The average American family of four eating a low-cost meal plan spends $182.85 per week on groceries, according to the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, February 2016.
Does that sound high to you? Maybe it sounds really low. If you’re in the latter group, $182 a week is probably like a tiny drop in the vast ocean of your weekly food budget. But don’t worry, there are some ways you can take control back. I know because I finally did it.
I’d fooled around with coupons for years, but couldn’t seem to rein in our food budget. What really did it was changing where I shopped. Switching from buying the bulk of groceries for my family of four at Publix to buying them at Aldi made all the difference — and I have the receipt to prove it!
Here’s what I’ve learned belatedly (I’ve been on Team Clark for 9 years so you would think I’d have been quicker to adopt Aldi!) about how to feed a family of four for $101 per week.
1. Limit the meat
Beef prices may be dropping, but meat is still pretty costly as a protein when you break it down. One of our writers Mike Timmermann crunched the numbers and found protein-sources like rice and beans and peanut butter are way cheaper. We opted this week for some fancy Italian-style deli meat ($2.99), some chicken nuggets ($4.99) and several different dairy products (feta crumbles, shredded mozzarella and more) for protein.
2. Buy organics sparingly and strategically
If you don’t care about organics, you can really save money at Aldi. Take a look at my shopping list; I’ve opted for two packages of organic baby carrots at $1.29 a pop. But I could have saved even more if I wasn’t into organic food. The same size package on non-organic baby carrots was 49 cents this past weekend!
The best strategy is to buy organics sparingly and strategically. The Environmental Working Group has long published a ‘Dirty Dozen’ list that tracks the 12 most pesticide-laden fruit and veggies so you can know what you probably should buy organic. On the flip side, they also publish a ‘Clean 15’ list made up of produce that you never have to buy organic because it has so little pesticide residue.
3. Skip the convenience packages
I opted this week to buy a six-pack of individually wrapped Mini Babybel cheeses for $2.79 instead of a larger wheel of the same cheese that had a lower cost per ounce. That’s money I could have saved but didn’t. Hey, nobody’s perfect!
4. Have something really light for your last meal
My main meals are breakfast and lunch. Dinner is more like an afterthought for me. That usually means my last meal of the day is juicing carrots, berries, apples or any of a whole host of rotating produce that I can get on sale. Planning my eating like this really helps keep the food budget (and my waistline) in check!
Read more: 19 ‘healthy foods’ you should reconsider