Refrigerator Look Book + My Monthly Food Budget

November 15th, 2012 | Posted by Erica House in Health | Life

One of my favorite Health & Wellness websites, Well & Good NYC, has a series called ‘Refrigerator Look Book‘ that takes a peek into the fridges of notable ‘health celebrities’ . I always love these articles as they inspire me to (1) clean out my usually gross fridge and (2) go buy a ton of vegetables. I thought I’d give you a little tour of my fridge/pantry as I talk today about something many people have asked me about – eating healthy on a budget.

We’ll start with the cupboards/spice storage:

Isn’t my spice area total chaos? I keep meaning to buy some sort of spice rack but it’s been 2 years and I’ve yet to do so.

Moving on to the fridge and freezer:

Now that you see what my normal food supply looks like I’ll go into how much I spend (and how I save) on my monthly groceries.

I looked around for a while and found varying reports of how much a family of 4 spends on groceries. The amount ranged from $800-900 a month so I’ll split the difference, divide by 4 and come up with $212.5 per person a month. That’s almost exactly what I spend – $50 a week and I’d like to think that I eat pretty darn healthy and can usually afford the ‘best’ quality produce & organic (as much as possible).

Here are my biggest tips on how to keep costs low:

1. Buy in bulk whenever items are on sale. I used to be a competitive couponer, seriously. The problem with coupons though is that they are usually good for junk food. You don’t see a lot of coupons circulating for broccoli or egg whites! When the non-perishable items I buy often go on sale I stock up. My usual grocery store is Publix and they have incredible Buy One Get One deals every week. A few weeks ago the syrup I use in my oatmeal every morning was on sale BOGO and I bought 6. If you end up doing that with most of the items that you use regularly (aside from produce of course) that can really save you a ton of money. Vitatops were BOGO a few weeks ago and I tore that store up.

2. When you have a decent amount of stuff like that stocked up your weekly grocery list will end up being mostly produce, meat, eggs or dairy products. This was my grocery bill from last week (which even included $8 in flowers!)

The following pictures isn’t from the same week as the receipt above but this is usually what my grocery trips look like:

 3. Plan your recipes ahead and only go to the store once a week. This will force you to ‘overlap’ ingredients as much as possible (I bought 1 onion for 2 recipes here) and your much more likely to stick to a budget with a well planned out list and menu. This was enough for me to make:

Spinach and Artichoke stuffed Portobellos

Roasted Cauliflower & Tahini Salad

Seriously Good Spinach + Lentil Soup

 – Broccoli & Cheddar crustless cupcake quiches (Still working on the recipe!)

Honestly, this is more than enough food for me for the week. I’m actually wondering if I’ll be able to finish it all for lunches & dinners before the next week starts! Did it take me a while to prepare? Oh heck yes – about 4 hours for the 4 meals (I don’t have a dishwasher so clean up is always a pain in the ass). It is SO worth it though since I now have incredible leftovers that take me 2-3 minutes to reheat in the microwave.

4. Only buy organic produce when you really need to. Keep a printed list of the ‘dirty dozen’ with you to know when to splurge and when to save on buying organic.

5. Limit how much you spend going out to eat (or picking up snacks at convenient stores). I don’t make a ton of money (I’m a teacher, big surprise there) so the $200 a month on food is a decent percentage of my monthly income. I absolutely justify it though because (1) it’s my health and (2) I rarely go out to eat. Maybe 1-2 a month now and I never buy sodas or snacks from the gas station (like I used to do almost daily when I was a smoker). When I tell my students how much I spend on food they always act so shocked – until I ask them how many times a week they go out to fast food and they realize they spend almost as much doing that as I do on groceries.

So, those are my best tips on how to eat healthy while sticking to a budget. If you have any others please share them in the comments below! I know money is tight for so many people and I hope that this can help some of you out!

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22 Responses

  • My BIGGEST problem with grocery shopping is returning to the store several times throughout the week. It’s really crazy how little things here and there add up!

    • Erica House says:

      I still struggle with that! I actually had to stop at the store last night because I was running out of Oatmeal and hadn’t planned ahead for that before I went shopping over the weekend. I was good and stuck to just getting what I needed but most of the time, when I stop in for ‘just one thing’, I end up with a basket full!

  • Caroline says:

    Great tips! I try to stick to my rule of only going once a week. That limits the number of unnecessary or junk purchases I get. I eat lots of cheaper foods like beans, oatmeal, and eggs as well. I also eat the same thing more than once a week, and that keeps things cheaper.

    • Erica House says:

      Ever since I wrote this post last night I’ve thought of so many more ways to save, including what you said about eating the same things multiple times a week. Cooking one giant meal and having that for leftover lunches every day is way more cost effective than making something different each time!

  • Linz says:

    I definitely go to the grocery store multiple times a week… I like it and itz close by, but you’re right… i’m probably spending way too much money!

    • Erica House says:

      Sometimes I get excited when I run out of something mid-week and have to go to the store just because I enjoy browsing around the food aisles so much!

  • First of all, you are super organized!! I have a roommate so we split the shelves in the fridge and freezer and I will say, mine are jammed with healthy goodies but since I can’t expand, it seems a bit cluttered.

    I love the idea of the mason jars – and they’re cute!! I will have to pick some up to organize my nuts and keep them fresher longer!

    • Erica House says:

      I *love* using glass jars to store nuts, bulk spices & grains in. Most of my jars are actually old peanut butter jars! I used to buy the smuckers kind that came in a glass jar. I also save all my salsa jars to use – I go through a ton when I’m making soups in bulk to freeze.

  • Amanda says:

    We’ve really been trying to just go once a week, but even when I make a list, I still forget things we needed for a recipe or something and we have to go back.

    I’m not a big coupon user because, like you said, they’re usually for junk food. I do, however, try to use coupons for other things that you need to buy on a regular basis like toilet paper, makeup, tampons, etc. Those can really make a difference in how much your spending.

    • Erica House says: is the best forum I’ve found for couponers. I’ll go there and search their printable database before I shop for any of the items that frequently have coupons (like you said, TP, makeup, non-perishables…).

  • Oh those are some awesome tips! And I like the idea of looking in your fridge. My spice cabinet is way too cluttered and disorganized/disbanded for me to post it on the internet. ;)

  • Erika says:

    I try to make what I can (and have time for) myself – like granola. It is so much cheaper to make it myself than to buy a bag. I also try to buy what is in season.

    How do you defrost your frozen soup in the jars?

    • Erica House says:

      I pull them out the day before I want to use them and put them in the fridge! Or, if I forgot and it’s the day of I’ll leave them out on the counter to defrost for the day.

  • I always find myself going to the store about 3 times per week. I consume SO many vegetables, but I live alone. If I buy in bulk my vegetables will go bad and I will cry. haha.

    • Erica House says:

      I’ve learned the HARD way exactly how much I’ll actually eat in a week. I’ve thrown out more broccoli and cauliflower than I care to admit but I’ve been much better about it recently. I find it helps to go ahead and cook it all on Sundays so it’s less likely to go bad sitting around waiting for me to use it!

  • Betsy Hawkins Wooten says:

    Publix will also take Apple Market coupons. Here’s the link
    $5 OFF Purchase of $50 or More
    $10 OFF Purchase of $75 or More

  • Betsy Hawkins Wooten says:

    All Publix in town. I live in Pace and use the coupons each time I go.

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