I seem to spend a lot of time in my various Facebook groups sharing my tips on how we eat really great meals on a single income. With daily living expenses rising and more families finding it hard to manage, it’s the question on the tip of many Mama’s tongues and it’s one that’s taken us a long time to perfect.
For us, it all started when we moved here. For the first month we had no fridge – just an esky and a bookshelf for a pantry that needed to sustain us through the hard labour of setting up the property and me entering my second trimsester with Cypress. We were sinking all of our money into the property and buying a family car so I had to get pretty creative with our groccery spending.
We started by only eating meat half the fortnight – mainly because storing fresh meat, living an hour from the shops, and both working fulltime made it very tricky to manage fresh meat with no fridge. After having Cypress, we then decided to eliminate almost all meat from our diet, allowing ourselves the salty oily goodness that is bacon. Naughty, I know – but it’s bacon!
Our current eating habits aren’t as perfect as we would like them to be. At the moment, we’re not eating orgaincally and are only growing a small portion of our produce. As Cypress grows and we’re able to have more spare time outside, we plan on growing all of our fresh produce. Until then, we’re doing the best we can with what we have.
Get Organised In The Kitchen
How are you going to plan healthy, budget friendly meals if you have no idea what you already have on hand? Getting your pantry, fridge and freezer organised is crucial to keeping your shopping costs low. I use a Kitchen Inventory list to keep track of what I have and what I need to top up on. As something runs out, I mark it on the list and when it comes time for groccery shopping, half my work is done for me.
Organising my food seems a little over the top but for me and my family, it just works.
Tips for keeping the pantry under control:
- Store flour, pasta, grains, sugars etc. in clear containers. I use our old coffee jars so I can see how much I have at a glance. Everything is clearly labelled and kept in neat order.
- Spices are kept in clear containers next to the stove top, again these are clearly labelled.
- Tins and cans are stacked neatly two deep again, so I know at a glance what I have.
- Everything else is organised into containers that I can pull out easily.
- Left over ingredients from larger packets are transfered into zip-lock bags or containers and clearly labelled.
How I keep the fridge neat and tidy:
- On the top shelf we have drinks – water bottles, soft drinks, beer, juice etc.
- The second shelf is for left overs, snacks and lunch ingredients.
- Chris has a lunch box on the second shelf. He makes his lunch ahead of time and I got sick of it being crammed in everywhere.
- The third shelf is for fresh produce or prepped food for dinners.
- Everything on the shelves goes into a click lock container with a post-it note label on the front. When the container’s empty, I pull off the label, give it a wash and chuck it in the cupboard.
- Our small vegetable drawer is for fuit and the larger bottom vegetable crisper is for our veggies.
- The door has a home for eggs, cheese, jarred cooking ingredients, spreads and condements.
Tackling an over-flowing freezer:
- The top small drawer is for prepped baby food. I use silicone ice cube trays to freeze the puree into shape, then transfer it into ziplock bags and label it. When a bag is empty, I make more and top it up.
- The second draw is for frozen fruit and vegetables. I buy up when something is on special, chop it up and freeze it. I also buy corn, peas, beans, broccoli and cauliflower frozen because we never seen to eat it quick enough.
- The bottom draw is for bread, pastry and frozen meals. Again with the ziplock bags, I put everything in them – including soup. I lay everything flat until it’s frozen, then stand it up to take up minimal space.
Plan Your Meals
Not everyone is as excited by a well executed list as I am. But this is my key to keeping our food bills as small as possible. Each fortnight, Chris and I sit down to brainstorm our meal choices for the fortnight. We try to keep a balance between rice, pasta, vegetable based meals and will often flick through my collection of cookbooks to get some inspo.
I’ve created my own print out with our meals on one side, and my shopping list on the other side. So many times I add something to the shopping list and have no idea what I’m buying it for. It also makes life easier having it all on one sheet. It also has quick tick-and-flicks for our staple supplies that I seem to need each fortnight.
Once we’ve worked out what we want to eat, I check the pantry, fridge and freezer to see what I have and write down what I need to make the meals on the list.
When the house is stocked with our grocceries, I use post-its to plan out our Weekly Menu which includes food for Cypress. This lets me be prepared and make the most of fresh ingredients or left-overs.
Stick To A Shopping List
This is the very most important part of my whole process and I’m very particular about how it’s done. For starters, I DO NOT take my husband the man child with me. He will try and shove every bullshit thing in the trolley that we just don’t need and then I feel like a bitch for saying no to him for an entire hour. The actual child on the other hand is always welcome as long as he’s fed, full and healthy.
My shopping list goes in order of our supermarket so I’m able to whip around super quick, throwing in everything on my list and I’m usually in and out within the hour. I avoid those aisles that have nothing but crap in them and I ignore everything that catches my eye that isn’t on my list.
Sometimes I’ll need to substitute if something is unavailable but for the most part, I stick to my guns.
Embrace Scratch Style Cooking
The last one sounds harder than it is and sounds sketchy. When I started looking into heamsteading and budget meal planning, the term of “scratch cooking” kept popping up. The theory is to buy base ingredients and cook as much from scratch as you can. It’s ofcourse much easier to do when you’re a stay at home Mama and you love to be in the kitchen but it really does save us a bunch on money. For example, if I need a tomato spaghetti sauce, I’ll get a large jar of Passata and add all my own flavour to enhance it. If we have pizza, I make the bases with flour, water, oil and herbs. I buy individual ingredients over getting packet mixes and jar sauces which makes way more quantity and variety of meal bases.