When my husband and I got serious about our finances years ago, our food spending was out of control. We were just two people and a baby at the time, yet we were inhaling $1,000 in food each month – and sometimes more.
One fix for our food spending woes was simple: We were dining out at least twice a week, and we knew we had to cut that out. To save money, we opted to set aside one night for a restaurant meal each month. And – voila! – hundreds of dollars poured back into our pockets every month.
Our remaining food spending issues were more complex. If I had to describe my old shopping style in one word, I would say “random.” Why? Because I walked through the store throwing random stuff in the cart with no rhyme or reason.
To save money and reduce waste, we knew we needed to plan our meals before we hit the store. In addition, we pledged to plan our meals around the weekly sales at our favorite grocery score, Kroger.
Around this time, we also started using a zero-sum budget, where each month you set aside a specific amount of money for each budget category ahead of time. For food, we decided $600 per month was enough.
It’s been years since we went down this path, and it’s worked great so far. We do go over our $600 limit sometimes, but we also spend less other months. To level out the uncertainty, I also include a $200 miscellaneous category in our zero-sum budget (our now-rare dinners out also come out of this fund). This helps when we spend $25 too much on food or have a big bill we failed to plan for.
- Related: Why Your Budget Needs a Buffer
How I Create Our Meal Plans
Most weeks, our budget dictates I spend between $125 and $150 at the store. I usually make an extra quick trip at some point as well to pick up a forgotten ingredient, bread, or milk.
While everyone plans their meals differently, I do what is most feasible for me – a busy mom who also works full-time. Basically, I buy ingredients to cook three or four good meals each week, and then make everyone eat leftovers until they're gone.
As far as shopping around sales goes, that strategy works well for us. If strawberries are on sale, we eat strawberries. If our favorite meat substitutes are on sale, we stock up. If pantry staples are on sale, we generally plan our meals around them. This not injects a bit of variety into our meals, we're also getting a good deal on almost everything we buy.
Another way I simplify our meals is by cooking food with simple ingredients. Not only does this make my life easier, but meals without a ton of fancy ingredients wind up being cheaper as well.
Our $150 Weekly Grocery Budget
Last week, I went to the store to buy groceries for our family of four -- here's exactly what we bought. As you browse this list, keep in mind that we have two kids, ages five and seven. Our kids are in school all day, meaning they don’t eat lunch at home. However, my husband and I work out of our home, so we both eat lunch at home, too.
(One other detail to note is that, in addition to this list, I deposit $50 into my children's lunch accounts every few months. I do include this amount in our monthly budget, but I don't include it in my grocery budget.)
Here’s what we bought last week, along with the meals we made (prices and totals are rounded):
- 10 bananas: $2.25
- 2 heads lettuce: $2
- Shredded carrots: $2
- 5 zucchini: $2
- Broccoli: $2
- 3 onions: $2
- 2 packages mushrooms: $3
- 3 packages strawberries: $7.50
- 6 packages raspberries (2 for $4): $6
- 1 pint blueberries: $2
- Package carrots: $2
- Mini carrots: $2
- Celery: $2
- Parsnips: $2
- Head cabbage: $1
- Spaghetti squash: $2.50
- 2 containers grape tomatoes: $5
- Mandarin oranges: $5
Total produce: $52
- 3 loaves of bread: $3
- 3 dozen eggs: $1.50 (insanely cheap right now)
- 2 gallons milk: $2.50 (insanely cheap right now)
- Almond milk: $2.50
- Lasagna noodles: $1
- 3 boxes generic cereal: $5
- 2 containers vegetable broth: $4
- 1 jar tomato juice: $2
- French dressing: $2
- Ranch dressing: $2
- 3 packages shredded cheese: $6
- Sliced cheese: $2.50
- Ricotta cheese: $2
- 3 cans beans: $3
- 3 cans tomato soup: $2
- 2 packages veggie crumbles: $6
- 2 jars peanut butter: $4
- Graham crackers: $2
- 3 boxes Ritz crackers: $6
- Granola bars: $2
- 12-pack Coors Light (just keeping it real!): $10
- 2 bottles of Diet Coke: $2
- Generic cinnamon tea bags: $2
Grand total for the week: $127.25
Our Menu for the Week
Using those ingredients, here's what we prepared for breakfast, lunch (for my husband and me), and dinner during the week.
Breakfast and Lunch
It's kinda sad, but my family eats the exact same foods for breakfast and lunch each day. My children do get something different at school, but my husband and I are pretty boring with our meal choices.
- I eat a banana for breakfast every day.
- My husband eats toast.
- My kids eat cereal and milk.
- My husband and I also drink coffee, hence the almond milk.
