Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Australian $100 Grocery Challenge

Recently we have been working though our budget and looking for areas that we can cut back on without it hurting too much.  One area that I noticed perhaps I could cut back (even though I have already) was in our weekly grocery shopping.  I've already mentioned that every time I visit the supermarket the bill seems to be larger than the time before and I seem to be leaving with less and less...
So I thought what better way to test this than to do a mock shopping trip in the convenience of my own lounge room.
I started with what I consider the most expensive part of the shopping trip - the meat section. Our family of 4 has definitely cut back on the amount of meat we consume - going from around 200g each to more like 100g each for Matt and I and 50g each for the girls.  Instead of 500g for dinner I am now using more like 300g.
So, to start the trip I thought about the cuts that are cheap and can be used in numerous ways.  I came up with:
*Mince beef - a regular in our house for meals like spaghetti bolognese, soft tacos, and hamburgers.
*Chicken thighs (bone in) - can be used in casserole, pasta bake, and soup.
*Beef chuck steak - can be used in casseroles and curries.
*Fish - there was a while when we were eating no fish at all, but the kids seem to like having fish and I know it is good for our bodies so I decided once a week would be a good aim.
*Bacon - we use bacon in lots of things and while it's not technically a 'meat' it can be used in quiche or soups, on pizza or in hamburgers to add a bit of flavour and extra protein - and if there are any bacon and eggs left you could fry up the ultimate indulgent breakfast.
I then added in the dairy part of the menu.  This is where things start to get tricky.  Some weeks we use more milk than others.  Butter and yoghurt generally last longer than a week - more like 2.  Eggs get used at different rates depending on what dishes (or baking) is being done.  Basically I stuck to a fairly minimal list of one of each, with 4 litres of milk.
Then came specific items for dishes I would be cooking - as mentioned spaghetti bolognese, another pasta dish, rice with curry, wraps and seasoning for tacos and pizza, any other ingredients that were 'must have' like stock powder (which worked out cheaper than cubes and way cheaper than the liquid stuff) and bread and crispbreads that get used for lunches and snacks.
My only 'indulgences' were the 3L orange juice and the 2L Lemonade.  The juice isn't so much of an indulgence but some can go without, while the lemonade (at $2 for 2L) could be swapped for sweet biscuits or a chocolate treat instead.
By the time I finished the 'grocery' items my total was $101.55 - $1.55 over my aim of $100 for a weeks food for a family of 4 with 2 small children.

I'm sure like any shopping trip there are bits I have forgotten but with the addition of the fresh produce I'm sure I could make at least 7 breakfasts, lunches and dinners out of this list.
If I alter it and make it actual costs for what would be used (half the fish, half the yoghurt, half the rice, 1/4 the tomato paste and curry paste, and 1/4 the 'wheat biscuits' AKA breakfast cereal) the price for the above list should be $86.35.  Add to that my estimate based on last weeks spend of $18 for fruit and veg = $104.35.  Not too shabby.
Examples of meals using the above items:
1. Spaghetti Bolognese - 1/2 the mince, pasta sauce, spaghetti + portion of tomato paste, carrot, celery and onion ($5.94 excluding paste and vegies)
2. Chicken pasta bake - 1/2 the thigh cutlets, can of diced tomatoes, penne pasta + cheese, milk, onion, and any seasonal vegetables taste ($3.70 + portion of milk, cheese and any vegetables used)
3. Tacos - 1/2 the mince, taco seasoning, pitta bread + cheese, tomato and lettuce ($6.53 + portion of cheese and veggies)
4. Indian curry (could easily be made without meat) - Chuck steak, red lentils, curry paste + portion of vegetable stock, portion of rice and potatoes, carrot, pumpkin, etc. ($6.73 + extras)
5. Quiche or egg based bake - 1/2 the eggs, 1/2 the bacon + portion of cheese and various vegetables ($4.07 + extras)
6. Fish and chips - Fish, one egg + flour (to make batter), oil, potatoes and any vegetables to accompany ($5.77 + extras)
7. Chicken and Vegetable soup - 1/2 chicken thighs, 1/2 the bacon, packet of soup mix (lentils and beans), can of diced tomatoes + portion of chicken stock and lots of various vegetables cut finely ($7.35 + extras)
8. Pitta Pizzas - pitta bread + portion of tomato paste, portion of cheese, various vegetables and if excluded the bacon from previous soup you could use it on the pizzas if you prefer meat too. ($2.39 + extras)
Breakfasts - 'wheat biscuits' (Weetbix), toast and/or eggs.
Lunches - sandwiches with spreads (jam, vegemite, etc) or salad fillings, leftovers - esp. soup, crispbreads with cheese, and the choice of one meal above to be used as a lunch instead - e.g. chicken pasta bake.

Obviously this is a food only experiment and any household or personal items would need to be added.
I am kind of surprised that I could succeed with a figure of about $100 for a whole week.  Now the true test will be to put this into practice!