Food. For many Australians it accounts for the second or third biggest chunk out of their budget, after housing and/or transport. Poor food choices are also leading to an increase of “lifestyle” diseases, such as Type II diabetes and heart disease. Four Australian personal finance bloggers (Adventures with Poopsie, Enough Time To, FIRE By Thirty-Five and yours truly) decided to get together and offer an in-depth look at how we all “do” food in our households. It doesn’t matter whether you like to plan or just wing it, whether you have gourmet tastes or enjoy simple food, or whether you love or hate cooking; we’re sure you’ll find some tips and tricks to eat more healthily and find ways to save.

Balanced Food Options

With no children or fussy eaters (except myself who does all the shopping so it doesn’t count) to contend with I can be quite sporadic in how when, where and how often I grocery shop. I do a mix of online and in store shopping. I mostly frequent major supermarkets as I can pop in after work when they are the only stores open, making my shopping experience much better. There are no queues to get in the car park, less people to deal with and usually some end of the day bargains to collect – hello 50% off meat and bakery items!

Balanced Food Planning

I’ve recently joined a Fruit and Vegetable Co-op in my area so get a box full of fresh goodies once per fortnight and then plan from there. I often have a lot of basic ingredients at home; rice, flour, butter, eggs, lentils, beans, oats etc. so try as much as possible to meal plan around those items and buy the minimum necessary to make meals. Depending on how creative I’m feeling, or if I have some particular cravings, will depend on which extras (if any) are added to my list for that fortnight.

Fresh fruit makes an easy and delicious snack

I am an advocate for flexible meal planning. I like to have a general idea of what I have on hand and will often write a list with ingredients or meals ideas and have it on the fridge; however I don’t have a strict plan that I must stick to each night. Fresh food is the priority to eat, and then pantry staples and frozen foods in order of how long they’ve been around for. The basic rule of First in-First Out applies here.

 

By knowing what my base ingredients are, and what needs to be used first I reduce waste by not forgetting about the wilting lettuce in the back of the fridge. As well as saving money by ensuring new items only make it on to the list when I have no other options e.g. I don’t need pasta if I still have a bag or rice and lentils that could be substituted for that week.

With the fruit and veggie box being bought at the local markets it is pretty much whatever is in season at that time. This means the items are usually at their best, full of flavour and need little added to them to get a delicious meal – another frugal win!

Balanced Recipes

I’ve been cooking for a very long time and have a special passion for it. This means I am confident to make it up as I go, which is why a strict meal plan isn’t necessary. I know which flavours go well together, what I enjoy, what I don’t like, how to cook with most ingredients (allowing someone else to choose the base of my meals in the fruit and veg box) and how to add protein, carbs and fruit/veggies to make a fulfilling meal.

Occasionally I’ll look up recipes to get some new ideas, though almost always change them from their original in some way to suit my tastes or the ingredients I have on hand. This confidence works for me and the only person who would have to eat a bad dish if I ever made one would be me (Mr B would literally eat anything and not complain). However if you don’t enjoy cooking, or aren’t comfortable making decisions and substitutions on the fly this approach may not be the best one for you.

Mr B making the homemade pizza smile

Balanced Flexibility

Having a flexible schedule and approach to food planning also means I can buy a lot of pantry staples in bulk and not having anyone dependant on me to feed them ever changing foods (i.e. children who only want pasta when you only have rice) means I don’t have to go to the store on a regular basis. If I’m super lazy I’ll still find something to eat – peanut butter toast and fruit/veggie stick is a fulfilling meal at any time of day!

When planning where to shop I will look through that week’s specials. I get Woolworths, Coles and Aldi catalogues delivered to me and have each of those stores in one shopping centre 5 minutes up the road (spoilt I know). Unfortunately for me, meat is something that is cheaper at the supermarkets than my local butcher – without adding in a special trip 20 minutes away – so generally I’ll buy whatever is on special that week and try to limit the overall cost average to be less than $10 per kilo. I buy meat in bulk every 2-3 months so I can take advantage of specials or reduced buys – see 50% off meat mentioned above; I portion it up and freeze to use as needed.

Balanced Food Spend

I don’t actually have a grocery budget – shock horror! This spending is included in the category of ‘discretionary spending’ that may take up to 13% of my salary each fortnight. I generally try to buy groceries and household supplies first if needed and then spend the rest on petrol, eating out, gifts, donations etc. Many other frugalista’s will scoff at my approach and be able to pull out their spreadsheets and tell me exactly how much they spent on tissues vs. toilet paper last year. For me, as long as I am saving 55%+ of my salary each pay (with the goal to get to 60% by the end of the year) I don’t feel the need to budget to that minutiae.

The one cost I can tell you is the fruit and veggie box – it is $25 per fortnight. The equivalent amount of fruit and vegetables in the supermarket would be almost double the price (and half the quality!). The box contains enough food for at least 2 people for the fortnight if bulked out with meat, protein and carbs/grains, or if I have leftovers turns into some great vegetarian meals to use them up.

