Our society places convenience above just about everything else, and nowhere is this more true than the kitchen. This posting will cover a few easy changes you can make to not only save your family hundreds of dollars every year, but how to be healthier while you do it.
This is one of the easiest ways to save money on food and eat healthier at the same time. By packing yourself and each family member a lunch, you can easily save hundreds of dollars every year. Packing it the night before will help make it easier for your family to make this small change that will make a big difference. If you haven't already invested in a good set of tupperware, then do so now. Look for a set that all has the same size of lid for your packing convenience, and check the clearance sections of your local stores until you find a nice set. Or, opt for buying a set that has little compartments for each type of food (http://www.thekitchn.com/how-pinterest-packs-its-lunch-186247). We try to make double the helping of whatever we are having for dinner, or pack a variety of the following things to conveniently make a lunch for the next day:
Veggies- baby carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, etc will pack in the nutrients and stave off the junk food cravings while you're at work or school.
Sandwiches- PBJ is a classic that doesn't require refrigeration, but variations, like honey, almond butter, etc can keep things interesting. A veggie-packed meat sandwich can do wonders as well.
Salads- mix in a variety of things, like cheese, croutons, almond slivers, pepperoni, tuna, smoked salmon, etc to spice things up.
Yogurts- opt for the lowfat variety and find them on clearance
Crackers- the more whole wheat and lowfat, the better
Mixed Nuts- these are great for filling you up with protein and good types of fats instead of junk food
Dried fruit- we buy little bags of dried fruit from our bulk section at Winco or pack a little tupperware full of organic raisins from Costco. The one thing to watch with dried fruit is the high calorie count (since all the water has been sucked out of them).
Granola bars- carefully read the nutrition facts and ingredients as many granola bars have LOTS of sugar, transfat, and chemicals in them.
Buying a lunch at my work costs about $3/day, whereas most of the lunches I bring from home only cost around $1 (and they're MUCH healthier and encourage me to eat better portions as well). This means I save about $500 every year just by bringing my own lunch from home! Depending upon how inexpensively you can get the fixings for your lunch and how much you would spend eating out for lunch, you'll save more or less (if I went to a restaurant that cost even $10 for my lunch, I'd be saving about $2,250 every year). Compound this for each person in your family, and you're looking at a second vacation every year, paying off debt, the downpayment for a more fuel-effecient car, etc, as well as a smaller waistline, fewer visits to the doctor, and overall better health! Check out more fun ideas here- http://www.sweetshoppemom.com/2013/05/end-of-school-year-wrap-up-school.html
Eating out gets very expensive very quickly. The very best thing to do, for your health and pocketbook, is to make as many dinners at home as you can, from scratch. That being said, there are a hundred thousand websites out there (or just a quick search of Pinterest like http://preciseisnice.blogspot.ca/2012/05/106-dinner-ideas.html?m=1) that will help you easily make healthy dinners at home. Even better, you can make a double batch and enjoy the left overs the next day, or freeze some to enjoy on a hectic night when you don't feel like baking. This is another easy way that you can save thousands of dollars a year.
Eating Out, the Smart Way
If you are eating out, then do it sparingly and wisely. Use coupons whenever possible to get one of your entrees free or a certain amount off your total check. Look for deals, like kids eat free or the special of the day. If you have a certain restaurant you love, try to get gift cards to it at discounted prices, or ask for them for Christmas, your birthday, or other special events. Check Groupon or Restaurant.com to see if there are good deals for local restaurants. Look for places that have scrumptious, free, or unlimited starters, like breadsticks at Olive Garden, cheesy biscuits at Red Lobster, or chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants, and feel free to ruin your appetite on them! This way, by the time your main course arrives, you'll be able to enjoy a small portion of it and still have plenty to take home for left overs (or tomorrow's lunch). Always take home your left overs. If it's a special occasion and you're going out to eat, make it count!
Every time I visit any grocery store, I always check the clearance section. I stock up on things when they go on sale, and have even gotten things for free by using coupons on clearance items. Check couponing blogs for your area to see special deals for coupons- this is how I've saved hundreds of dollars and even gotten PAID to take products from the store! Stocking up on items you need when they are on sale will help you save more money and make sure that you never run out of the things you need. It's also great to have extras of things just in case of emergency. Making your meals based off what you already have and what will go bad first if you don't eat it up is another money-saving tip that will also help reduce your family's waste. http://myfridgefood.com is a website you can put in what you have in your fridge/what's about to go bad and it will give you recipes to make based off of the ingredients you already have! By buying food on clearance, making sure the food you have doesn't go to waste, using coupons, and stocking up on essentials, you will save your family even more money!
If you have any land, or even a little planter to grow a few herbs in, do it! We get over a hundred dollars worth of produce from our little garden beds every year, and there is nothing better than eating fresh, organic, homegrown fruits and veggies! If you can get the starts from a friend (like our rosemary which came from a shoot off of my mom's rosemary bush or our raspberry bushes that we were able to glean from the shoots of our aunt's raspberry patch) or can find cheap seeds, it will be even more cost effective.
What are your favorite ways to save money on food? What questions do you still have about eating well on a dime? Share your ideas, comments, or questions below, and make sure to check back for even more ways to save your family money!