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Eat Well, Spend Less

Eat Well, Spend Less: Pantry organization and food storage (must-see links!)

Eat Well, Spend Less is an ongoing series, and my last post was about how to store your Costco purchases (or other bulk purchases). I get the majority of my regular groceries at Costco (find out why here!) and shared all my tips on how I make it work in our household! :)

Here are the rest of May's Eat Well, Spend Less posts on pantry organization and food storage:


Keep a Tidy Pantry to Save Money (from Jessica at Life As Mom)

Extreme Pantry Makeover (from Katie at GoodLifeEats)

The Power of an Organized Pantry (from Mandi at Life...Your Way)

How to Store Pantry Food for Maximum Shelf Life (from Aimee at Simple Bites)

Limiting Food Storage (from Shaina at Food For My Family)

Life Without A Deep Freezer (from Carrie at Denver Bargains)

Unusual (Frugal) Storage Methods (from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship)

How NOT to organize a Pantry (from Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom)

 

Watch for the next post in this series, coming next week! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: How to store food from Costco (and other bulk storage solutions!)

I love shopping at Costco! After moving to the Seattle area and living quite close to Costco, I'm really hooked on their quality products, return policy, and competitive pricing. I don't buy everything at Costco, but I have been doing the vast majority of my grocery shopping at Costco for the past 2+ years.

During this time, our family of 5 (and then 6!) has lived in a 2-bedroom apartment (for 2 years) and now a rental house. While my storage space has significantly increased since our move from the apartment, I don't really do a lot differently aside from no longer having our master bedroom closet packed full of food buckets. ;)

Costco produce section

Here are some of my methods for storing bulk purchases, like the food I buy from Costco:

#1: Avoid clutter or unnecessary things in your kitchen and home.

If your kitchen cupboards, fridge, and freezer are already packed with food, condiments, old food you keep planning to use but never do, and stuff you like but rarely use, then trying to fit bulk food purchases into your kitchen won't be easy. I really recommend going through your pantry, fridge, and freezer, and eliminating unnecessary items. If something is outdated or no longer good, you can toss it. Otherwise, I like to set things aside in a box or container so I can remember to use them -- and making a menu plan that includes those things helps a lot, too! :)

For specific ideas or to see what my kitchen cupboards look like, my kitchen tour video includes a look into each cupboard. Your "essentials" will look different from mine, but sometimes showing is easier than explaining. :)

Here's a look into what I had in my kitchen cupboards when we lived in the apartment. Admittedly the cupboards were packed fuller, but still accessible and user-friendly. ;)

Tips for storing bulk items in the fridge

Adjust shelves if possible. In our small(er) apartment fridge, the shelves were fixed and it was a challenge to fit enough fresh food there for our family. Now, our fridge has adjustable shelves and it's so much easier to adjust for certain large sizes (like the 5-dozen carton of eggs, the 6-pack of Romaine lettuce, or the many gallons of milk we buy).

Don't open too many things at once. Plan ahead to use an ingredient in several recipes, so none of it goes to waste. Or, as soon as you open the package, freeze some for later. It's better to freeze when it's fresh, anyway! :) Planning a menu may be your greatest help in the area of food waste and bulk purchases.

Be creative! Our milk comes in the rectangular jugs (flat on top), and I've found I can put containers on top of the milk jugs in the fridge. Our eggs from Costco are packaged as 5 dozen eggs, on two flat (stacked) cardboard trays. This is fairly space-efficient when full, but when it's half-empty there's a lot of wasted space. I cut down two of the trays and when we have 2-3 dozen eggs used from our carton, I ask one of the boys to carefully transfer the remaining eggs to smaller trays. They love that job and I appreciate the extra space I have in the fridge then! :)

Tips for storing bulk items in the freezer

If you're short on freezer space, limit the amount of frozen prepared foods you buy. The frozen dinners or meals that come in a big box in Costco's freezer section are huge if you have just a small freezer (like we did until very recently).

Take frozen foods out of the boxes to maximize freezer space (leave all plastic packaging intact). Save the directions from the box if you do this, though! Either tape the directions (cut out from the box) onto the item, or store the directions where you'll be able to find them when needed. (If you have strong magnets, you might be able to put them on the side of the fridge.)

