I’ve talked about how to save money on lots of different things that you buy at the grocery store, so now I’m going to tell you how to put it all together, so you can save money on your meals. I know everyone is busy, but you can still make healthy meals at home, and save money at the same time. In my post, 10 Best Ways to Prep for a Heart Healthy Dinner, I give you some ideas of how to prep for your meals, while keeping them heart healthy. Now, I’m going to tell you how you can also save money on your meals.
Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time
Make sure you shop the sales. If you learn to look through the weekly store circulars, you can save lots of money. Whatever meat is on sale for that week, should be the meat that you’re going to use for your dinners the next week. You can also buy some extra meat to freeze and then you’ll be able to use that meat at another time. I talk more about how I plan my meals, in my post, How I Make My Grocery Shopping List.
Make enough for more than one night. Almost all of my meals are enough to feed my family for two nights. That way I only have to cook 4 nights a week, rather than 7. This helps save time and money, since I don’t have to use my oven or stove a second night. It also cuts down on dishes, which is one of my favorite benefits, because I hate washing dishes! I only have to run my dishwasher every other night, rather than every night, so that saves money also.
If your family isn’t too keen on leftovers, you can just make double the meat and not double the rest of the meal. Then, you can use the meat the next night with other things. Like, you could make enough chicken for two nights, and one night have it over rice, and the next night, have it over noodles. You can even do the same thing with leftover side dishes. You could use the leftover rice and vegetables and combine them to make fried rice, or use the extra vegetables to add to a soup.
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Figure Out What Each of Your Meals Cost
Once you know how much each meal you make costs, you can learn how to change the ingredients to help make the meal cost less. The Coupon Mom gives an example in her book of a family being able to have a spaghetti dinner for $3.17 if they shopped the sales, compared to $9.27 for a family that didn’t shop the sales. If the family saved that much on dinner every night for a year, they would save $2,226.50 per year!
You can make a chart or a spreadsheet on the computer, or in a notebook to figure out how much a meal costs. You should write down each ingredient, along with the item cost, the number of units in the package, and the cost per unit. Here’s an example:
|Ingredient||Item Cost||Number of Units||Cost per Unit|
|margarine||$2.88 per 15oz.||30 Tbsp.||$0.09 per Tbsp.|
You should include the cost of condiments and seasonings because you might be surprised at how much they add to the cost. Then total up the cost of all of the ingredients used for that meal, and you’ll know how much it costs to make the meal.
Make Substitutions in Your Meals
After figuring out your cost per meal, you might find out some ingredients are just too expensive to include. For example, I used to buy a canister of bread crumbs, which cost $1.08 for the Great Value brand at Walmart or $1.78 for the Progresso brand. Now, instead, I just make my own bread crumbs by toasting the end pieces and the pieces of bread next to the end, in my toaster, and then putting them in the food processor. I would’ve thrown away those pieces of bread anyway, so I’m saving money by not wasting food and by using cheaper ingredients. I do the same thing with Cornflake crumbs. The Kelloggs Cornflake Crumbs at Walmart is $3.68 or $17.5 cents per unit. Whereas, the Great Value box of Cornflake cereal is $2.93 or $12.2 cents per unit. I just put the cereal in a bag and crush it. Little substitutions like that don’t take long to do and are definitely worth the savings!
Use Cheap Superfoods in Your Meals
The Coupon Mom has a list of foods that are a low price and have a great nutritional value. They are: “green cabbage, romaine lettuce, carrots, spinach, green peppers, fresh or frozen broccoli, fresh or canned tomatoes (depending on the season), bananas, oranges, 1% milk, beans, lentils and split peas, fresh chicken and turkey, eggs and egg whites, canned tuna, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and oatmeal and whole-grain hot cereals.” She calculated this list based on the cost per gram of protein, and also based on their vitamin and mineral count, and calories. Isn’t it nice that she already came up with this list for us so we don’t have to do the calculations? By the way, a lot of these items often go on sale and have coupons to go with them, so you can get them for an even lower price.
