I’m a huge plan-aheader when it comes to short time-frames. Does that make sense? Milestones like babies and marriage are easy to fantasize about because they’re in the distance- although every long-term milestone I’ve planned has in fact been successfully hit when I’ve wanted them to be, thank you diligent uterus- I can’t tell you what I’m doing next week, but I can tell you that I’ve already mapped out lunches and dinners for this work week, and have purchased all of the necessary items needed to make them happen. Friends have often looked at me in shock and said “I don’t even know what I’m eating today! How do you do it?”; So, here’s how I make them most of my grocery budget- $100 a week or roughly $425 per month- while still buying predominantly organic.
1. Determine your work schedules and what they will allow.
- Do you have several late nights in your schedule? Meetings? Happy Hours? Between my work schedule, maintaining the salon afterwards, and getting home via bus or carpool, I’m lucky if I get home before 7:45. I’m always far too ravenous by then to cook a labor intensive meal. If the hubby gets off earlier than 6, he can be counted on to cook, but most of his shifts end between 7-9pm, making both of us unreliable most of the week. Determine the nights that you can’t make dinner when you get home, and find recipes that make-ahead and keep well like rice/quinoa salads, soups, or make a pasta sauce in advance so that all you have to do is boil noodles.
2. Determine early nights/late start days.
- Figure out what nights one of you will be home early enough/leave late enough to start longer processes like steaming brown rice, starting a soup/stew/chili/ making pizza dough. Some of these days you might want to consider making one full meal and pre-starting a second meal. If you’re having stir-fry over brown rice, make extra rice to chill for a salad, or start soaking some beans for a crock pot meal another day.
3. Days off = Productivity days
- No surprises here, but I rarely have a lazy Sunday or Monday. My hubby works most weekends, and I work 6 days a week, every other week so that I can get the new-hires trained at the salon. I spend one of my days off making my grocery list for the week, buying everything I need, and pre-cooking anything possible to help save time down the line.
Grocery Shopping Tips:
Check your pantry and fridge before you make your list, and make use of anything you already have. I buy my rice, quinoa, tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc in bulk at costco, so that I save the most money, and I make sure at least one meal utilizes each per week. I also make sure I don’t have any ‘spare’ veggies that need to get used up, or a surplus/excess of any condiments.
Try to shop in season- I save splurge produce like brussels sprouts and asparagus for when they’re in season, same for fruit.
Shop at multiple stores. Today I made my first of many trips to Trader Joes because I heard that their generic organics were cheaper than Whole Foods; turns out that this was true! I got a full found of organic brown rice spaghetti for $1.99- at the co-op my favorite brand, Joyvial, only goes as low as $2.49 for 12oz. Organic Almond milk is $2.99 for a half gallon, 12oz of frozen organic mangoes were only $2.29, 15oz firm organic tofu and 8oz organic tempeh were only $1.99 each, and I found organic soyrizo for $1.99 as well. Even more shocking, TJ’s brand of organic vegetarian refried beans were $1.09 a can- plain organic beans at Whole Foods start at $1.39 a can, and it’s more for the refried kind. I scored big there, and because of that I treated myself to a pint of their coconut strawberry ice cream- $3.49. I didn’t see much for organic produce deals without buying large bags of things I might not go through, like potatoes and onions.
Buy in Bulk. Get beans in bulk, soak them, and cook them in your crockpot while you’re at work, and freeze them. It saves us a ton of money. I also buy things we run through in bulk as well. At the co-op, a 9 pound bucket of peanut butter was on sale for $34.99, which is $3.89 a pound; the average cost of a jar of nut butter that’s non-organic at our co-op is 4.99.
Coupons. I suck at finding coupons which is something I need to work at, but, I always shop around whats on sale at the co-op, and I make sure to save my monthly 5% discount for when I’m buying tons in bulk, like that peanut butter.
Identify your cookware and storage. Do you have a crockpot? A rice cooker? How is your supply of food storage containers? Nothing sucks more than baking a pan of lasagna only to find you have nothing to freeze lunch portions in. Crockpots are awesome for letting a stew cook overnight while you sleep- just pop it in the fridge before you head out the door and you’ve got another nights meal at the ready. Alternatively, let dinner cook while you’re away at work! My favorite is to mix steel cut oats, water, nuts, and dried fruits in my slow cooker before I go to bed. When I wake, I have a weeks worth of breakfast ready.
Make leftovers your lunch. I can’t make a meal for two to save my life, but a meal for 4, 6, 8? Easy. Instead of buying both dinner items, and a whole separate list of things for lunch, I make servings for four, and bring the remainders for lunch the next day. This also cuts down on food prep time on the a.m..
Or, make big meals to freeze for lunch. Lasagna, soups, and stews that freeze well will reheat well. Avoid veggies that get mushy quick, like zucchini and eggplant. Don’t for get to double check that you have plenty of freezer room, and containers. I adore glass-lock storage containers because they’re glass, and you can heat foods safely in them.
After you’ve figured out your schedule and your shopping list, designate dinners for the night of the week they correspond with on your calendar. Make sure that you plan ahead for giving things enough time to finish ripening before you use them- tomatoes, bananas, avocados- and make sure that you don’t make anything too far in advance that it’d spoil.
Here’s my schedule for the week:
Monday: Day off
Tempeh Picatta over GF Penne
Soak chickpeas and white beans, make noodles salad for Tuesday
Tuesday: Both work, Centering Group until 7:30
Pre-made Sesame Tofu Noodles. Start steaming chickpeas while we eat.
Wednesday: I work til 7, he works til 9
Fast dinner- tacos made with premade re-fried beans and soyrizo, steamed veggies on the side. Start steaming white beans while we eat. If possible, make chickpea salad for tomorrow.
Thursday: Both off at 7
Fast dinner- Avocado “egg” salad” chickpea style with roasted sweet potatoes.
Friday: I work, Hubby is off.
Spicy Quinoa Mango Salad Sub mixed baby greens for the asparagus, and add white beans.
The things I already had on hand that I was able to use up:
Veganaise, pickles, and spices for chickpea salad
Sesame oil and cilantro for asian salad
Our groceries for the week including that giant tub of peanut butter, all organic produce, almond yogurt, 3 kinds of frozen fruit, and other miscellany came to $105- for us that’s really good. Whats even better is I know I’m eating a variety of proteins for the baby, and I have no excuses to have a crappy breakfast or takeout for lunch. If anyone knows of some great online resources for co-op coupons, or where vegans can get staples in bulk and save a few bucks, please, share them in the comments!