If you do have plenty of freezer space, that will make shopping at Costco even easier. Many things can be frozen to either save space in your fridge or help reduce food waste.

Some of the foods I've successfully frozen include: Milk (in the jug), butter, cheese (shredded or blocks or sliced), tortillas (flour or corn), breads (for a few weeks), nuts, dry yeast, turkey bacon, and lunchmeat.

Tips for storing bulk items in the pantry

When possible, I leave things in their original containers. I'm not at home right now and can't take pictures of my pantry -- so you'll have to peer around Moshe (above) to see the Costco items in my "pantry" (or watch the kitchen tour video for a look into my pantry cupboard). :)

I like to use glass jars for short term food storage. Glass jars can be used long-term (a year or more) provided they seal tightly and are stored in a dark location. See this post for tips about using glass jars for food storage.

I use glass pickle jars, and even a few other large glass jars from things like artichoke hearts from Costco. I recently got a 25-pound bag of salt at Costco and put it into glass jars to keep it dry until it is used. (That salt will be used from in my everyday cooking, but the large amount is part of my long-term food storage supply. I don't want to have to eat lots of my beloved pinto beans without salt!) ;)

Table salt in glass jars
Table salt stored in glass pickle and artichoke heart jars (see this post for tips on removing the smell from the lids first!)  --yes, I finally put away the bag of salt in this messy-kitchen video!

Other things to store in glass jars: grains, flours, beans, oatmeal, rice, honey, molasses, or sugars.

For long-term food storage or high-volume items, I use plastic buckets. Go here for more info about obtaining and using buckets for food storage.

Some of the things I buy at Costco and store in plastic buckets are: bread flour, all-purpose flour, pinto beans, black beans, lentils, rolled oats, and rice.

Buckets are especially nice for food storage because they can be easily stashed on the floor in a closet, or stacked in the kitchen, in a garage, or in an enclosed porch.

Costco has great prices on a lot of their spices and seasonings! They come in large shaker bottles, so if it's an ingredient I use regularly (like cinnamon or garlic), I just leave it in the bottle. Otherwise, I have a smaller spice bottle that I refill from the larger one.

I love to experiment in the kitchen, and often try a new recipe that calls for ingredients not on our normal menu -- like the Kalamata olives in Greek Spinach Orzo Salad, the sun-dried tomatoes on Mediterranean Herb Chicken Pizza, or the artichoke hearts on Thin-Crust Chicken Bacon Artichoke Pizza. Costco also has delicious specialty cheeses!

When needed, I buy those special ingredients at Costco (if possible), and then incorporate them into our meals until used up. I don't always have all those ingredients on hand, however, and certainly not all in opened jars in the fridge at once. :) It's fun to try new things, and I love variety! But I've found that limiting the number of things in the fridge at one time helps me use what's already open and avoid unintentionally letting food spoil.

I like Costco's environmentally friendly dishwashing liquid -- but it comes in a huge bottle! I refill a hand soap pump bottle at the kitchen sink with the dishwashing liquid and use from that small pump bottle rather than the big bottle.

Costco frozen seafood
Costco's frozen seafood aisle in Toledo, Ohio

I'm writing this post from my parents' house in Ohio. (Still another 10 days to go on our visit here -- yay!) Aside from battling colds all week, we're having a great time.

My brother took us to "his" Costco in Toledo, Ohio last week. Many items were the same price as "my" Costco in Seattle, but most of the produce was significantly higher priced, much to my surprise! It was also a smaller Costco than "ours". My mom stocked up on bread flour, dry yeast, cinnamon, granulated garlic, and some cheese.

Of course, I had to check out the seafood aisle. :) It looks nearly identical to what Costco in Seattle carries. My parents got a bag of Trident Ultimate Fish Sticks to try. (They're great if you like fish sticks!) :)

Those of you who shop at Costco, Sam's, BJ's, or just buy in bulk -- what tips do you have to share about storing and using from your purchases? I'd love to hear! :)

More about Costco:

Is Costco Frugal?

Why I love shopping at Costco!

Poll: Do you shop at Costco?

