There are plenty of people who eat better than my family and me. However, I think we eat pretty well. We often have steaks. We always have fresh fruits and vegetables. We have dessert at least once a week, including decadent cheesecakes and decorated cookies. We eat fancy, restaurant-style breakfasts like Butter-Pecan Waffles, Banana Bread French Toast, and Orange-Pineapple Pancakes. Our dinner menus include such basic staples as Meatloaf and Soft Tacos, but we frequently dine on fancier meals, like Fettuccine with Toasted Walnut Cream Sauce and Pesto-Stuffed Chicken.
And we eat all of that for under $400 a month.
Let me repeat that. I cook all of our meals (save for the occasional treat when we go out to eat, maybe once a month) and snacks from scratch, using great, fresh ingredients, for under $400 a month. And I don't use coupons. And I don't shop multiple stores.
So how do I do it? Of course, your local economy is going to dictate what you spend, but here are a few hints:
- Make a plan. Don't go to the store without a plan.
- I shop monthly. I go back mid-month for a freshen-up trip for more milk, eggs, and a few veggies.
- Plan your meals around similar ingredients. Take green onions, for example. It's wasteful to buy a bunch of green onions and only use one or two of them. Instead, plan meals for the whole week that will use up those green onions.
- Buy cheese in blocks, not preshredded. Do you have a food processor? It takes me five minutes to turn 3 pounds of cheddar into about 12 cups of shredded cheese. I pay $4.99 for 3 pounds of cheddar. Twelve ounces of the preshredded stuff costs me $2.99. See the savings?
- Know a good deal when you see one. Learn your store's sale cycle and prices. Stock up when you see a good deal. For example, peanut butter goes on sale about 4 times per year. I try to buy enough to last my family until the next sale.
- Store leftovers properly and use them up. Eat them for lunch, or freeze them for another day. But if you don't eat your leftovers, if you throw away your leftovers, you're throwing away money. If you're going to do that, I will send you my address and you can mail me a check instead. ;)
- Buy seasonally. Pumpkin goes on sale in the fall. Strawberries go on sale in the summer. Corned beef is cheap in March. Hot dogs, hamburger buns, and watermelon are all great buys near Labor Day. Plan your menus accordingly.
Chicken Kiev (adapted from Alton Brown's recipe)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 stick salted sweet cream butter, at room temperature
- 1 tsp dried tarragon
- 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked pepper
- 2 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs, beaten with a splash of milk or half & half
- oil for frying
- Using your mixer or food processor, combine butter with tarragon, parsley, 1 tsp sea salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper.