Meal Planning & Budgeting
I mentioned earlier that I would provide some tips on meal planning and sticking to a budget while eating healthy. Over the next few moths I’ll be sharing a few of my tips on the subject.
Today I’ll focus on how I plan meals and stick to a budget.
Many of you reading this probably try to stick to some sort of grocery budget. This can be difficult when you’re trying to eat healthy. I get so frustrated when I see things trying to guilt people into spending their money on things they don’t need when, in reality, the most basic advice is just to buy things in their most original states. In other words, shopping the perimeter of the supermarket and purchasing mostly produce, a bit of meat or dairy, and basically just doing the best you can. Bread with four ingredients that spoils in a week is far superior to bread with 25 ingredients that can last months. So, that is basically the first step: buy real food.
I think the best tip for sticking to a budget is meal planning. I know there are lots of websites out there to help with this, but I basically just use a pen and a German-style notebook (graph paper). I’ll go into detail more on this in a future post, but I basically just write out about 4-5 days (usually how often I shop), and plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Breakfast usually requires no planning, but Dominik frequently has the German breakfast of quality whole-grain bread with spreads or meats as topping. I’ll occasionally have this, but I am more likely to have dairy-free chia pudding with soaked almonds. We’ll also make eggs or something similar a few times a week.
Lunch is usually leftovers from the night before. We (or I) might eat them as-is or turn something into a salad, soup, or sandwich. I try to keep some basics on hand in case I need to throw together something quickly (tuna, mayo, sardines, canned chickpeas, potatoes, etc.).
Eating leftovers (or stretching food into something new) definitely saves money and can prevent you from grabbing something more expensive (and less healthy) on the go.
If you think you don’t like leftovers, try repurposing them into something new. Turn leftover grilled chicken into chicken salad with mayo and whatever add-ins you like. Leftover noodles? Make soup!
We usually cook dinner, which is another way to save money. An added benefit is that we usually can prepare something tastier (and quicker) than most of the local restaurants.
When I’m planning the meals for the week I usually try to see the big picture. We don’t have beef more than once a week unless it is in one significantly cheaper form or can be stretched to the max. Beef is expensive here and we have to keep that in mind. Chicken and pork are significantly cheaper, but most people don’t want to eat chicken every day (at least we don’t)! We usually buy wild-caught frozen fish and use smaller portions if needed. Basically, mixing up your proteins and subbing in other forms of protein such as beans and dairy can also help.
Here’s what we had for five days (lunch and dinner) to give you a better example:
- Tuesday night: homemade beef pho (I turned this into a cold noodle salad the next day. I saved half of the meat for Thursday’s dinner.)
- Wednesday night: Beef stew (this made enough for leftovers the next day and a portion for freezing)
- Thursday night: beef stir fry (Made with the other half of the meat from Tuesday. I also prepared a double portion of rice for Saturday’s dinner. Plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.)
- Friday night: roast chicken and veggies (repurposed into a chicken salad for Saturday’s lunch with plenty leftover for Saturday’s dinner)
- Saturday night: chicken fried rice (made entirely from leftover rice, chicken, and veggies from the week).
Hopefully that gives you a pretty good start for some money-saving tips. Feel free to share your favorite ways to stretch a meal or creative leftover ideas!