Stir fry and brown rice – a menu staple

I could keep a closer eye on this and nominate a figure each month to grocery shopping and may in future, however as explained my current philosophy is that if I’m able to save a large portion of my take home pay upfront it doesn’t really matter what the rest gets spent on. I do enjoy meal costing and bucking the trend by creating quick, healthy and delicious foods for the fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal so I can definitely see budgeted meal planning being part of my future.

Balanced Meals

So get to the food!

Items in last fortnight’s veggie box – $25

  • Carrots x 1kg
  • Tomatoes x 6
  • Green Beans x 400g
  • Red Capsicum x 4
  • Wombok (Chinese Cabbage) x1
  • Snow Peas x 200g
  • Mushrooms x 200g
  • Corn cobs x 3
  • Broccoli x 2
  • Lemons x 6
  • Apples x 4
  • Pears (mini) x8
  • Bananas x8
  • Grapes x 500g
  • Blueberries x 1 punnett
  • Pineapple (small) x 1

Items purchased this fortnight – $7.50

  • Feta
  • Eggs – free range
  • Wholemeal pita

Other items from the pantry/fridge/freezer – approx. $16

  • Tuna (can)
  • Chicken wings
  • Salmon fillets
  • Brown Rice
  • Cheese
  • Corn thins
  • Peanut butter

So what did we eat? Keeping in mind that I am happy to eat the same thing two days in a row, sometimes even more! Having food ready to go and easy to put together is a sure fire way to ensure you never reach for the phone to order takeout.

Breakfasts

  • Oats, honey, banana
  • Weetbix, 2 x mini pears
  • Boiled egg, feta, raw veggie sticks (carrot, capsicum, beans, tomatoes)

Lunches

  • Stir Fry Veggies (wombok, carrots, capsicum, mushrooms, snow peas), brown rice
  • Mix plate – egg, chicken drumstick, homemade coleslaw, raw veggie sticks (carrot, capsicum, beans)
  • Pasta, tomatoes,
  • Leftovers from dinners (below)

Dinners

  • Tuna and raw veggie sticks (carrot, capsicum, beans, tomatoes)
  • Chicken and veggies (corn, broccoli, carrots)
  • Salmon Fillet, sweet potato mash, stir fry veggies (carrots, beans, wombok, mushrooms)
  • Homemade Pizza – wholemeal pita, cheese, corn, capsicum, mushrooms

Snacks

  • Corns thins and peanut butter
  • Fruit – apples, blueberries, grapes, bananas, pears

Mr B and I also ate out a couple of times this fortnight due to birthdays (my brother, mine) and friends visiting from Melbourne. This isn’t included in the above plan or costing though does still have to fit within the 13% ‘discretionary spending’ amount listed earlier.

Balance Busted

This post was all but done and scheduled for posting when emotion struck and caused a meal plan and budget bust out (well if I had a set budget)! After work yesterday I had to visit the dentist for my first ever filling. I don’t deal well with uncertainly, and laying back eyes closed with someone shoving things into my mouth and feeling like I was choking was not my preferred way to end the day. You may think I’m being overly dramatic, though after a horrible visit to the dentist 7 years ago I vowed never to go back. Needless to say I let it get the better of me and as kind and patient as the dentist was, it wasn’t my finest moment.

I had planned to pop into the supermarket to grab some cheese for another round of homemade pita pizzas for dinner, though things didn’t go exactly to plan. I saw fresh tortellini pasta on special. This was a childhood favourite of mine, however I never buy it anymore as it isn’t considered healthy or frugal. I let my emotions take over and next thing, mushrooms, bacon, cream and cheese were all in the basket – whoops. I added in a few super reduced special pies to top it off for another night.

Back at home I started cooking and added in some cabbage to the sauce mix (herbs, spices etc. already at home) and some broccoli to cook in with the pasta so I felt at least a little more grown up and healthier than the traditional kiddie favourite. All up I made enough for 5 serves of pasta.

The offending pot of goodness!

Total Budget Blowout

  • Fresh Tortellini – $5
  • Mushrooms 270g – $2.95
  • Cheese 100g – $0.90
  • Bacon 150g – $1.35
  • Cream – $1.40

= $11.60 or $2.32 per serve

  • 5 serves of slow cooked chunky beef pie (reduced)

= $2.66 or $0.53 per serve

Overall you can say that every little bit counts and every dollar spent is a step away from reaching financial independence, however I choose to see it as a treat, a bit of an indulgence on a bad day – and still far better than take out!

Balanced Wrap

I’m so punny (I know!) We’ve now come to the end of how, why and when meals are consumed in the Balanced world (finally I hear you cry!) and how much approximately it costs. How does it compare to your household?

Don’t forget to check the other awesome bloggers who are participating in Epic Food Week:

Adventures with Poopsie

Enough Time To

FIRE By Thirty-Five 

How do you “do” food in your house? Any tips to share about saving time or money?