I don't post much about saving money on groceries. Please note, I'm pro saving money on groceries. But I'm mostly anti writing blog posts on saving money on groceries. Here's why: soup and leftovers.
My goodness people, soup and leftovers are gross! Stop suggesting them!
Instead of suggesting that you reheat putrid chunks from rubbermaid containers, I will offer you a framework for cutting grocery costs given your culinary priorities. No cabbage soup required.
For many, many years people had one priority when it came to food - having enough.
These days, very few people in the developed world suffer from insufficient food. Some struggle with unhealthy food, lack of food variety, nasty tasting food, or insufficient income to buy food. However, we're not struggling with malnutrition.
Thus, we have new priorities. These are some of the common priorities associated with food consumption:
All of these are equally valid food priorities, but I get really annoyed by people who use food for self-efficacy. I'll go ahead and say what everyone else is thinking... nobody cares that you're a vegan, and nobody cares that your favorite meal is brunch.
My (right) opinions aside, each person can choose their own priority when choosing food. In fact, we live in a day and age when you don't have to pick a single food priority. You can balance many preferences. If you know your own preferences well enough, you can pursue a cost effective path to food consumption. If you don't know your preferences, you'll either eat cheap food that doesn't suit your preferences, or you'll pay far more than necessary trying to fulfill every food ideal.
This is how I think about my food preferences (and those of my family since we all eat together).
A loving food culture
As a mom, one of my top priorities is to make sure that my children grow up in a house where they know they are loved. To me, showing love through food is really important.
I know that this desire can go wrong in so many ways, but I think it can also go right. Eating meals as family, encouraging the use of manners, teaching my kids to cook, showing positive interactions with food. All of these matter to healthy development. All of my food preferences flow into this vision of creating a loving food culture.
Thankfully, nobody in my family has a major disease or food allergy. As a result, health isn't our top food priority. Taste is. Yum!
I don't eat food that I don't deem acceptably delicious. A few days ago, I improved a baba ganoush recipe. It was a flop. Way too smoky, kind of a weird squooshy texture. Just... no. Rob, who hates waste, also deemed it a total loss. The food went into the trash.
Not every morsel that enters my mouth needs to satisfy my very soul. But I only eat food that tastes good to me. My kids and my husband are the same. Thankfully, my kids aren't too picky, so they eat almost every meal. But if they deem something too gross to eat, they don't have to eat it (they also don't get alternatives because we're not even going to start with that).
I like to cook, but not all the time. I like to eat... all the time (or at least 3 times or more everyday). Food is something of a preoccupation around our house. As a result, I prepare food for myself or my kids multiple times everyday. I'm simply not willing to put an overwhelming amount of time into any single meal. Even dinner, our big meal, only gets about 30-45 minutes of dedicated cooking time.
Because of this, I buy foods that I deem tolerably inconvenient. I'm willing to scramble eggs and butter toast for breakfast. I'm not willing to make an egg bake everyday. I'm willing to make deli meat sandwiches or PB&J for lunch. I'm not willing to make freshly rolled sushi.
Snacks should take less than 3 minutes to prepare, and less than 3 minutes to clean.
My family's efforts at healthy eating are half-hazardous. Our guidelines are fruits and vegetables each day, limit refined carbs and sugars. We also attempt not to eat too much food.
To me, a healthy diet is one that promotes energy and keeps my digestive system on track. If you've got a chronic disease or a severe allergy, "fairly healthy" isn't going to cut it for you. Health should probably be the priority, with other preferences falling subservient to it.
For many moons, I avoided soda, but that is a sweet addiction right now. Soda isn't healthy.
I reject self efficacy found in food consumption
Seriously, food marketers are marketers too. You can't find self-efficacy in clothes or gadgets or houses. I don't know why you think you can find it in food. You can't.
I'll let you try, but you won't find it.
Reasonably Accommodating of Others When Necessary
Since my husband and children must consume the food I buy and the food I prepare, I try to accommodate their food preferences too. I buy the types of cheese that my kids like. I make sure that my husband has all the ingredients that he needs to make his lunches.
I generally avoid foods that don't go over well with the family. Of course, I'm trying to stretch the kids preferences, so I sometimes cook foods that they don't like as much.
I also accommodate the needs and preferences of guests to our home. I don't serve pork to Muslims or Jews. I make sure to ask about allergies before friends come to visit. If I know a friend is on a diet, I don't make delicious desserts. I don't bend over backwards for guests, but I make sure each person feels loved in our home.
What all my preferences cost
If I wanted to, I could lower my various food related standards and feed my family for $30-$40 per week. But I don't want to lower my standards. Instead, I accept my standards, and I pay the price. On average, my family of four spends $100-$125 per week on groceries.
We keep costs low by not wasting food (we repurpose food rather than eating leftovers). I aim to contain costs by choosing the lowest cost items that meet our standards more often than the more expensive items that meet our standards.
My guess is that most other people adopt similar practices. If you pay attention AT ALL to your grocery spending, you probably have some "hacks" you've adopted to keep your costs low given your standards. To cut costs further, you need to change your standards. Most likely, you'll have to accept less convenience, or you may have to choose foods that aren't as tasty to you. Maybe you need to seek self-efficacy outside of avocado toast and other food preferences. Or maybe, you can maintain your standards and enjoy your food. That's what I did! What about you? How do you manage your food costs?
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.