It's a combination of things - smart shopping, cooking from scratch, and the good fortune of living in Southern California.
But, in an attempt to clarify how our $75 are spent, this is kind of what I do....
- Peruse the weekly sales ads. This is what is on sale here this week... You can click any of these for a larger picture.
Did you catch this gem??
- Buy what's on sale. Seems obvious. A lot of people do meal planning, and shop around that. I do the opposite - I buy what's on sale, and build my meal plan from there. One of my favorite markets, Sprouts, has "Double Ad Wednesday's", where you can shop the previous week's sale in addition to the new sale.
- Shop on the outside of the store - dairy, meats, produce, the end. I rarely venture into the aisles.
- Cook from scratch. The only thing I can think of, off hand, that we buy pre-made is some breakfast stuff - cereal (if it's on sale, duh), waffles, and sometimes pancake mix. A lot of times we make pancakes from scratch, but if the mix that The H likes is on sale, we buy it. It's delicious, so I don't care. But we don't make dinners out of a box, ever. I make bread pretty often, but haven't yet mastered sandwich bread, so we still buy that. Oh, and Kraft Shells and Cheese. Gabby loves that stuff.
- If there's an AMAZING sale, particularly on meat, stock the hell up. Whole roasting chickens, for example, regularly go on sale for something dumb like $0.49/lb. I buy a few.
- Don't be scared of things - tough, inexpensive cuts of meat are great for the crock pot.
- Don't waste stuff - roast chicken one night; pull the remaining meat off, and use for pasta, enchiladas, chicken tacos, etc. another night; use the carcass to make stock, and use the stock to make soup.
- Shop what's in season. I've said it before, but we are exceptionally lucky to live here, and have access to fresh, local produce all year long. When produce here is in season, it's a STEAL. Apples will go down to $0.49/lb, broccoli and cauliflower are regularly $0.99/head, bell peppers 3-4/$1, onions, radishes, green onions, cucumbers, parsley, cilantro are often 3/$1. We buy only what's on sale, and what's in season.
- The best part about buying seasonal produce? Man, the taste. It TASTES so much better than an apple that was picked forever ago.Buying seasonally was a shock to me, at first. It never occurred to me, being in Florida, the land of perpetual sun and hot, shopping in grocery stores exclusively, that fruits and vegetables have growing seasons. Turns out? When you buy stuff in season, it fits.... the season. Berries, tomatoes in the summer. Stone fruits in the fall. Squash and root vegetables in the winter. Cherries, asparagus in the spring. It's magic. And these things lend themselves to cooking the way you WANT to in those seasons - summer produce almost always taste best with minimal preparation. Winter veggies? Roast those goodies. It all seems.. purposeful. It makes sense.
- I have access to a TON of shopping - small markets, regular grocery chains, Target 4 of them!!), Costco (3 of them!), a local farmer's market. Some within walking distance, all within a 5 minute drive. So it's no big deal for me to stop at a couple places on my way around town to get what is on sale at each place. That obviously isn't the case for everyone, and not everyone wants to do that - it doesn't bug me, so I do it and save a few bucks.
- I bake a lot. I keep baking supplies on hand, and try to make desserts that can last for days without people getting annoyed or tired of them. We do a LOT of chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and sometimes cakes. We buy ice cream pretty frequently, too, because it's freaking delicious.
- SHOP THE BULK BINS, but only when it makes sense. I buy rice, beans, quinoa, oats, nuts, and some candies (gummy worms, I'm a little addicted). For me, flour and sugar are NOT cheaper in the bulk bins, but I buy the biggest bag of each that I can reasonably store.
- We buy the staples - milk, eggs, sandwich bread, etc - at Target. It's almost always cheaper there. Unless there's a rad sale somewhere. I try to keep my pantry well stocked, and tend to shop from there, and improvise rather than running out to the market if I'm missing an ingredient...
(Obviously, that only works if it's a non-essential ingredient ;). )
With two kids on two different school schedules, one kid with special dietary needs (temporarily - Gab can't have dairy in the afternoons/night with her evening chemo), and a picky H, putting meals together is sometimes a challenge, and sometimes, disjointed. This is what a typical day looks like:
#1 - fruit, or dry cereal, or peanut butter toast
#2 - dry cereal, or fruit
#3 & The H - pancakes
Me - yogurt, or overnight oats, or PB&J, usually at the office during the week
#1 & #2 - neither like to take lunch, or buy lunch, so they bring snacks, and eat when they get home. Either leftovers from the night before, a sandwich, salad, etc.
#3 & The H - sandwiches, wraps, mac and cheese, hot dogs, etc.
Me - Usually sandwich, and/or salad, sometimes leftovers (they kind of creep me out, though)
This is the meal we all eat together, usually. I normally cook, because I like to, and The H works from home in the evenings, so he may or may not be available. We do a wide range of things, and a LOT of it is casual stuff, particularly during the week. Sloppy joes (homemade, not the can!), grilled chicken and rice, pasta, stir fry, etc.
PopChips (Costco has these SUPER cheap, and we all love them)
Whatever junk food we happen to have hanging out
So, yeah. That's about it. Nothing ground breaking or revolutionary. We eat really well, we eat mostly healthily, and we don't really get bored - which is pretty much the key to success.