Friday, August 9, 2013

Stock Up On Food Staples For Under $100

      When we first got married we had the tiniest budget on the planet for food. We still try to keep our budget low for food and avoid eating out. We very rarely go to sit-down restaurants because that would mean either taking small kids along (no thanks!) or paying a sitter. We're fairly content making ourselves a delicious meal at home these days and on special occasions we'll splurge on things like steak. It's not easy to keep under a strict budget and eat healthy all the time. People like to make it sound like it's easy but it's just not that simple. Buying a small bunch of bananas is the same as one snicker bar? True and obviously one is a much better choice. However, when it comes to choosing higher quality versions of similar foods say whole grain bread or pasta over white or for another example organic apples over "regular" the price differences add up quickly.

      Thankfully, my mom taught us a lot about baking and cooking so I wasn't learning from scratch. We also went to the store with her a lot so price differences were evident to me well before I started shopping for myself or a family of my own. Still, keeping up a budget while buying healthy for a growing family isn't nearly as simple as buying for one on whim (want that organic, specialty ice cream from Fresh Market? One pint for $8? NBD!) or even as poor newlyweds.

     This list is made up of some of the things we buy most often or keep in our cabinets all the time. Everyone has a slightly different budget and different taste. Hopefully after reading this list you can use it to your advantage. Maybe it'll give you some ideas or inspire you to look for deals. It is based on a variety of name brands and store brands. The prices and estimates are average for this area (Northwest Arkansas) so it may not reflect anything close to what you'd see in other areas of the country. As much as I love some good local produce, organic foods, and all that I don't have the budget for being a total foodie snob all the time. If you're looking for ideas for high end brands you're in the wrong place! I shop Target, Walmart, Aldi, and Fresh Market the most and go to our local farmer's markets whenever I can. I flip through my local ads and clip coupons and orient our meals around what's on sale. You may not find prices like this at all depending on where you are but the idea that you can shop for off brands, look for sales, and buy some healthy staples for less than a bunch of processed boxes is likely to stand. Prices can vary so much anyway, especially for things like meat, produce and dairy so I spend more time than I'd like shopping around. I don't have nearly as many grocery store options as other places either. (Can we get a Trader Joe's and/or a Publix PLEASE?!) If something is overpriced for my standing budget ($8 for a small watermelon or $8 for that fancy pint of ice cream, for example) I just don't buy it. The lists, the budget, the coupons, and the prices change constantly. It's kind of annoying, really but it's something anyone can learn. Why waste money on the same sorts of foods when that money could be utilized much better elsewhere??

     All that said, now that I have some staples and things like seasonings "established" in our kitchen we spend anywhere from $400-600 a month on food just depending on our needs and wants, what I happen to have ready to go in the freezer or cabinets, and what I can manage to get for a good price on sale or with coupons. Like the title hints, I'm going to keep this list under $100. So here goes . . .

48oz Unsweetened applesauce: $2.00
It makes a great snack with (or without) some added cinnamon and also a super substitute in baked goods.

28oz Peanut Butter: $4.00
Who doesn't like a straight spoonful of peanut butter, a PB&J or some PB with apples or banana? You can get more for less if you go for the larger off-brand jar than the average on-brand jar. Natural and "organic" versions are becoming popular. The fewer additives the better but you'll definitely want to steer clear of specialty brands with fancy logos if you want to get bang for your buck (as they say).

A Dozen Eggs: $1.00 - 2.00
A healthy choice if you don't add a ton of butter or salt, eggs can be cooked up in so many ways alone, scrambled into a side, stuffed into breakfast burritos, or used in baking.

4 Bell Peppers: $3.00
Usually one bell pepper is around 75 cents depending on where you live. Chop it up and eat it raw, use in stir fry, stuff with rice and beans or meat, or add to a pasta dish.

6-8 Bananas: $1.50 - 2.00
Depending on the actual size and weight, they are very cheap. Eat them as a snack, with breakfast, or maybe on a peanut butter sandwich. For a treat they can be pureed for an ice cream texture or dipped in chocolate and frozen.

