In 2017 Kitchn launched a new series, the Food Budget Diaries, that looked at how real people around the country spend their money on food. We've seen how one person grocery shops on $90 a week in New York, and how a family of seven eats for $125 in New Hampshire. The diets and needs are different for every situation and it's been fascinating to see how each family addresses those things through their budget. Yes, meal planning is important, but what else can you do to stick to a budget? Here are the five things I've learned about food budgeting thanks to this new series.
1. Find go-to, easy meals that fit in your budget.
In order to create a food budget, you need to analyze what you eat and adjust accordingly. You need an arsenal of recipes that you know you can always rely on that fit in your budget. Cindy in Oakland, for example, relies on an easy dish of rice and lentils or a stir-fry in order to eat on $40 a week. Elise in Colorado always has pizza in her freezer in case she needs a quick dinner. Pick a few recipes, ideally inexpensive ones, and make sure you always have your pantry and fridge stocked with these ingredients.
2. Stock up on inexpensive staples like beans and eggs.
Most everyone in the food budget diary said they rely heavily on eggs and beans to help them stay within their budget. Rebecca in Washington notes that dried beans are especially great. "It's true what they say about dried beans: They really are cheap, cheap, cheap." Others also mentioned rice, pasta, and sweet potatoes.
3. Divide your food budget into categories that work for you.
One of the questions I ask each person when they write their diary is how they set their budget. I was really impressed how many people divided their budget into categories. For example, Lisa in Washington, D.C., divides her budget into pantry staples, fresh ingredients, and going-out expenses. Elise in Colorado says the majority of her budget ($150) goes to "big shop" items, and then $100 goes to items that come up during the week or going out money.
4. Know that alcohol can be really, really expensive.
A big thing I've noticed in editing these diaries is how infrequently people drink in order to keep within their food budget. A couple people did mention they drink frequently, including Carla from New Orleans, and you can see what a dent it makes in their budget. Paying $36 for beer is a pretty big piece of the pie, considering it's not an essential item.
5. Use your smart phone at the grocery store.
You bring your phone with you everywhere you go anyway, might as well make it useful, right? Stephanie in Boston uses her phone as a calculator so she knows exactly what she's going to spend as she puts things in her cart. Jocelyn in Baltimore uses Cartwheel, a Target-specific app, that lets her know when things are on sale.
What did you learn about food budgeting this year?