How to Save Money on Food in 2014

With all of the good things that the New Year brings (celebration, a clean slate) there’s also some bad. It’s a time of reflection, when we look back at our bank statements and say “Where did it all go?!” We make a budget and promise we’ll finally follow it. 2014 will be the year of saving. New Year, new resolutions… new budget.

As we all know, that’s easier said than done. Budgeting can be pretty depressing (as I found out when I factored in grad school tuition for this year… ouch). There are some things we have control of – like buying another pair of black patent leather flats – and other things, like rent, that we (to some extent) can’t control. We all have to eat, making food a necessary expense, but we can choose to eat more affordability – giving us control over our budget!

I’m always in pursuit of a good deal, and over the years have whittled my food budget down to the bare minimum. In that spirit, here are some tips for saving money on food in 2014.

  1. Cook for yourself. This should go without saying (this is a cooking blog after all), but it needs to be said. Cooking is extremely less expensive than eating out. Create a budget for your weekly food allowance and try to stay within it with groceries and meals out.
  2. If you do eat out… make the most of leftovers. It’s not always the most cost efficient to order the cheapest thing on the menu. Look for menu items that keep well and could be repurposed as leftovers, like rice or pasta. Stay away from salads or sandwiches that don’t keep well. Take advantage of big portion sizes and pack the leftovers for the next day.
  3. Plan your meals in advance. Before heading to the grocery store, make a plan for what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day of the week. Make a grocery list that includes only enough food to get you through the week. Pencil in planned outings – like a coworkers birthday lunch or dinner with the girls – so you don’t buy extra food. This is the best way to figure out how much you need to buy to avoid wasted food and money.
  4. Read the circular. While planning meals for the week, check the circular of your local grocery store for the weekly sales. Circulars for most major grocery stores are available on their websites. Decide what to eat based on what’s on sale.
  5. Buy in bulk during sales. Reviewing the circular can tip you off in advance when your favorite items are cheap. Take advantage and grab staples (like chicken breasts) in bulk when they’re on sale. Proteins are typically the most expensive part of your grocery bill, so keep an eye on these and freeze extras for a later date.
  6. Get a savings card. If you don’t have one already, make sure to pick up a customer savings card at the customer service counter at your grocery store. Most of those savings from the circular don’t apply if you don’t have the card, and you can often get better coupons.
  7. Eat vegetarian. You can get just as much protein at half the price by cooking vegetarian meals. Try working affordable proteins like tofu, quinoa, or edamame into one meal per week. You’ll be surprised as how inexpensive (and delicious) it can be. If you save with a veggie meal one night, maybe you’ll be able to splurge on a steak the next day!

How do you save money on food? Any creative solutions?

Best Meal of 2013

egg sandwich

December really threw me for a loop. Between Thanksgiving, traveling for work, a mini vacation, and Christmas, I felt like I was barely home. When I was home, work was busy and I never found time to go to the grocery store. So I ended up eating out (or at a hotel) almost every night this month.

Even when I went home for Christmas my family ordered out. There are so many of us (I’m one of five) that it is almost impossible to please everyone. (I don’t know how my mom did it all those years!) The one night we decided to make something at home, the oven got stuck on cleaning mode, got really, really, really hot, and then died. Woof.

Although I love spending time with my family, I was so happy to come back to Boston and get back into my routine. That’s why this egg sandwich gets my vote for best meal of 2013. It’s very simple – an over easy egg with parmesan cheese, sliced tomato, and cilantro on a sliced ciabatta roll with Dijon mustard – but it’s the first meal I’ve cooked for myself since before Thanksgiving.

I was a little afraid that a month of eating out had killed my cooking mojo – but all it took was a trip to the grocery store and some time at home and I’m back to normal! Reflecting on the past year, what was your best meal?

Have a happy, healthy New Year’s celebration!