The grocery budget is the third largest money hog in most household budgets, after housing and transportation. It might be difficult to reduce your mortgage or rent, and you’re probably already doing all you can to spend less on gas, so it makes good sense to focus on food savings strategies.
You’re in luck—there are plenty of easy ways to save a bundle on food. The surest way? Don’t eat out, especially for weekday lunches. Reducing the cost of lunch may seem like a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop you can make every single day, and frequency adds up.
Make Your Own Savory Staples
Taking any kind of lunch will save you a ton over eating at restaurants, but don’t stop there. You can save plenty more by making your own staples, rather than settling for factory-made, flavorless and nutritionally inferior standbys.
The idea of making everything from scratch might sound quaint, old-fashioned or impractical. But it’s truly not that difficult! If you’re interested in saving money and getting better flavor and nutrition, give a few of these ideas a try. Think flavorful sandwiches on home-baked bread with fresh mayo; easy-to-make soups and stews that freeze well; yummy wraps; and nutritious, delicious green or whole-grain salads.
Bake your own bread. The wildly popular, easy, noknead method of bread-baking shows you how to keep ready-touse bread dough in your fridge at all times—you can bake lovely loaves at about 50 cents each! For instructions, read Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
Roast your own meats. Roast your own beef, chicken and turkey for significant savings, not to mention way better flavor. Check eatwild.com to find sources of local, grass-fed beef and free-range poultry in your area. Then once a month, schedule a meat-roasting day. Simply bake meat following almost any recipe (we offer some good ones online). Once it’s cool, slice it up, refrigerate a week’s worth, and freeze the rest to use as needed.
Use seasonal veggies. Whatever’s abundant at the farmer’s market or grocery store will no doubt cost the least, and it’ll be at its nutritional peak, to boot. Many veggies you might not consider sandwich and salad staples—zucchini, squash, bell peppers, eggplant—work perfectly between two pieces of bread, in a tortilla, atop crisp greens or with nutritious quinoa. Simply slice them; drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt, pepper and whatever other spices you like; and roast in a 400-degree oven for 20 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Refrigerate and enjoy!
Make your own condiments. Mayo, mustard, salad dressings, ketchup, hot sauce and more—it’s all simpler than you probably think. And homemade condiments are most definitely tastier and more nutritious than anything in those jar aisles. Here’s a quick recipe for homemade mayo. Find more condiment recipes on our website.
To find recipes for each step of the budget lunch ideas outlined here, read "Easy Recipes for Homemade Lunches."
Homemade Garlic and Herb Mayo
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon garlic, diced
1 twist freshly ground pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chopped fresh herbs or
cayenne pepper (optional)
In a food processor, blend all ingredients except oil and herbsfor about 1 minute, then very slowly add oil in a stream andcontinue to process until creamy and smooth. Adjust seasoningsas needed and add herbs or cayenne to taste.
Cute containers and useful utensils make bringing your lunch a breeze.
Gro-Pak Fresh Pak Sandwich bags are made with 50 percent recycled content and PVC-free insulation. $10
To-Go Ware’s RePEaT bamboo flatware set comes in a handy holder made of recycled PET plastic. $13
Kids Konserve Waste- Free Lunch Kits are BPA- and phthalate-free and include a water bottle, two stainless steel containers, a sandwich bag and a recycled plastic ice pack. $45
Klean Kanteen’s insulated thermos is free of BPA, lead and phthalates. 12, 16 and 20 ounces, $23, $26, $28
If snacking on vending machine buys is your budget (and waistline) enemy, don’t forget to throw fresh fruits and nuts, raisins and dried treats from the bulk aisle into your lunch pail, too!