The cost of living is sky high and so the way we shop must be smarter if we want to prevent spending all our money on food! In our family, we noticed our grocery bill slowly creep up over time, not only because of inflation but because I want to cook fancy things and try new products. Lately though, like most households in Australia, we’ve had to buckle down and start implementing some cost-saving habits. In this post, I will share with you the type of food staples I keep in my pantry and fridge. I also run through some basic meals I make with them.
I tend to buy food in bulk, especially when food is on sale. I also use a combination of long shelf-life products and fresh products. I shop once a week and always menu plan.
When menu planning I either stick to recipes I can cook off the top of my head or I take recipes from websites or magazines I’ve read. Basically, whatever I feel like eating that week. From the menu, I plan a shopping list. I review the pantry and fridge, see what there is and make a list of what I need to buy. This ensures we use all our fresh items up and there’s no food waste.
As a family, we typically shop on a Saturday. My husband and I review all the food price tags, not only for the actual cost per item but also to compare the price of different brands per 100g to pick the cheapest one overall. We are also very conscious to try to pick Australian made if the prices are similar and food quality is equal.
Here is a list of family favourite meals we repeat all the time:
- Spaghetti Bolognese made with 500g mince, shredded carrot, lentils, and black bean.
- Frittata made with milk, cheese, eggs, zucchini, leek, and cherry tomato
- Beef stew made with 500g gravy beef, frozen mixed vegetables, zucchini, onion, and potato and served with rice
- Pan-fried chicken breast with taco seasoning and mixed salad
- Tacos or nachos made with beef mince, lentils, red kidney beans, shredded salad, tomato, and cheese
- Chicken roast with zucchini, pumpkin, potato, carrots, and mixed frozen veggies.
- Homemade pizza (pizza base made from scratch) with chicken breast, tinned pineapple, apple, capsicum, mushrooms, onion, cheese, and BBQ sauce
- Pulled pork burgers or wraps made with coleslaw mix, mayo, beetroot, and cheese
Our family’s favourite meals get rotated in with some dishes I make occasionally like curries, soups, stir frys, risottos, lasagne, or homemade burgers. The rotation of dishes with regular meals and new meals helps to keep mealtimes fun and interesting. I also tend to make some sort of dessert that’s caught my eye every fortnight.
By having a list of family favourites, it will allow you to stock up on your regular food items when they are on sale. For example, tomato pasta sauce, bags of rice, salad dressings, tinned legumes, and long-life milk. We also buy lean mincemeat when it’s on sale (not going out of date) because it freezes well for a long time. Mincemeat is so versatile to make spaghetti, homemade Sheppard’s pies, burger patties, meatballs and tacos. It’s also cheaper compared to buying whole stakes and can be mixed with legumes and other shredded vegetables to make it go further. I’d also like to add here I don’t tend to buy any other type of meat, chicken, or pork etc for the purpose of freezing. I find the freezing and defrosting process changes the flavour and texture of the meat too much and it’s just not appetising.
In my menu planning, I make sure all the dishes I cook containing fresh meat are cooked first. This means I cook in large batches for Saturday and Sunday lunch, Monday dinner and Tuesday. By Wednesday and Thursday, we are eating leftovers. Friday is usually a no meat or a mince meat day. For example, I might do a pasta dish like Spaghetti Bolognese or ravioli with Napoletana sauce or Gnocchi with cherry tomatoes, and Bocconi cheese with basil and olive oil.
I also tend to only cook once a day and not every day. On the weekends we usually have a late lunch and don’t feel like eating dinner. However, leftovers are always available if someone is hungry. We always eat leftovers for lunches on the weekdays. If there are not leftovers (which rarely happens) we take a sandwich or rice with tuna and salad. Taking a home-packed lunch to work or school is an easy way to save a lot of money!
To reduce the cost of your weekly spending on food limit eating out altogether. Eating out or ordering takeaway is very expensive. It’s easy to blow $70-90 on dinner for a small family, spending $20 to $30 per dish. In comparison you can spend $20 to pay for the next month’s daily breakfast at home, buying a 1kg bag of $2 rolled oats and 3L of milk every week. Dining out is just not scalable nor cost-effective for families. If you’re after convivence meals, think about easy meals you can whip up in a few minutes at home. Here are some of our family’s favourite quick meals:
- Baked beans with scrambled eggs on toast
- English muffins with ham, cheese, and tomato
- Tinned tuna with rice and salad
- Omelette with cherry tomatoes, onion, and cheese
- Fruit smoothies made with banana, milk, yogurt, and honey
- Air fried potato ‘chips’ with steamed frozen mixed vegetables and leftover sliced chicken breast
- Ravioli with Napoletana sauce and shredded cheese
Putting a little bit of thought into menu planning and having a stockpile of regularly consumed food staples in the house can help you save money on food.
What are your food budgeting and menu planning tips?