This may come as a surprise, but foods that seem cheap really aren’t. Take it from a mom with a full-time fitness career (read: super hungry) and four growing boys (also super hungry): the convenience foods that seem inexpensive end up costing more.
Have you ever sat down and eaten an entire bag of chopped broccoli ($2.58 for 12oz)? What about an entire roasted chicken ($5.82 for 6lb)? Doubtful.
Ok, what about a bag of chips ($2.98 for 9.75oz Doritos)? Box of cookies ($2.48 for 13oz Chew Chips Ahoy)? You know you have. So have I.
My kids are the same! It takes several days for them to polish off a bunch of bananas, but bring home a bag of M&M’s and they’re gone within minutes. And eating out? Even pizza night costs $50 for my crew and is gone by the end of the night.
I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to best feed my hungry crew (and myself) and I’ve come up with several ways to save money, eat well, and not spend all day in the kitchen.
1) Keep it simple.
There is no need to cook anything fancy (unless you want to!). I had the great pleasure of being able to cook with one of my favorite chefs (shout out to Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian!), who cooks healthy food that is creative, delicious, and uncomplicated. He is quite capable of creating fancy dishes that take hours to prepare, but at home? For his family? He sticks to healthy and simple. Even food that seems fancy can be prepared simply. Check out my website for the dish I cooked with GZ in fewer than 30 minutes! Substitute the fish for whatever mild fish you can find at your grocery store and in your price range, stick with in-season fruits and veggies for the salsa, and enjoy!
2)Plan. Plan. Plan.
Not many people make good decisions on the fly, so having a plan and the ingredients you need on-hand are key to eating well and saving cash. I have breakfast staples that we rotate, like bacon and eggs with in-season fruit, pumpkin muffins, and pancakes on Sunday. Lunch is usually a grazing board with deli meat, cheese, crackers, and in-season fruits and veggies. For dinners, I work my creative muscles by watching the Food Network, browsing food blogs, or picking out something on sale I’ve never tried before. Know your schedule for the week and how much time you can reasonably spend on dinner, and plan accordingly. If I’m not going to get home until close to dinnertime, I make sure to plan a slow-cooker or instant pot meal. If I’ve got some extra time one afternoon, I’ll pick something I can make as a double batch and freeze. If we want to have a pizza night, I plan for that too and budget accordingly!
3) Order groceries online for curbside pickup.
There are some stores that are offering curbside pickup with no extra fee OR product markup. Some stores will deliver or offer curbside for an extra fee, while others mark up the cost of items to cover the overhead. You do you, but I shop the stores that will deliver or let me pickup curbside without charging me extra. The best part about this option (other than not having to take four kids to the grocery store) is that it is so much easier to stick to a budget. I plan my week, make a list, add to cart. Then, if I’m over our budget, I delete or switch out items until I have what I need at a cost I am happy with. This is significantly less embarrassing than the whole, “Wait, can you take this off?” dance at the cash register. Another way to make this work well is to order your staples from one store (think, Aldi or Walmart) and then order your meats and veggies from a higher-end grocery store. Good quality meat and produce can make your meal taste significantly better, and the extra cost there can be offset by using cheaper rice, flour, and spices. If you’re an Amazon Prime member you can get free delivery from Whole Foods — WIN!
4) Again, keep it simple.
Your kids don’t need homemade gluten-free chocolate chip cookies with added “sneaky” vegetables, ants on a log, yogurt banana splits, or any other fancy Pinterest snack someone is telling you to make. Grab a banana. Snack on an apple. Eat some baby carrots. Dinner can be a whole roasted chicken, steamed broccoli, and mashed sweet or russet potatoes (which feeds six people for less than $10). Mondays are typically spaghetti night for us: ground beef, jar spaghetti sauce, gluten free pasta or zucchini noodles, a side salad, and garlic bread feeds my crew for less than $14 and around 30 minutes to prep. Plus, my 13-year-old now knows how to make spaghetti so I can take the night off!