For lunch, my husband and I had:
- Salads (lettuce, shredded carrots, tomatoes, shredded cheese, salad dressing)
- Leftover vegetable lasagna
- Leftover soup
- Omelets (with leftover vegetables and cheese)
- Peanut butter on toast
I planned and prepared five dinners throughout the week based on our shopping list. Here's what I made, with a recipe for each:
Dinner Recipe No. 1: Vegetable Soup
My vegetable soup is a little different each time, mostly because I throw whatever I have in the pot.
- 2 large containers of vegetable broth
- Small can of tomato juice
- 4 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 2 parsnips, peeled and diced
- ½ head of cabbage, diced
- 2 cans of tomatoes, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cans of kidney beans
- Basil, thyme, and coriander as needed
- Salt and pepper
Directions: Heat up the vegetable broth and tomato juice while you wash and cut vegetables. Simmer it all together for an hour on medium heat, adding spices and more water as needed.
Dinner Recipe No. 2: Vegetable Lasagna
I use a vegetable lasagna recipe similar to this one, except I wind up using whatever vegetables I have on hand. This time, I had eggplant, so I added it.
- Lasagna noodles
- Medium container ricotta cheese
- 1 package soy crumbles
- 2 jars of pasta sauce (or make your own)
- Fresh or canned mushrooms
- 3 zucchini, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 eggplant, diced
- 1 package of shredded mozzarella cheese
Directions: Start by boiling the lasagna noodles until they're partially cooked (around 10 minutes). In the meantime, you can saute all your vegetables in a large pan with some olive oil. Once your ingredients are prepared, you can layer them however you want. I start with noodles on the bottom and then layer soy crumbles with sauce, vegetables, ricotta cheese, noodles, and so on. I also add salt and pepper within the lasagna and shredded mozzarella cheese between layers and on top. Bake for an hour partially covered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dinner Recipe No. 3: Egg Sandwiches and Fruit
I create mini omelets, set them on buttered toast, and melt cheese on top. It’s not fancy at all, but all four of us will happily eat this meal. I serve whatever fruit we have on the side.
- Bread (one loaf)
- Eggs (one dozen)
- Cheese (any kind)
Directions: Beat the eggs in a bowl, then pour them in sandwich-sized blobs onto a preheated, buttered frying pan over medium-high heat. After you flip each mini omelet, melt a slice of cheese on the top. When done, plop them on buttered toast and serve with fruit.
Dinner Recipe No. 4: Spaghetti Squash and Sauce
When cooked, spaghetti squash shreds into long, thin strands that resemble -- you guessed it -- spaghetti. You can use it just like the pasta to mix things up with a healthier spin.
- Spaghetti squash
- Bread (one loaf)
- 1-2 jars spaghetti sauce
- Mushrooms, diced
- Squash, diced
- Onions, diced
- Fruit (served on the side)
Directions: Take a spaghetti squash and cut it in half. Clean out the insides, then lay each piece of the squash face down on a flat pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.
While the squash is cooking, make your own spaghetti sauce or use any kind from a jar. Depending on what vegetables I have, I always add them to the sauce as well: Mushrooms, squash, and onions all work great.
Once your squash is done cooking, use paper towels or regular towels to suck up all the extra moisture. Then you can shred your spaghetti squash and serve it like you would regular spaghetti. Offer buttered toast on the side, and you’re set.
Dinner Recipe No. 5: Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a cheap, easy, and tasty meal pretty much anyone can pull off.
- Sliced cheese
- Canned tomato soup (I like the generic version of Campbell’s – sue me!)
Directions: Simply grill some bread on your stove top with butter, melting your favorite cheese between two slices. Serve with your favorite brand of tomato soup, or make your own.
The adults in the house try not to snack too much, but the kids snack all the time. Foods we snack on include:
- Granola bars
- Mandarin oranges
- Carrots with ranch dressing
- Peanut butter toast
While this trip was typical for a week’s worth of groceries, we almost always go to the store at least one more time each week. Usually it’s for milk and bread, but sometimes it’s for a staple ingredient we ran out of. Either way, the goal is to spend between $125 and $150 per week so we can stay under our $600-per-month food total.
How Much Do You Spend on Groceries?
While many families might say spending $150 a week on food is an impossible feat, others probably think I'm spending far too much. Since each family is different, it’s hard to say there’s one perfect food spending budget everyone should adhere to.
I do know that budgeting and meal planning has made a huge difference in our finances, though. Where I once purchased whatever I wanted, I now create a simple meal plan that saves money and reduces waste. And since we’re not dining out very often, we’re eating healthier, too.
- What's An Appropriate Home Food Budget for a Family of Four?
- 20 Strategies for Radically Cutting Your Food Budget
- 17 Vegetarian Recipes to Save Money on Meals
- Using the $1-Per-Meal Strategy to Save Big-Time on Food Costs
Could you spend $150 per week – or less – at the grocery store? What does your food budget look like?