Once, in a far off land, Greg and I seriously struggled to keep our food budget under control. Well, come to think of it, the main reason we struggled is because we didn’t even have a food budget. Yep, it’s true! In fact, once we had a reality check and started tracking our spending, we realized that we were easily spending over $1,000 on food for two people and an infant. Eeeeekkkkk! Anyways, we’ve since wised up and changed our ways. These days, we budget around $500 for food for the month for our family of four and we manage to stay within our budget most of the time. Anyway, I recently got this email from one of my amazing readers:
Could you do a post on what your feed your family every month with the budget of $500.00? I am really struggling with this myself. Thank you. Kind regards, Cynthia
Oh Cynthia, where do I begin? First, let’s start with a few disclaimers:
- Since we don’t eat meat, we usually don’t spend any money on it. The only exception is when I buy the kids chicken fingers or lunch meat. That doesn’t happen very often.
- My kids eat lunch at daycare Monday through Friday.
- Greg eats a peanut butter sandwich and Lay’s potato chips every freakin’ weekday.
How I Feed My Family of 4 on $500 Per Month
For the most part, I’m just paying for breakfasts and dinners for everyone Monday through Friday. I eat lunch at home seven days a week, but I usually just try to eat leftovers. Moving on…….
The main way we keep our grocery spending under $500 is by eating extremely cheap meals several times a week. During any given month, we usually eat the following meals at least 3-4 times:
- Vegetarian spaghetti with toast
- Eggs and toast with fruit (the kids)
- Grilled vegetables with toast (usually mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and zucchini with some olive oil and salt)
- Vegetable Stir-fry (mixed vegetables, rice)
- Zucchini Boats (Zucchini cut in half, drizzled with olive oil then filled with tomatoes, cheese (fake Daiya cheese for the adults), basil, and onion)
- A pot of soup
- Bean Burritos
I cannot follow a recipe to save my life, but I do make delicious soup. How? I just throw a bunch of veggies in a pot with vegetable broth. Usually my soups include some combination of onions, carrots, tomatoes, celery, lentils, and zucchini, although I add extra stuff in if I have something I need to use up. The spices I add can vary, but they typically include basil, thyme, and coriander, and of course, salt and pepper. I always make a huge pot of soup so that I can freeze portions and unfreeze them when I am feeling lazy. Sometimes I make Pillsbury Crescent Rolls for dipping (they are naturally vegan!) and other times we use Ritz crackers which are also naturally vegan.
We eat so many beans in this house that I’m surprised our house has never exploded. We eat them in burritos, on top of salads, and in prepared dishes such as falafel. The pic to the left is of some homemade falafel and guacamole wraps I made the other night. They were so good. I don’t really have a falafel recipe per se (Try this one?) but it really is a cheap to make. A $1 can of organic chickpeas can make enough falafel to feed 8 people, just by adding the right spices and seasonings.
I go to great lengths to make sure we’re not throwing food away. This strategy is two-fold. First, we aren’t wasting perfectly good food. And second, we are saving money by not buying as much. Sure, I get complaints from the peanut gallery. But do I care? No. We’re eating leftovers, kids. Deal with it.
Buying What’s On Sale
We eat a ton of produce but we only buy what’s on sale. For instance, asparagus and raspberries were on sale at my beloved Kroger this week. So guess what we’re having this week? Asparagus and raspberries. Next week it might be something completely different, and that’s fine. I try not to buy produce that isn’t on sale unless it is absolutely necessary for whatever I’m making. If it isn’t necessary, I’ll substitute for something else.
Making Things From Scratch
In order to save even more, I’ve learned to make a lot of foods from scratch. I’m not a great cook, but I am a resourceful one, so I’m usually able to pull off a decent meal just by following and modifying the various recipes I find all over the internet. I started with mail order, ready to cook meals, but found them to be a little too expensive and the recipes were not any better than what you can get online.
Pinterest is another great resource for cheap and easy meals as well, and that’s basically the only reason I ever get on Pinterest. I also steer clear of the deli and prepared foods section of my store, which also helps me save. I absolutely love all of those prepared salads you can buy (Has anyone ever had the Wheatberry salad at Kroger?), but they have a tendency to make my grocery bill explode. If I can’t find a recipe and make something from scratch, I no longer buy it.
So that’s it. That’s how I feed my family of 4 on $500 per month. Any questions?
What is your grocery budget? What are your favorite ways to save on food?