Eat Well, Spend Less: Nine $50 Grocery Card Giveaways!

This week, the Eat Well, Spend Less series is offering NINE $50 Kroger grocery card giveaways!

To be entered to win a $50 Kroger grocery card (good at any Kroger family of stores), leave a comment on this post!

For a second entry, "Like"  Tammy's Recipes on Facebook, and comment here letting me know you did so! :)

For a third entry, "Like" Kroger on Facebook and comment here letting me know you did so! :)

Giveaway is open through Sunday, May 1, 2011.

Kroger is sponsoring these giveaways. Each giveaway is for a separate $50 card -- $450 total value! :)

For EIGHT MORE $50 grocery card giveaways, visit these ladies and enter their giveaways!

Jessica at Life As Mom

Katie at goodLife {eats}

Aimee at Simple Bites

Mandi at Life Your Way

Shaina at Food For My Family

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship

Carrie at Denver Bargains

Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom

Eat Well, Spend Less: Week Three Series Links

I am so honored to be a part of the Eat Well, Spend Less series! Jessica from Life As Mom has done a great job brainstorming and helping us create a timely series that covers lots of bases!

My post this week detailed three things about the way I shop and prepare meals to save time and money while still eating well: Eat affordable + nutritious foods, shop at 1-2 stores, and plan for healthy eating during busy times.

Here are the 8 other posts -- full of regional tips and much more -- all well worth checking out! I've found so much inspiration here and I know I'll be returning to implement some of these ideas in our own home! :)

Jessica at Life As Mom writes about saving money on food in Southern California.

Carie at Denver Bargains shares about how she shops at 10+ stores in Colorado!

Aimee at Simple Bites writes about her shopping strategy in Canada here. 

Mandi at Life Your Way discusses grocery shopping when you live in the boonies. :)

Shaina at Food For My Family gives her tips for grocery shopping in the Midwest. 

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship shares her food sources in Michigan and the Midwest here. 

Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom talks about how her family eats well while spending less in Texas. 

Katie at Good Life Eats shares how she shops to save!

 

No matter what part of the country you're from, you'll enjoy and benefit from the posts in this series! :)

Also, stay tuned this week, as we have some great giveaways coming as a wrap-up for the Eat Well, Spend Less series! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: My money-saving, time-saving, healthy-eating method

This post is the third and final post in the Eat Well, Spend Less series! I'm honored to be a part of this series along with other great bloggers representing various parts of the U.S. (and Canada!).

If you're new here, welcome! I'm Tammy, I'm a Seattle transplant, and we love good food!

Money-saving. Time-saving. And healthy eating?! One of the goals of the Eat Well, Spend Less series has been to help you learn how to get the best from your grocery budget, your family dinners, and your time investment...

...because I don't know anyone who has limitless time or money to spend in the kitchen or in the grocery store aisle! But we all want to eat good healthy food, right?

So in this post, I'm going to tell you what works for our family. In short, we:

1. Eat affordable + nutritious (or "whole") foods.

2. Shop at 1-2 stores.

3. Plan for healthy eating, even during busy or stressful times.

1. Eat affordable + nutritious (or "whole") foods.

We've found some inexpensive, healthy foods that we like to eat, and I make sure I plan those weekly! This gives us more resources to enjoy variety the rest of the time... because we really do enjoy good food! :)

I've elaborated on this in my post about our top 5 favorite frugal foods: Oatmeal, beans, soup, bread, and yogurt/kefir. Check out that post for lots of creative serving suggestions, because those foods are anything but boring! :)

2. Shop at 1-2 stores.

I know, I know. I have heard over and over again from people who use coupons and shop several stores weekly, that the reason my grocery budget is "so high" is because I'm not taking advantage of the loss leaders at different stores.

When we first moved to the Seattle area, I was in awe of the number of grocery stores within a 5-mile radius! I even blogged about it, and got lots of great advice and even more suggestions about where to get good deals on food in the Seattle area!

My excitement was short-lived, though. I quickly realized that 5 miles, or even 3 miles, was quite a drive with traffic, and as a 1-vehicle family, grocery shopping during lighter traffic hours wasn't always possible.

