Tips for saving money on food

Liz MacKay has thought a lot about how to save money and create less waste.

She’s been a columnist on CBC PEI’s main street for many years.

As part of our week-long series, Cash Crunch: Surviving Inflation on PEI, we reached out to her to get some tips on saving money on food.

MacKay has five children, is back in school, and said staying on top of the food budget is more important than ever for their family. Here is what she had to say.

A blackboard with food menu
The MacKay family plans their meals ahead and often replaces meat with other proteins, including beans. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

menu planning

“So menu planning is one of those things that I encourage people to do, but I hadn’t practiced for a long time. And when I went back to school, we had to really get on the boat of menu planning because everybody in our house had to cook and it really does save a lot of money.We end up having a leftover night once a week because there’s things that have been cooked an extra amount … less waste, more money in your pocket if you menu plan.

If you don’t menu plan, then you’re going, ‘okay, what do I have in the cupboard that I can use?’ Or, ‘I’m just going to run into the store and grab a few things,’ but they may not be on sale and then your price is up a little bit higher than what it would have been. When things are on sale that I know that I use, I go and buy a quantity of them.”

Check the flyers

“Look at how much you’ve been spending on groceries and what your regular items are, and start looking at your flyers. See if you can find out when they’re on sale and notice those and start that one small switch.

If it’s something that I see a really good deal in the flyers for, then… this is what we are going to eat this week because it is on sale, especially if it’s a produce thing.”

A woman looks at a cook book
Liz MacKay does menu planning to keep a lid on overspending, by buying what’s on sale that week. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Stay in, or bring your own food

“Eat at home or take your food with you to school or work or wherever you’re going. And cook it from scratch. If you’re cooking things that are quick or already pre-made, then you’re going to be spending more money. The more that you can bake and cook at home, the more money you’re going to save and it’s more nutritious usually, depends on what you’re buying…. Go meatless at least once or twice a week. Cut back on meat that you are eating because that is a very expensive part and it’ll give you new flavors.

I think that the mistakes that generally happen are we buy things that are very quick to eat because ‘hey, I just have to warm it up in a pot or the microwave’ or whatever…. That really increases your food budget a lot. Also, eating food that you’re paying for that either goes to waste or it’s not gonna fill you. If you’re eating food that fills you, you’re not going to be as hungry and your food prices go down.”

Family eating at a table
The MacKay family enjoys one of their favorite meals together. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Garden if you can

“We do container gardening and we garden outside of our home.

We’re going to experiment with gardening year-round in the home this year just to see what happens, especially with lettuce, because lettuce is expensive and we like to eat a lot of salad. We have strawberry plants and blackberry plants that we’ve gotten from other people.”

Maximize leftovers

“When we have a chicken dinner we boil the carcass to make broth from it so that we can use it in other recipes. But anything that’s made in bulk, we put it in the freezer in individual servings. And then once in a while on those nights that I don’t want to cook and the kids don’t want to cook and my husband doesn’t want to cook, it’s a fend for yourself freezer night It has to be something that was already cooked and then it’s a quick and easy meals to have right away.

Just make sure you label your leftovers that are going in. Label what it is and the date because you want to know when you put it in the freezer before it gets buried forever.”

Man wraps chicken in paper
The MacKay family buys things like chicken breasts in bulk and then freezes them individually for use later. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Be intentional

“You really have to be mindful… really analyzing what you’re eating and how you’re eating it and where you’re getting it from.

It’s a really important activity that you need to do yourself because it’s not something someone else can come in and say, ‘hey, this is what you need to buy, this is what you need to cook.’ Because it may not be your tastes at all.”

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