Find yourself spending a lot more time in the kitchen these days? You’re not alone. Nearly half of Americans surveyed in a food and beverage poll said they started making more meals at home and ate less takeout at the onset of the pandemic, something many say they plan to continue long after this pandemic is over, and we sure are looking forward to that.
While spending less money at restaurants can help your budget, knowing how to stock your kitchen pantry for less helps too. Check out our money saving tips, kitchen edition.
Whether you’re a foodie or brand new to cooking at home, these tips will help you save money in the kitchen.
- Sketch out a rough meal plan for the month (and don’t forget the snacks!). If you’ve been reading up on how to save money on food, you’ve likely seen this tip over and over and over again, but it’s worth mentioning one more time because it really is that important. Planning your meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) can help you buy what you need, wasting less money and food. Print a monthly calendar or use a fillable monthly calendar in Word to plan out your meals. Being able to see what you’re making each day of the month will help you shop each week, as well as score great deals when you can buy what you need in bulk. Be sure to plan wisely so you don’t have to cook every night. For example, if you make chicken one night, make a little extra and plan for chicken salad the next day.
- Make a list (and stick to it). If you don’t implement our first tip, it can be hard to make a grocery shopping list. If you’re not ready to plan meals for the whole month, start with planning your weekly meals. After you know what you plan to make for the week, you can check your cupboards, pantry, freezer and fridge to see what ingredients you already have and what you need to buy. Then think through where you are going to get your groceries and split your list by the stores you will visit.
- Cook from your pantry (and freezer), and know what’s in there. Start your meal planning by checking out what you have on hand in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Pro tip: put a whiteboard on your freezer door and make a list of the freezer contents. Then, each time you use (or add) something, make note of it on the board. No more forgotten chicken (or ice cream!). Do the same for your pantry to make it easier to see at a glance what you have to work with. Don’t forget to label any leftovers in your fridge, too, so you know what’s in the container before you open it, as well as how long it’s been in there.
- Try a meal subscription service. This one may sound counter-intuitive to saving money, but if you are new to cooking at home, it may be better to get your feet wet with a meal subscription service. Most subscription services give you a variety of meal options and serving sizes to choose from, as well as the number of meals you plan to make that week. Then you’ll get all the ingredients you need to make the meals, so no need to hunt down particular spices or buy a whole bag of potatoes. (You may even be able to snag a pretty sweet deal if it’s your first time trying a meal subscription service.)
- Borrow gadgets from a friend (or buy them second-hand). Are you eyeing up a new kitchen appliance or tool? Check with a friend or family member to see if you can borrow their stand mixer or immersion blender before committing to buying one of your own. Don’t forget to check thrift shops and online marketplaces to see if you can buy any used kitchen gadgets (that you’ll thoroughly clean and sanitize before using) to help you make the most of your culinary adventures.
- Shop the sales and stock up. Check out com to see weekly ads for your area. In addition to checking what you have in your pantry and freezer, you can meal plan around what’s on sale each week.
- Plan for a few nights off. Maybe you LOVE cooking, but not the dishes (we hear ya), so the thought of cooking every night may sound more like a chore. Go ahead and give yourself a night (or two) off from cooking. Plan for frozen pizza nights (or your favorite heat-and-eat freezer meal), a night dedicated to eating up leftovers or a take-out night to help you stay motivated throughout the rest of the week.
- Invest in storage containers. Make the most of leftovers by portioning them out for lunch the next day in microwaveable storage containers that can be easily popped into lunch boxes. If you have more leftovers than mouths to feed, you can also put extra leftovers in the freezer. Then, if there comes a day when you don’t have enough leftovers for lunch you can grab one from the freezer.
- Plan a prep day. Grocery shopping—check! Unloading groceries—check! Making the food before it goes bad—erm, half check? It can be easy to get caught up in a busy week and just get too tired to make the meal you had planned for the day. Before you know it, the week’s gone by and the spinach is, well, not edible. Make time each week (like Sunday afternoon) to do lots of chopping, slicing, dicing and at least partially prep your meals. Then package and label your meals with the date you plan to eat it (i.e. Monday dinner) and the cooking instructions (ex: Bake at 350 degrees for one hour) to make weeknight dinners a breeze.
- Replace your one-time use items with reusable options. As you’ve started to spend more time in the kitchen these past few months, you’ve also probably noticed your supply of certain items seems to dwindle pretty quickly. The cost of things like plastic snack and sandwich bags, napkins and paper towels can add up fast too. Invest in reusable silicon snack bags, washable plastic sandwich keepers (bonus: it keeps your sandwich from getting smooshed too) and cloth napkins and dish towels.
- Grow your own food. I mean, we’re not suggesting you raise a steer in your backyard, BUT growing plants is a good way to offset some grocery costs. Start small by planting some herbs for your countertop (they make good décor too), and then branch out (plant joke, get it?) to more container plants (like lettuce, beans or tomatoes) or even a garden next summer.
- Look for coupons. Maybe you remember the good ol’ days of your parents (or grandparents) flipping through the Sunday newspaper and clipping coupons, or maybe YOU were the coupon clipper. While you may not have a newspaper subscription, you CAN still clip coupons, and you don’t even need a scissors. Check out a variety of free resources like com, iBotta or The Krazy Coupon Lady to save coupons to your phone (or print them).
- Make extra to stock your freezer. Double the recipe for some of your favorite meals and prep one to eat that week and stick the other (labeled, of course) in the freezer. Many casseroles, chilis and soups freeze well.
- Make your own snacks. Expectation for daily meals: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. Reality for daily meals: coffee, breakfast, lunch, snack, supper, dessert, snack, snack, snack. Anyone else, or just me? If you’ve been snacking more than you used to (I mean, working from home has its benefits, like no commuting, but it makes staying away from the snacks that much harder!), head on over to Pinterest or Google to look up recipes for your favorite snacks and then make your own!
- Skip the meat for a meal or two. Whether your go-to meatless dish is a hearty salad or a grilled cheese sandwich, going meat-free for a meal (or two) a week can really make a difference in your food budget.
- Drink more water (and less milk, soda or juice). Not only is drinking a lot of water good for you, but it can also cut down your grocery bill considerably. Switching out one can of soda a day could save you $150+ a year (if a 12-pack of soda costs $4.98, then a single can would cost roughly 42 cents).
- Upgrade your breakfast. Maybe you eat breakfast on the go, or maybe it’s a morning ritual to eat breakfast with the whole family before you go your separate ways. Either way, there are a few breakfast swaps that will help you save a little money. Make it a weekend tradition to make a TON of breakfast pastries, muffins, waffles or pancakes (or whatever your go-to breakfast is) and then package them up in the freezer. Add a piece of wax paper between each goodie to keep them from sticking together and to make grabbing one in the morning much easier. You’ll save money on pre-made frozen pastries and breakfast items AND you’ll save time by not whipping up something every morning (and there will be fewer dishes to wash too). Or, if you’re the grab-and-go type, invest in a jar or other small storage container to prep overnight oats or buy a large container of yogurt to portion out for your breakfast parfait.
- Buy in bulk. Is a five-gallon bucket of rice really worth it? It is if you store it properly and add it into your meal planning! Buying various foods in bulk can really save you money, but only if you can use it before its expiration date.