Stores move around their items frequently, so just running in for a couple items wasn't always very quick, especially with lots of little kids.

Most of the truly good sales (in my opinion!) have ridiculously low limits for a large(r) family size.

We started getting Red Plum coupon inserts in the mail, but I could rarely seem to match up a coupon with a good sale to get items we needed for a price I was willing to pay. I use very few toiletries, we don't have pets, I use cloth diapers, and we don't buy processed foods (very often).

The "normal" sale prices are almost always quite comparable to Costco's everyday prices.

That last part was the clincher! I love shopping at Costco. With a growing family, we just don't have trouble using those 5-pound bags of organic veggies or big bags of dried beans. Is Costco frugal? I certainly think it can be, and I've been getting the majority of our groceries at Costco for a couple years now. You can see pictures and price breakdowns from some of my Costco shopping trips here.

My reasons for doing most of our shopping at Costco include: We go through a lot of food, Costco is 3 miles from our house, I don't like spending lots of time running to lots of stores, and more. I think most weeks we spend a total of 2 1/2 hours (including driving time and making the grocery list!) on shopping. Many weeks, Joshua does the shopping for me (with a list I've prepared) and despite the occasional (not on the list) doughnut purchase, I love not having to go to the store at all!

3. Plan for healthy eating, even during busy or stressful times.

When we're busy (and who isn't busy these days?!), it's HARD to eat well on a budget. I've been trying to do some planning and preparing for each week (on Sunday, for me) to help us eat better all week.

What my weekly planning includes (or should include!):

--Making a weekly menu plan.

--Making salads for the week. These keep in the fridge and are an instant healthy lunch option. I would NEVER eat a salad for lunch if I had to make it every day. Doing them up ahead means I WILL GRAB one when I'm hungry! :)

--Making oatmeal for the week. I cook a big pan of oatmeal and put it into containers for Joshua's breakfast at work (he re-warms in the microwave). The extra oatmeal, we re-warm in bowls for breakfast(s) through the week. I usually end up cooking oatmeal 2-3 times a week this way, instead of every day! A bowl of oatmeal also makes a good snack.

--Cook beans in the crock pot. I love the texture of dried beans in the slow-cooker! If you've not tried cooking dried beans in a crock pot, you're seriously missing out! A big crock pot of cooked pinto beans can be put in containers and frozen or refrigerated for use in bean burritos (or make freezer bean & rice burritos), or eaten with hot sauce and sour cream for lunch. We love pinto beans, and having some cooked ahead makes them a quick, filling, healthy lunch or snack.

--Put washed fruit (apples, or whatever's a good deal) in a produce drawer in the fridge for a quick healthy snack. I don't usually cut/prep fruit more than 1 day in advance, so it stays fresh and delicious.

--Make homemade mocha frappuccinos for Joshua's lunchbox. (Yes, I always pack a lunch for Joshua!) These can be made with protein powder added, to make them more than a morning coffee pick-me-up drink. Joshua drank one of these daily for probably 18+ months, but recently stopped so I haven't been making these any more. But I used to mix up 5-7 at one time and store them in the fridge so they were ready for the week! :)

I'll be linking up to the rest of this week's Eat Well, Spend Less posts tomorrow, so stay tuned! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: Week Two Series Links

I am so honored to be a part of the Eat Well, Spend Less series! Jessica from Life As Mom has done a great job brainstorming and helping us create a timely series that covers lots of bases!

My post this week detailed my 5 top favorite frugal foods and how I serve them. Here are the 8 other posts along that theme -- all well worth checking out! I've found so much inspiration here and I know I'll be returning to implement some of these ideas in our own home! :)

Jessica at Life As Mom writes about her five favorite meals that help her save money without sacrificing appeal. I love how she shares about a few of her splurges, as well. Grocery budget help from people who eat and enjoy really good food is very much my style! (Tell me to live on soup? Let's at least make it fun!) You'll love her food photos, too.

Carie at Denver Bargains shares 5 great pantry meals you can make affordably. "For me, the key to cooking frugally is to be willing to experiment: there aren’t very many recipes in my house that are set in stone.  I try not to let the lack of one or two ingredients keep me from making a meal, so I often experiment with different substitutions!" Also see Carrie's wonderful post "Eating, Spending Nothing: How to live off your pantry".

