I've done some number crunching on the food budget lately with the goal to get fed for under $250AUD a Month. I make meals that can feed 4, which for my family of three often means I get the leftovers for lunch. The food must be affordable without compromising nutritional value. In order to reach this goal i've come up with a plan! Here is the break down of how much I pay, who I pay it to and what I aim to get.
$100 - "pantry basics" - Fortnight 1
Pantry basics are the long-life items that you use on a regular basis. For example: Grains (flours, rice, polenta and pasta), oils, herbs, condiments, long-life milk, tins legumes, frozen vegetables and tinned diced tomato. I also buy a fruit box, which, as the name suggest, is a variety box of fruit. It's great to have as a snack or after dinner treat. Personally I can't get enough of Mangos, Watermelon, Rockmelon and cherries.
Try to "make the most" of what you buy here, mix pantry-basics together to make your own breads, pastas and sauces.
I use an online supermarket that delivers for $9 (www.bananablue.com.au) because it is easy to track how much I spend. If you have more self control than I do you could shop at the local supermarket instead.
$50 - Short-life Grocery - Fortnight 1
I take this $50 to the local foodland and grocery clearance store. At the grocery clearance store I am on the hunt for bargains on items I know I will use; I force myself to be picky.
Here are some items I regularly pick up:
Cheeses, I grate them and store them in the freezer.
Butter, If you are not picky on brand you can often grab a bargain
Cleaning products, the bare minimum and multi purpose products.
Baking mixes and "quick meals" (pancakes, breadmix, tempura batter) good when time is short.
Saladas/crackers - They make an easy lunch
Canned everything - well, a lot of things :)
This is by no means an extensive list, the important thing is to shop around, be picky and get what you need. You will quickly learn to spot bargains and recall what tastes the same out of it's "best before."
At the foodland (supermarket) I pick up bargain-bread (try going later in the day)and anything I really need that I couldn't find on the cheap at the grocery clearance.
$50 - Vegetables - Fortnight 1 and 2
I incorporate shopping for veggies into my daily walks, this way I can pass buy the fresh fruit and veg store and get the "going out" stock. It's cheap and it is fresher than your standard supermarket stock. In fact to be honest I can't tell the difference between the on sale veg and the rest of their stock.
The downside it it is difficult to plan your "fresh veggie" meals in advance, however this has almost become a positive inspiring recipe hunting and cooking creativity. Of course certain veggies feature more often than others and some vegetables are never there. I tend to spend a little extra getting some mushrooms, pumpkin, a big bag of potatoes and a big bag of onions. As long as I make the most of the bargains that are there I have plenty to splash out on specific veggies and can usually have some structured recipes despite the vegetable variance.
Furthermore I grow some of my own vegetables now ^.^ I choose those which are easy to grow that can be use in abundance, will prevent food wastage or can be frozen and stored. For example: Pumpkins, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach (can be frozen!), strawberries (om nom nom), zucchini, eggplant, cucumber and various herbs. This is one of my latest projects and is a work in progress:) I hope to share my gardening plan once I have it down-pat
Oh and we also have 3 chickens! and compost! the net result? No veggie scraps go to waste.
$50 - Top-up - Fortnight 2
Ok, so you have made it into the middle of the second fortnight mostly unscathed, but you're out of fresh milk? This is where the top-up $50 comes in, it simply allows you to streeeeeeeee-tch out your pantry by picking up a few choice items to complete some tasty meals. Easy.
- Make the most of all the stores and type of stores in your area, clearance stores, fresh fruit and veg, supermarkets and bulk-buy stores.
- Try to "make your own" from some of your basics, e.g gnocchi from potato and flour.
- Shop at the bargain store first, then buy items you couldn't find with what you have left.
- Buy in bulk where possible; particularly with long-life items.
- Look for clearance sections at your supermarket and fruit and veg store.
- If you require a larger budget because you are feeding 4 starving teenagers (or whatever^.^) you can follow a similar plan and just increase the values by the minimum needed.
- Plan a few simple meals using long-life ingredients to give your meal plan a structural backbone.
- Consider starting a Veggy garden and maybe even getting some chickens, start small one or two plants + a watering can and you are on your way to producing your own food.
- Keep to the budget guidelines and BE PICKY. Do you REALLY need that?
- Learn from your mistakes, if you find a lot of food goes to waste evaluate and change what you are buying.
- If you come in under budget, buy yourself a culinary treat or place it in a pot to save for something special. Don't skimp yourself out of living life to it's fullest.