One Bag of Baby Carrots: $1.00 - 1.50
Another cheap snackable veggie that can also be steamed, added to stir fry, or a crock pot roast.

2 bags of Frozen Vegetables: $3.00 - 4.00
You have to be careful with the frozen veggies. From what I understand frozen is better than canned but, of course, fresh is usually better than store-bought frozen. I like to keep things like sugar snap peas, broccoli, and sweet peas in our freezer. Healthwise: beware of the sodium. I make a point of using seasonings other than salt when I cook frozen or canned veggies so I'm not topping sodium with more yummy sodium.

3 cans or bags Dried Beans: $4.50 - 6.00
I keep cannellini (white kidney) and black beans for crockpot chili in the winter. You can make some homemade hummus with garbanzo or maybe use refried beans for some burritos. Not to mention good ole classic rice and beans!

One Gallon of Milk: $3.00 - 4.50
Milk is expensive. It may cost even more than this in some areas. It's much cheaper to buy at stores like Sam's Club and Aldi. It goes with just about everything. We use it in cold cereal and baking. We prefer almond for drinking but it's usually twice as expensive at $3 or more per half gallon. If you can forgo it that might be a nice way to save some $$ just make sure you have another good source of calcium like cheese or yogurt.

18oz box Whole Grain Cream of Wheat OR 42oz can Old Fashioned Oatmeal: $3.50 - 4.00
These are much healthier alternatives to the typical sugary cold cereal and both can be made with water from the tap instead of milk. Add in some sugar and cinnamon or some fruit and honey and you have a tasty breakfast with a good amount of iron and fiber. 3tbsp cream of wheat or 1-1.5 cups of oatmeal will serve one person well.

1lb of Rice: $1.00-3.00
Cheap. A pound of this stuff goes a long way (should feed about 4 people, give or take, if you have small portions and/or don't go for seconds) and if you pair it with beans or meat and some veggies you'll have a very complete meal. There are lots and lots of varieties to choose from.

1lb of Whole Grain Pasta: $1.00 - 3.00
Also enough to feed four people, the price depends on what variety and what brand you might buy. Spaghetti and macaroni are usually the cheapest choices. You can make pasta in a lot of different ways. We love to make a meal with baked chicken, sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes, garlic, and pasta.

1 Loaf Whole Grain Bread: $2.00 - 3.00
I personally love Oroweat brand but we'll go for cheaper when we need too. Bread can be super cheap or very expensive. Some people don't ever eat much bread but we are not those people. One day I'll do a better job of making more homemade breads. For now, it's a staple on the grocery list.

24-26oz Pasta Sauce: $3.00 - 4.00
Cool people make their own. We don't. We like Bertolli but we'll buy store brand when it fits the budget better. Even cooking for four we'll only use about half a large jar. Tip: freeze what's left in a ziploc bag if you aren't going to use it relatively soon. Too many times I've had to throw some out thinking I would use it again within a couple days only to find it smells funny or growing a layer of mold. Ew. 

1lb Butter: $2.00
This is used in all sorts of recipes for baking and cooking as well as a spread on toast or sandwiches. 

48oz Vegetable or Cooking Oil: $3.00 - 4.00
Just like butter, this is used in all sorts of recipes. A little can go a long way. Some varieties like coconut or olive oil (especially EVOO) are much more expensive than say vegetable or canola. It's really just a matter of need and preference what you choose. I don't like the taste canola adds to things but I love coconut or olive for cooking (and moisturizing!) and use plain vegetable for baking.

60oz Box of Bisquick: $4.00 - 5.00
Pancakes, waffles, biscuits, and a whole lot more can come out of this one box. Just add water, eggs, milk, oil or whatever the recipe (several handy dandy ones are right on the sides of the box). I like to use the Bisquick biscuit recipe as a base for chicken pot pie (or you know, just biscuits). The recipes for mini cheeseburger or chicken pot pies on are pretty great too!

1lb Baking Soda: $0.50 - 0.75
This is used in baking as well but it is fantastic for cleaning and deodorizing! Some people make homemade toothpaste with it!  You can find a huge 13.5lb bag at Sam's Club that will last you a very long time for around $7.