Aimee at Simple Bites delivers her 5 favorite frugal recipes with photos that make me drool! The Lentil Shepherd's Pie looks especially gourmet! I also second her suggestion of black bean burgers -- such a favorite! :)

Mandi at Life Your Way shares recipes for her 5 frugal meals here. Smoothies are one of her suggestions, and it's one I've turned to for a healthy, easy dessert or breakfast. (For the past couple weeks, whenever the kids ask for dessert, I say "Okay, what kind of fruit do you want on your yogurt/kefir?" ;)

Shaina at Food For My Family writes "When Two Meals Become Five". Shaina always draws me in with her amazing photography! This week she shares about her food budget categories (categories? I am so haphazard in comparison!) and some of her personal food savings tips!

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship shares her Five Frugal Must-Have Real Foods. Umm, yum?! :) I love Katie's suggestions, and even though they're similar to my own from this week, her post is a great read!

Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom gives her tricks for making frugal meals, including "Use garlic liberally!" and "Keep it simple". See Alyssa's meal list and the rest of her tips here! :)

Katie at Good Life Eats shares Pantry Meals To Keep The Budget On Track. Katie gives 5 frugal pantry breakfast meals, 5 dinner meals, and 3 dessert ideas. Everything she suggests sounds delicious to me, and you won't want to miss her usual, outstanding photography! :)

Next week, we'll all be sharing the final installment in the Eat Well, Spend Less series! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: 5 Favorite Frugal Meals

This week in the Eat Well, Spend Less series, our topic is 5 favorite frugal meals.

I've found that regularly serving meals that we like that are affordable is the easiest way for me to stay within budget at the grocery store! Here are my top picks. :)

#1: Oatmeal for breakfast!

Now, before you say "Oatmeal is boring!" and skip to the next item, wait just a minute. I want to tell you how to get a good deal on oatmeal and how to serve it so your family will love it -- not just tolerate it. ;)

Where I get my oatmeal:

I buy rolled oats, and have found the best deal is to get them in a 50-pound bag. Check health food stores, bulk food stores, or a co-op for availability. (Calling the store is an easy way to find out if you can purchase in large quantities!) I also can get Quaker rolled oats at Costco for about $0.70/lb. (in a 10 pound box). I occasionally have a need for "quick oats", so I just give my "old fashioned" rolled oats a whirl in the food processor before using them as "quick oats".

Whether you buy quick oats, rolled oats, steel cut oats, or whole oats (oat groats), you can still check into bulk purchasing! They keep well in a dry, sealed bucket.

How I serve oatmeal:

Now honestly, I usually serve our oatmeal with some fruit, cinnamon, and milk. It's easy, healthy, and it's our breakfast at least 5 days a week! (Joshua takes containers of leftover oatmeal to work and re-warms them for his breakfast there.)

But we do switch things up sometimes and add nuts on top (think melty butter + chopped pecans, or apple chunks + walnut pieces)! For overnight guests (or brunch), my Easy Baked Apple Oatmeal is always well received. I've served it to guests who told me afterwards, "I don't usually like oatmeal but this is awesome!!" :)

Bonus: I've also made my own instant oatmeal packets! :)

Beans and rice

#2: Beans and Rice

Another typical penny-pinching food? Maybe, but I'm so glad I learned how to cook beans! :) Joshua, who used to tell me not to overdo it with beans, now thoroughly enjoys my cooked pinto beans and rice.

Where I buy beans:

Beans are another food that is perfect for bulk buying. Dry beans should keep for a year or so. I buy my pinto beans (and a couple other kinds) at Costco for about $0.50/lb. (25 pound bags). Again, check with bulk food stores, health food stores, and health food co-ops to see what kind of deal you can get on beans.

Pinto beans with toppings
Cooked Pinto Beans, topped with cheese, avocado, and fresh tomato salsa

What I do with beans:

Pinto beans and rice -- a simple, filling meal. My favorite way is to cook the pinto beans in my slow cooker. They are unbelievably good! (This post has lots of detailed info on how I cook my beans!)

