Food. My family must eat food to survive. And we must eat healthy meals (most of the time) to get the nutrients our bodies need. In my household, food is not a form of entertainment, although I am working on that. What I mean is my husband and I don’t get excited about cooking fancy meals together. And I tend to get angry when I attempt to make cooking “fun” by trying new things because I usually discover that I have forgotten to buy an important ingredient while in the middle of making something new. And as I mentioned last week, I also burn a lot of food.
Food, for the most part, is something that is viewed only as a necessity in my household. So we eat meals like normal families because we need food to survive. We eat snacks because we get hungry throughout the day. And we eat meals that are fairly healthy by my standards. Now, I am not a health expert so I don’t even pretend to be one of those moms who will only feed their children organic foods and meals made entirely from scratch. I feed my family meals that are balanced and simple. Go ahead, you can shake your head at me and give me a lecture on the benefits of organic foods, raw foods, vegan foods, kale chips, fish oil or whatever special diet plan you follow. Personally, I don’t care that much. Maybe I will after you give me a convincing lecture. Maybe I will care if there is ever a time when my kids’ pediatrician thinks that they are not getting the nutrients they need. Maybe I will care if I discover that kale chips are amazing after all. What I am most concerned about is incorporating healthier options in our meal plans as I learn more about nutrition and cooking while also keeping the rules simple in the kitchen.
In my house we eat fruits, veggies, protein foods, dairy and grains. Snacks for my kids may include Goldfish crackers and fruit snacks. My husband and I may or may not have eaten an entire bag of Dutch Crunch Jalapeño & Cheddar Kettle Chips in one sitting. For the most part, though, my family is healthy and we have healthy habits when it comes to eating. Our kids are provided food when they are hungry, not fussy (there is a difference!). They get snacks after naps or after playing for a long time at the park. And my husband and I don’t eat huge portions at dinner because we like to make sure there is enough food left over for lunches the next day (which is a great strategy for saving time and money, and to also avoid packing on extra pounds).
In addition to keeping the rules simple regarding what types of food I buy and make, I have a habit of keeping my meal plans simple. Prior to leaving my job, I was able to spend only 2.5 hours with my kids each work day. I would usually get home with the kiddos around 5:30 p.m. after picking them up from daycare. And their bedtime was 8 p.m. since they had to get up early the next day so that I could drive them back to daycare before work. Instead of spending time in the kitchen whipping up elaborate meals or meals that required a decent amount of time for prepping, I opted out of embracing this motherly and domestic duty so that I would have a little more time with my kiddos in the evening. This is still the main approach I am taking as a temporary stay-at-home mom. However, I do have more time to cook and I am able to get dinner on the table at a decent time now. And although getting dinner on the table while entertaining two lively children is also quite challenging, I am at least learning to enjoy my time in the kitchen. This has given me some motivation and courage to try new things (especially when these efforts contribute to saving money by coming up with strategic meal plans for the week). So here we continue the discussion on creative budgeting.
Ditching takeout and embracing your inner domestic goddess.
In my second creative budgeting post, I mentioned some ways in which my husband and I are minimizing monthly bills so that we can afford having me stay home with the kids this summer. The next big monthly expense to work on reducing is food. Prior to leaving my job, my family was spending at least $500 – $700 a month on food for two adults and two toddlers. My husband and I eat smaller portions, and our kids eat like birds the majority of the week. I was amazed each week when the grocery bill exceeded $100. Where was our money going? What were we buying that was so expensive or simply not necessary? What could we do to spend less money on food.
The most obvious and effective way to minimize monthly food expenses is to eliminate going out to eat and picking up food, treats and beverages at takeout and fast food places. Even though we didn’t go out to eat very often prior to living on a tight budget, we did spend about $50 – $100 a month at places like Chipotle, Jimmy John’s, Panera, Starbucks, Caribou, Dairy Queen, McDonalds, etc. Since we barely spent any money on going out to eat together, banning going out to eat has not been a difficult adjustment to make this summer. With busy and hectic schedules, we did frequent takeout and fast food places on a weekly basis, though. Banning takeout and fast food has been a more difficult adjustment to make only because getting fast food or takeout can be very convenient on busy days. However, we are saving at least $70 – $80 a month by not going to Chipotle and Jimmy John’s on Saturdays for lunch. I will admit, we haven’t banned takeout completely. But instead of picking up something once or twice a week, we have only picked up food twice this entire month. When we are busy and running around throughout the day, I now plan ahead and make sandwiches and pack snacks and drinks for us so that we can avoid buying fast food or stopping somewhere to grab a quick bite if we start turning into hungry hippos. I also pack lunches for my husband so that he doesn’t have to buy a lunch at work. Packing lunches takes a little extra time, but it is a simple way to reduce the monthly food bill.
I have started to use coupons more and I try to plan meals around what is on sale during the week at our local grocery store. I avoid spending money on treats and junk food as much as possible because these treats are expensive and can easily add an additional $10 – $20 to our weekly grocery bill. Fruit is expensive, too, but I stick to buying what is on sale. Although I am still spending about $400 – $600 on food each month, I am also adding to our reserves. If we had to, we could probably get by without spending more than $50 at the grocery store over the next couple of weeks just by raiding the pantry and freezer. This is comforting to know in case zombies invade the Twin Cities.
Food is a necessity and eating healthy is important to me. I have been researching ways to cut grocery expenses and to plan cheaper meals that are still healthy. With this information I hope to create a better guideline for myself when grocery shopping and planning meals. I will be revisiting this subject on my blog when I find some methods that work for me and my family. Food is expensive, but with some planning and creativity (and by embracing my inner domestic goddess a little more each week), I know that I can get more for my money at the grocery store and continue to feed my family healthy meals. Chow! I mean, ciao!