Bringing the Food Budget Under Control – Part 1

Food is arguably the largest living expense outside of housing (and if you’re really reckless, it could be more than housing). It’s also potentially the most unpredictable.

I knew I needed to bring our food budget under control, but kept hitting road blocks despite my best intentions. Busy schedules and active kids don’t care about our intentions, and with these, there’s always a reason an excuse to eat out.

This month, however, and I was finally able to trouble-shoot all the snags. I’m excited to share my first (successful) insights into bringing the food budget under control by eating at home.

More details will come, but here are a few tips to get you started.

Have a back-up plan (And drive-thru doesn’t count).

Convenience foods (i.e. frozen pizza), left-overs, or quick throw-togethers (spaghetti) are great entrees if the first plan doesn’t come together.
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  • Canned or frozen vegetables, pre-shredded cheese etc. help cut down prep time for ingredients.
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  • Canned vegetables and rice or pasta mixes make easy sides, and cake mix, refrigerated cookie dough, or instant pudding are fast alternatives for dessert.

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If you’re concerned about the ingredients in convenience foods, (1) remember they won’t be worse than those at your default restaurant, especially in moderation, or (2) consider making your own convenience mixes in bulk (see Bulk Preparation below), from scratch, and store as appropriate.

Find your “prime time”

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It’s not always practical to make dinner at dinner time. Consider your most productive time (late night, early morning, etc.), and do as much prep work as you can at that time.

Play around with how much you can do in advance. Keep in mind that some ingredients will get soggy or dry out if you prep them too early. Others self-marinate and get better with time.

Bulk Preparations

Cook and freeze meat ahead of time when applicable, or double recipes and freeze for future use. Make sure to write down what you have prepped in the freezer, either on a list or on a later date on the calendar.

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Also consider making large batches of rice pilaf, cake mix, cookie dough, etc. ahead of time. Recipes and finishing instructions can be found on the internet, at the library, or from friends.

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