I like to dress up pinto beans with toppings like shredded cheese, hot sauce, sour cream, or salsa. If avocados are on sale, those are great too! :)

Freezer-Friendly Bean and Rice Burritos -- an easy freezer meal that we love! I even have a video and photo tutorial for these burritos at that link. They're so delicious!

I love cooking with beans! See lots more of my bean recipes here. :)

Bonus: Remember The Everything Beans Book I reviewed a few weeks ago? Well, there's an exclusive 40% off code good through Wednesday, April 13 at midnight MST for The Everything Beans Book, making it just $6 instead of $10! Discount code: SPENDLESS

Veggie Bean Soup with Spinach recipe
Veggie Bean Soup With Spinach -- one of my favorite healthy soups!

#3: Soup!

Soup is (usually) affordable to make, can be fairly low-calorie, and doesn't take a lot of time to prepare! Click here for my soup recipes! :)

#4: Homemade bread...

...which doesn't have to be difficult. :) I have way too many favorite bread recipes, but here are some of the best:

Italian Cheese Bread -- easy and very well reviewed. I take this to potlucks.
Homemade wheat bread -- my standard loaf of bread. YUM.
Homemade unleavened bread (Matzah) -- what we'll be eating next week! :)
Quick and Easy Breadsticks -- buttery goodness. (Non-yeast)
Hearty Herb Bread -- a simple loaf that's super good with soup!
Italian Garlic Knots -- I love garlic.
Challah -- but of course. LOVE!
Pumpkin Dinner Rolls -- my very fave dinner roll, but more work than...
One Hour Dinner Rolls

#5: Homemade yogurt or kefir

Now, I am not on the homemade yogurt bandwagon. I've kept on trying, even after my post about giving up on it. Today when I tried to start some homemade yogurt, I scorched 8 cups of milk in my crock pot because I didn't watch it carefully enough. Sigh.

Last week, my yogurt was a success (!!!) but was still a lot of babysitting. (Milk at 140? Cool some more... Oh no, milk at 80 degrees! Reheat... oh, back up to 130 already? Finally, caught it at ~120 and slipped in the yogurt starter. Phew.)

But. If you're not like me, you might even have fun making yogurt and it's pretty affordable.

What I love, though, is my thick and creamy homemade kefir. It requires NO babysitting, and the culture grows so instead of buying starter from the store, I actually end up with extras to share with friends. Yay! :)


Kefir -- a quick and easy (drinkable!) breakfast food! :)

How I serve homemade yogurt or kefir:

-Sweeten with maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar and drink through a straw (or with a spoon)
-Serve with fresh or frozen fruit
-Use in cooking (How to use kefir or yogurt in recipes?)
-Serve with granola or oatmeal

Popcorn cereal
Popcorn Cereal recipe (a breakfast from my childhood)

#6 (Bonus): Homemade popcorn. :)

Whether you like it sweet, cheesy, or for breakfast, popcorn is one of the few snacks we keep on hand! :)

Tell me about your favorite frugal meal in the comments, or come back later today for links to the other participants in the Eat Well, Spend Less series! :)

Eat Well, Spend Less series: Covering every facet of grocery budgeting and styles!

Yesterday, I promised a round up of all the posts in the Eat Well, Spend Less series! I've poured over each of these posts and they are well worth your time!

Jessica at Life As Mom writes about Avoiding Expensive Ingredients to Eat Well & Spend Less. Her post is right on! You know from my grocery shopping posts that even though we eat lots of beans and rice (yum!), we also splurge where it matters to us, and good food does matter to us. Go read Jessica's post; I smiled through the whole thing! :)

Carie at Denver Bargains writes about Simple Steps To Get Started Using Coupons. Carrie's post is an approachable guide and that girl knows her stuff! (She'll answer your questions in the comments, too!)