1lb Active or Instant Dry Yeast: $2.00 - 3.00
You can buy small packets or go for a big bag. If you want to make homemade sandwich breads, donuts, or any dough that needs to rise. There are two types: active requires you to "activate" the yeast with warm water and instant is just that. Some recipes may call for a specific type.

10lb bag of all-purpose flour OR sugar: $5.00
Flour can be used for all sorts of baked good from cookies to cakes to beads. Make homemade tortillas, rolls, cookies, or cupcakes. Sugar is used in lots of baking plus some people like to add it to otherwise plain hot or cold cereals or maybe to their morning coffee. Going for the biggest bag you can manage is a good idea because it can get used up quickly when most recipes call for several cups. (P.S. This is one of those things you can find much cheaper if you keep your eyes open! I found 5lb bags of flour at Aldi for just $1.25!)

Seasonings or Flavored Extracts: ~ $3 each
I've found that I just end up adding to my collection as I need things but some basics we use a lot are salt, pepper, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. A little goes a long way.

Ketchup OR Mayo: $2.00 - 3.00
Or maybe you prefer miracle whip or mustard. Obviously these can go on sandwiches or burgers, top off some meatloaf or add substance and flavor in lots of different recipes. I'd venture to guess most people in America keep some or all of these on hand.

Four 5oz Cans of Tuna: $4.00
We aren't big fans of fish but we like our shredded, canned tuna. My hubby makes himself sandwiches (and our kids like this too!). We can also add it easily to pasta dishes!

1lb Ground Turkey: $3.00 - 4.00
The price of meat can vary a lot depending on what you're buying and when. I prefer turkey to beef as it's a bit healthier. It's very lean. Maybe you like beef better or maybe you don't eat meat and stick with something like tofu. I dunno. The only things turkey doesn't seem to like doing for me is sticking together for a meatloaf.  Otherwise, it's great! When prices shoot up I just don't buy it.

      Some of this stuff is very perishable and some of it will last a stupid amount of time sitting in the back of the cabinet. There are many recipes you can pull just from this list and many more that only need one or a few more ingredients.

So this is what it's going to look like based on the higher prices on my list:

Peanut Butter
1 Dozen Eggs
4 Bell Pepper
6 Bananas
1 Bag Baby Carrots
1 Bag Frozen Broccoli
1 Bag Frozen Sweet Peas
3 Bags or Cans of Beans
1 Gallon of Dairy Milk
Cream of Wheat OR Oatmeal
1lb Rice
1lb Pasta
1 Loaf of Bread
Large Jar of Pasta Sauce
1lb Butter
Vegetable Oil
1lb Baking Soda
1lb Yeast
10lb bag of Sugar
10lb bag of Flour
16oz Salt
4oz Black Pepper
2.4oz Ground Cinnamon
1oz Vanilla Extract
4 Cans of Tuna
1lb Ground Turkey
Total: ~$99.75

     Even after taxes you're not doing too terribly. If you can tack on enough in coupons then the extra tax may not even matter! (That's right, this list does NOT include the use of any coupons.)

     To give you more of an idea of what our food buying looks like. . .  As I said above, our basics are established in the cabinet and fridge. We buy 2-3 dozen eggs each week and 3-4 gallons of dairy and almond milk (both girls still drink around 16oz a day of just milk). No questions asked on those two things. We buy the same sorts of snack foods each week too like nuts, graham crackers, cheerios, greek yogurt, and fruits. Some of our much-used favorite staples aren't even on this particular list: chicken breasts, cocoa powder, coffee or tea, cheese and other baking ingredients. We sometimes like to buy orange or cranberry juice, vitamin water, or other bottled drinks but not unless they are on sale or with a coupon. The kids and I primarily drink water and almond milk. There are some things I'd buy more often if they were a little less pricey like kefir or certain cuts of meat (mmm steak!).

   So, no this isn't a complete list but I think it's a great base list. If you managed to spend closer to the low end and added in some good sales and coupons you could easily keep under $70-75 for all of it. With another $100 you could add a lot more and some random favorites without spending a crazy amount of money the rest of the month if you stick to eating at home.

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