Eat Meals at Home More Often
Even if you’re on the go a lot, running around to kids’ sports activities or swimming lessons, you don’t have to resort to eating out. You can pack food to go. When my daughter participated in dance competitions, I used to bring a cooler bag full of sandwiches, cheese sticks, fruit, and other foods for us to eat; rather than buy the expensive food sold at the competitions.
I know on your way to work, it’s really easy to just swing by the coffee shop and pick up a coffee and a pastry. However, it’s much cheaper to eat at home or bring something with you. My husband packs a bag of different cereals mixed with granola to eat in the car, along with his coffee in a travel mug. My daughter also brings her coffee in a travel mug to college, because she found out quickly how expensive it was to purchase at school. My kids and I all eat breakfast at home, and it’s pretty quick. We have cold cereal and homemade muffins Mon., Wed., and Fri. On Tues. and Thurs., we eat hot oatmeal, and either homemade pancakes, waffles, or cinnamon rolls. I make the muffins and other homemade things ahead of time, at least enough for the week; and then, we just heat them up in the morning in the toaster or microwave. In fact, I just finished baking cinnamon rolls right now. I packaged up how many we’ll need for each day, and put them in the freezer. That way, all I have to do is pull out a package in the morning, heat them up, and we’re on our way.
Preparing lunch at home, rather than eating out is much cheaper. The Coupon Mom said that she and her husband saved $100 per month by packing lunches! The kids and I take sandwiches for lunch: lunch meat, chicken salad, or egg salad. Once in awhile, we’ll bring a wrap. We also bring baked chips, fruit or yogurt, and water in a thermos or re-usable plastic water bottle. My daughter used to bring soup to school in a thermos also. My husband brings leftovers in a container to work for his lunch and just heats it up in the cafeteria microwave.
Now that you know how to plan your meals and prep for dinner, you can eat more dinners at home. My typical dinners take an hour or less to prepare. Also popular right now is cooking on the weekend and making enough for the whole week. That will save you time and money.
You Can Make Restaurant Meals at Home
You can make your own pizza. I take the easy way out and just buy a thin whole wheat crust already made, and add pizza sauce, turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, low fat mozzarella and cheddar cheese. It only takes about 1/2 hour for both prep and cooking. You can also make your own pizza dough in a bread machine or by hand. Then, you can make your own salad to go with it, like I talk about in my post, How to Save Money When Buying Produce.
You can make your own soup, which tastes better and isn’t hard to do. You just need to add some vegetables, seasonings, meat and water in a pan, and boil it. That pot of soup can make the equivalent of six cans of soup, and often costs less than one can of soup from the store.
You can also make your own omelettes and quiche. All you need is eggs, meat, vegetables, and your meal is done in only 15 minutes!
Vegetable stir-fry is really easy to make. You can even use those leftover vegetables we talked about earlier. Throw them in the wok with a low sodium sauce, and serve over brown rice.
Any kind of pasta dish is easy to make, especially since pasta and pasta sauce go on sale often. You can even use leftover meat and vegetables with the pasta to have a great dish for a low price.
Wraps are really popular at restaurants now, and it’s easy to make your own. You only need a tortilla (we use whole wheat), meat, cheese, vegetables and condiments. Leftover meat would be good to use in these wraps. If we have a leftover meat and rice dish, like ground beef and rice, I put it in a tortilla, along with some cheese, wrap it in a paper towel and heat it for about a minute in the microwave. Sometimes I’ll even add a spoonful of sour cream if I have it. It makes a delicious meal, just like a burrito you would buy at a restaurant, but much cheaper!
Some other good ideas are grilled cheeseburgers, chicken, sirloin steak, or kabobs. You can roast a chicken or pork loin yourself, or make your own chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pork chops, lasagna, etc. The possibilities of what you can make yourself is endless!
So, once you learn how to shop the sales, it will be really easy to shop for your meals and save lots of money every time! Your meals will be much healthier and even tastier. You will even enjoy eating more, knowing you’re saving so much money.
What’s your best way to save money on your meals?
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