Aimee at Simple Bites shares Homemade Substitutes for Grocery Staples. I love her suggestions, and there's tons of discussion in the comments at her post, too! :)

Mandi at Life Your Way writes about how she is able to Budget for Lots of Fresh Produce. I'm on board with that, for sure! :)

Shaina at Food For My Family has a stellar post about Menus and Meal Planning. Seriously, go read her post and get inspired! I'm not the best menu-planner and I needed to read her advice!! :)

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship outdoes herself again with two posts: When to Splurge, settle, and skip and Cutting the Budget on Whole Foods. She shares what works for them and gives real-food food budgeting encouragement, all without making me feel guilty for those cinnamon rolls I made last week. ;)

Alyssa at Kingdom First Mom writes about Using Coupons on Healthier Foods. Her insights are a valuable tool for anyone who wants to use coupons but not buy as much processed stuff! :)

Katie at Good Life Eats shares about Homemade DIY Pantry Staples. Along with some great ideas, Katie's food photography always amazes me! Her food blog has some of the best food photos, period. (My pics look a little boring after you come back from her blog...) ;)

And my own contribution, where I write about buying in bulk, long term food storage, and even touch on losing weight on a budget. :)

Eat Well, Spend Less: Buying in bulk, long-term food storage, and our personal methods

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series titled "Eat Well, Spend Less". I'm honored to be a part of this series along with other great bloggers representing various parts of the U.S. (and Canada!). I'll be sharing links to their insights tomorrow! (Stay tuned!)

If this is your first time here, welcome! I'm Tammy, I'm a Seattle transplant, and we love good food!

Do you ever cringe when the cashier finishes scanning your groceries and says your total? I know I do! I don't shop with a calculator in hand, but I do shop with a list and usually buy healthy foods that we need and will use. Still, if there's a way to save money on groceries without sacrificing quality or nutrition, I'm all ears! :)

Aside from going on a diet (which I should be doing anyway...), I'm going to share how we save at the grocery store. The topics covered in this first article:

Planning is the key to eating well on a budget

Costco, and why I love it!

How to buy in bulk (no matter how big your pantry is)

Long-term food storage: What and how?

How do I lose weight on a budget, anyway?

Planning is the key to eating well on a budget

Honestly, I believe that planning is the single most important thing I do in the kitchen!

Start the week with a list -- your menu plan. Go to the store with a list -- your "shopping plan". Planning will save you frustration and even time -- even when you're cooking from scratch!

Instead of wandering in the kitchen wondering what to start for dinner, you will be making it. Instead of waiting until the last minute and either opening cans of something or going out to eat, you will have started dinner in the crock pot or have planned a freezer meal.

We very rarely go out to eat, but we did one evening last week and while I enjoyed the break from cooking dinner, I quickly realized that cooking dinner at home is one of the most important things I can do to help our family save money!!

Going out to eat seems to offer the choice of cheap food that I feel guilty feeding to my family, or expensive food that we can eat without guilt. We went with the more expensive option, and it brought into sharp focus the importance of, ummm, eating dinner at home! ;)

Costco, and why I love it!

My grocery shopping posts are a bit repetitive. We live 4 miles from Costco and I've made it my 1-stop shopping trip. (See my post "Is Costco Frugal?" for a discussion about this addiction practice!) I love the quality I find at Costco, the many healthy and organic products they carry, and the fact that their prices are competitive. I stick to buying big bags of whole foods (for the most part, anyway). :)

A few things to remember when shopping at Costco or other warehouse-type stores (Sam's, BJ's, etc.):

Stick to your list! Getting sidetracked at Costco is expensive... nearly everything is $10 or more!

Ask: Can I use this much? If not, consider buying a smaller portion at another store. (Especially if the item is perishable!) If you do go with the bulk purchase, make sure you find creative ways to use the item, freeze some for later (many, many things freeze well!), and don't let it just sit in your pantry. :)

Ask: Is this really a good price? Not everything at Costco is a good price. In general, I find Costco's food to be very competitively priced, though. Find those cheaper items and find ways to use them! :) Also for Costco: wait for your staples to appear in the monthly coupon booklets, if possible. Patience pays off!

How to buy in bulk (no matter how big your pantry is)

Fewer trips to the store always seems to equal less money spent, period. In our apartment, I faced the challenge of a small fridge (with a small freezer attached) and had to make weekly trips to the store for milk, lettuce, and other perishables. Even then, I could still buy many things in bulk!

