How to Shop and Cook on a Budget

We all want to spend our food dollars wisely! We all desire a fridge and pantry replete with beans, grains, dairy, meats, pastas and produce that will be efficiently and economically transformed into delicious meals that we (and our families) will savor. Urban Seeds members have compiled a list of “how to” accomplish this!

  1. Make a meal plan before you shop. Once you get into the habit of doing this, you can group meals per week that have similar ingredients for efficiency in preparation and cost effectiveness at the check out counter.
  2. Create your shopping list from the meal plan, and stick to it.
  3. Check grocery ads when available, prior to shopping, to further stretch your food dollars. Adjust your meal plan to reflect what is on sale!
  4. Do NOT shop hungry! You will end up buying foods not on your shopping list.
  5. Be Flexible! When your meal plan calls for a zesty casserole a la Mediterranean flavors, but you find pinto beans and queso cheese on sale, pivot from your plan to create a zesty casserole a la Mexican flavors! Hint: when your meal plan calls for a “4-Veggie stir fry” or a “fajita”, this allows you to know the basics ingredients prior to shopping but more importantly, to be able to shop for ingredients that are on sale, and still follow your meal plan.
  6. Buy as much in bulk as you are able to afford in one week. Beans, legumes, grains, pasta, dried fruit, nuts, and many more foods are less expensive when they come from bulk bins.
  7. Consider purchasing a “share” from a local farmer for staples such as meat, milk, cheese, and eggs, as well as produce. When you buy a share of a farmer’s bounty, be it plant or animal food, you are not only supporting a small farmer but you are also buying food that has not been shipped thousands of miles or that has been raised in a factory farm environment. Purchasing a half cow share, going in on that expense with family or friends, will give you a freezer full of meat that is delicious because it came from a happy animal. (Small farmers say that “the cow/pig/sheep was living the best life ever, until his/her last day”…) Additionally, the community garden at Culver Elementary school is selling CSA shares for $5 per family for the growing season. As well, there are beautiful gardens in the TePe Park neighborhood, farmed by the Praise Harvest community and sold at their Saturday farm stand for “what you can pay”. These are two sources for fresh, locally grown, delicious vegetables and herbs. Side Note: Urban Seeds is working with local farmers at the Downtown and Franklin Street markets to allow for a pooling of SNAP benefits so that families/communities can buy “in bulk” from local farmers using their SNAP benefits. More information will be available in the coming weeks and months.
  8. Buy whole foods. An entire chicken can be baked, then used in parts for sandwiches, soups, and stews. Buy a whole melon then cut it up at home, instead of buying pre-cut at the store. Buy a whole spinach bunch, then wash/dry it at home instead of buying pre-washed leaves in a plastic tub. Buy a whole sack of raw pinto beans, and a sack of brown rice instead of boxes or cans with just 2 servings in them…This is a much more cost-effective way to shop.
  9. Cook now, eat later. As much as possible, cut, then wash & dry your veggies. Roast peppers, zucchini, and onions to have available for stews, casseroles, sandwiches and salads throughout the week. Bake chicken breasts or broil meat. Wash and dry, then tear your greens (lettuce, kale, spinach) in preparation for salads and sautés in the coming week. Cook up a pot o’ beans and a pot o’ grains for multiple uses in many meals to come. All of these pre-cooked foods, stored in airtight containers will increase your efficiency when you assemble a meal.
  10. Make double portions, and freeze some for another meal. When making soup, lasagna, quiche, or whatever your favorite meals are, make twice as much as you’ll eat now, and freeze the rest for another week.
  11. Establish a Try It Tuesday meal at your house. Once a week, commit to a meal without meat or to a new recipe! Mix it up!
  12. Create a soup at the end of the week. Toss all of your leftovers — veggies, meats, noodles, grains, or beans into a large pot, add some broth, tomato juice (or fresh, locally grown tomatoes in the summer!), or even just water, add some spices and viola! you’ve got another meal or two while economically using your leftovers!

Once you try some of what may be new ideas, you’ll find that your food dollars go a lot farther and you gain ease in your approach making meals–be it lunch for school kids or the work day, or dinner after a busy day. Eat Well!

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