans every day would get old—fast—so I mixed it up. Although I ate eggs every morning, frying, scrambling, poaching and using them for French toast kept it fresh. (A good spice cabinet helps, too.)
Don’t like eggs or beans? Tuna, tofu and starches like potatoes and rice are other versatile ingredients.
4. I kept my leftovers.
Leftovers save money and time. I traveled all day for work on Wednesday, which meant I couldn’t cook. Normally, I’d eat out, but having leftover noodles instead easily saved me $10.
All told, my $25.23 grocery bill broke down to $2.52 per meal—but I’d argue it was really closer to $1.73, considering all the leftover dried goods I have. With a pantry full of staples, I now have room in my budget to include more fresh vegetables, fruits and other, pricier ingredients next week.