If it is something you use regularly, consider buying in bulk. Most things are cheaper in bulk! Some of my main bulk purchases:

Flour (25# or 50# bags)
Beans (25# bags... or even 5# containers)
Rice (10# bags)
Sugar, salt
Cheese (5# bags)
Nuts (2-3# bags)
Honey (1/2 gallon)
...and many other things at Costco!

Short on pantry space? We've stored some foods (in plastic buckets) in our garage or enclosed porch. In our apartment, we stacked buckets in our bedroom closet!


Buying in bulk doesn't have to mean buying a lot of something, though. "Bulk food stores" often allow you to purchase a very small amount of something at a great price, all because you're buying it in a plain bag rather than fancy packaging!

Some of my favorite "small" bulk purchases:

Cocoa powder
Shredded coconut
Cornstarch
Seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame, etc.)
...and many baking supplies!

I store these smaller bulk items in glass jars in my kitchen cupboards.

We've been weekly shoppers for years. Leaving our apartment fridge for a house-sized fridge and recently acquiring a small chest freezer has made it possible for us to now shop every 2-3 weeks, with an occasional "banana run" in between. ;)

Some of the things I now buy in bulk and freeze, allowing us to shop less frequently:

Milk (freeze in the jug)
Butter
Cheeses
Flour tortillas
Corn tortillas
Bread
Frozen fruits and veggies
Turkey bacon
Meats (whole chickens, etc.)

Long-term food storage: What and how?

Long-term food storage is simply having a supply of certain foods that can be stored for many years.

Did you realize that most grocery stores get many truckloads of food shipped in each day? Most stores don't have huge stock rooms... their "stock" is all on the shelves!

Food is one of those, you know, essential things... and it's startling to learn that the average American has only a week's worth of food in their home. (Why store extra food?)

Having food stored long-term can be as simple as a few buckets of grains or beans. We started with a few plastic buckets, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers. (You can read all about how we packed the buckets here!) Here is more information about shelf life of stored foods.

But, to capitalize on the frugal advantage of buying in bulk and storing food long-term, I think it's best to learn how to USE the foods we plan to store, and use those foods now! Sure, keep some food packed away for emergency preparedness... but why not have a rotating short-term storage of those foods, as well? :)

My favorite food storage staples:

Wheat and oats (cook for cereals; grind for breads)
Pinto beans (one of our favorites and so easy!)
Sugar and salt

Of course you can branch out from there! I recommend learning how to use an ingredient and then storing it. I like to store dry foods that have a long shelf life and aren't at risk from a power outage.

(I also recommend having a good water filter. Our Berkey water filter will filter water from rivers, streams, or even rain water.)

Healthy snacks

How do I lose weight on a budget, anyway?

Losing weight isn't just about eating less food... it's about trading in those cheap tortilla chips, frozen pizzas, and fill-me-up casseroles (the ones everyone brags about skimping on the meat to save money!) for healthier, low-calorie but filling options. ("Food Budgeting: Spending my calories wisely)

Here are some of the foods we've used to lose weight without substantially increasing our food budget:

Rolled oats (make into oatmeal for breakfast)
Bananas, apples, or whatever fruit is on sale
Frozen veggies or on-sale veggies (steam or eat raw)
Romaine lettuce (make salads ahead w/lettuce, carrots, etc.)
Dry beans (can cook ahead and freeze; use in these recipes)
Brown rice (can cook ahead and freeze)
Ingredients to make soups (veggie or bean-based, freezer-friendly!)
Lean protein -- chicken is what we get

We do still buy some expensive things like nuts, for example, but measure/weigh our servings which makes them last a LOT longer! I have more weight loss inspiration here. :)

Phew, that was a lot of topics all in one! But there you have it -- an overview of our personal approach to eating good food, buying in bulk, and storing food -- while staying out of debt.

By the way, my target grocery budget is currently $420 monthly for our family of 2 adults and children ages 7, 5, 3, and 1. I've been blogging my grocery trips this year with item prices, and you can find those posts here! :) I also shared some ramblings (and confessions) about our grocery budget here. :)

I'll be back tomorrow with links to the other great posts from the Eat Well, Spend Less series! :) In the mean time, I'd love to hear from you in the comments... hint, hint ;)