This Mom of 3 Stretches $150 Into a Week of Meals With Specialty Ingredients — Here's How

She shops mainly online, a strategy that translates to cost savings that accommodate pricey gluten-free items.

a young woman with blonde hair stands in front of a yellow and orange background
Photo: Courtesy of Carolyn Truett

Carolyn Truett is the gluten-free food blogger behind Caramel & Cashews. She lives in Greenville, S.C., with her husband and three kids, ages one, four, and seven.

"My husband and I have budgeted since the day we said I do — and even before that — so we've always lived within our means even when we had things like school debt to pay," she says. "Now we live comfortably but still stick to a budget as things like eating out and multiple grocery trips can add up really fast."

Their weekly food budget is $150, which proves especially tight given the needs of a specialty diet. "We raised [the budget] when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease because the cost of things like bread, frozen pizza, and crackers doubled in price," she says.

Here's how she manages the family's food needs without exceeding the budget.

Practice "Intentional" Online Grocery Shopping

Truett shops for groceries almost exclusively online. She estimates it breaks down to 80 percent shopping online for Walmart pickup or delivery, and 20 percent of the time she shops the sales at Publix.

"I try to only buy items that are on sale and purchase the rest online," she says. "This way everything I purchase is intentional because I have to search for it instead of just seeing things on shelves as I pass by them. It also means my kiddos aren't begging me for unhealthy snacks the entire time, which can really add up."

She recommends the online shopping approach to other budget-conscious shoppers. "With Walmart pickup and companies like Instacart, this is more affordable than ever," she says. "With three kids in tow, I am prone to impulse buys, and shopping online means every item I add to my 'cart' is intentional."

Here's what a sample grocery list looks like for Truett:

  • milk
  • orange juice
  • unsweetened almond milk
  • unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • grapes
  • bananas
  • frozen fruit
  • eggs
  • shredded cheese
  • hummus
  • carrots
  • ground turkey
  • chicken breasts
  • frozen peas
  • white rice
  • quinoa
  • black beans
  • chickpeas

Be Strategic With Gluten-Free Groceries

Gluten-free ingredients take the family's expenditures up each time. "Gluten-free all-purpose flour is my grocery splurge," Truett says. "I'm a former pastry chef and an avid baker — not a day goes by that I'm not in the kitchen baking up something delicious. Gluten-free flour may not seem that much more than regular flour, but the bags are usually much smaller which means the prices are actually steeper than they seem."

For example, her favorite flour costs about $5 for a 22-ounce bag. Comparatively, many regular flours cost less than $3 for a five-pound bag, "which means gluten-free flour can be more than quadruple the price of regular flour," she points out.

Prioritize Nutrition

Truett explains that her priority is eating fresh, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. "If things get tight, the first thing to go are snacks and treats," she says.

Fortunately, some of her favorite nutritious produce items, like bananas and sweet potatoes, are quite affordable. "Bananas are great for smoothies and make excellent whole-food snacks," she says. "Sweet potatoes are hardy and easily last two weeks on the counter, which makes them great for when I am just using up what I have left."

Truett likes to make homemade smoothies whenever she can. "They're packed full of nutrients from fruits and berries — but frozen fruit is much more affordable than fresh fruit, especially in the off-season," she says.

In addition to long-lasting sweet potatoes, Truett recommends that budget shoppers purchase other hardy vegetables like avocados, which can be refrigerated until you're ready to use them so they don't perish as quickly.

"If avocados are on sale, I like to purchase six and put three in the fridge and three on the counter," she says. "Once I've used up the first three I will pull out the others."

Another affordable staple in Truett's kitchen? Canned beans. "They're cheap, filling, and good for you," she says.

She uses chickpeas to make chickpea salad in place of chicken salad for a meatless night. Or, she says, "We crisp up beans and corn in a cast iron pan with cheese and fry eggs in it. They're also great for vegetarian chili with beans and sweet potatoes or black bean burgers. They're an affordable way to stretch your budget. It also helps that we all love them!"

Be Flexible With Meal Planning

Truett's meal planning strategy is a loose one — by design. "Don't plan meals for every day of the week," she recommends. "Leave some room for a night where you simply use what you have. Running to the grocery store every time you don't have a meal planned can get very expensive. I like to use these nights to raid my pantry and fridge then use what I have on hand. The more you practice the skill, the easier it will become."

To help, she advises, make sure to keep filling dry goods on hand like rice or quinoa to bulk up a meal.

Practice Your Own Best Money-Saving Tips

Feeding a family of five on $150 per week has provided Truett with plenty of hands-on experience in stretching the budget.

Among her best tips? Pack leftovers so they're ready to take with you the next day. "If they're stuffed in the back of the fridge, chances are you will forget about them," she says. "This also means one less thing you have to worry about in the morning."

She also recommends that budget-minded shoppers purchase off-brand ingredients whenever possible. "Figure out which products you can't live without and then purchase off-brands for the rest," she says. "Brand name items are not always better quality or ingredients."

She stocks up whenever she sees one of her staples on sale, but advises a mindful approach to others using this tactic. "This only works if it's something you will buy even when it's not on sale," she says. "Save the extras — or freeze if perishable — so the next time you don't have to buy it for full price."

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