Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Healthy Dining on a Budget Challenge Part 1

I've been dabbling in menu planning for a couple months now and it's been saving me a ton of money on groceries. It takes some time and patience and stick-to-it-ness but it's well worth every ounce of energy you put into it if you're trying to eat healthy, nutritious home-made foods on a budget.

So my newest challenge is to see if I can eat for a whole month on $200. That includes every meal I eat in- or out-of-home. I'd been sticking to about $200 worth of groceries a month and about $100 worth of dining out, so this will be cutting me back to only $200 for both! I'm up for the challenge.

Some tips I've been using:
1. Look at what's already in your refrigerator and pantry. Make use of those items first. If you have produce that's about to go bad, think about smoothies, soups and casseroles immediately. You can easily stretch these into quite a few servings.

2. Find recipes that use the items in your pantry. If you need to buy blue cheese for a recipe but you'll only need half of it, look for another recipe to make in conjunction so you use up all your blue cheese investment.

3. Look for items that are on sale for the week at your local store and consider making a recipe with that ingredient. I like to use as a resource. From that site you can search your local stores for sales AND coupons all in one handy place.

4. Utilize coupons. I'm not the type to go buy three boxes of cereal just because I have a coupon for them. I'm honest with myself and know that I won't use up all the cereal and sometimes the items with coupons aren't the healthiest items.

5. MENU PLAN your week. I cannot explain how important this step is. Once you've seen what's in your pantry, produce and what ingredients you might want/need to buy, the next step is plotting it all out. Does that chicken casserole make 8 servings? Then guess better find 8 places to eat that up. Don't waste your precious food investment. If you just can't handle eating it 8 times, consider making a smaller batch OR freezing individual portions for a couple weeks later.

6. Go to the store with a detailed list and your coupons if you have them. Only buy what's on your list. If you've truly planned your entire week out, you'll know exactly how many apples you need. Don't get extra. If you need extra, you can go back to the store. Stick mostly to the outer perimeter of the store...that's where all the freshest, healthiest stuff lives (think produce, meat, dairy, eggs).

7. When you're at the store look at the value per serving. Brand X string cheese may be $1 cheaper, but if you look at how many pieces are in the bag, you might be better off paying $1 more for Brand Y and getting four more servings. Same goes with produce...consider buying the exact quantity you need in bulk rather than pre-packed stuff--mushrooms are a great example.

8. Follow your plan and you should be on your way to healthy eating, providing you've picked nutritious recipes to begin with, on a budget.

So far June looks pretty good, having spent a total of $61.53 with two stops. If my menu planning is accurate, that will feed me for 1.5 weeks. There are four weeks in June, so if I average it out to $40 a week (so far on track) that would mean I'd spend $160 on groceries. That would leave $40 for eating out---that will be a challenge...more to come on that.

I'll be making "Chicken over Polenta with Figs and Blue Cheese" because I already had polenta and onion, "Buffalo Chicken Salad" using the rest of my blue cheese and some greens I needed to use up, and "Baked Beef Ziti" to use up my whole wheat pasta and pasta sauce. Recipe posts will follow. 


  1. YUM! I have a feeling your recipes are going to be much, much better than mine!! It's very interesting doing this for a vegetarian eater. But I am excited!!

  2. Wow, you already sound like a pro at this, Karli! This is definitely going to be a great challenge for me, and I'm excited to learn so many of these great tips from you!

  3. Great tips and great budgeting--and from your recipes it looks like you eat well on a budget! Thanks for sharing!