Saving money on food is an incredible challenge for some people, including me. It was easy to save money on my housing and transportation costs. I put up some upfront effort in return for effortless on going monthly savings. For example, I chose to drive a used fuel efficient car, that one decision has saved me incredible amounts of $$ without much on going effort to maintain those savings. Same with housing, I rent the main part of my house while I live in the smaller ground floor suite, resulting in zero housing costs. But saving money on food is more of a challenge because it requires ongoing daily effort that can be taxing on the will power. So I have created an upfront system that will make saving money and time on food easier. Having owned a coffee shop, I have taken lessons from that experience and applied it to automating the food saving process. The FI Kitchen is born.
I created a menu of foods I enjoy eating that are easy to make. Check out the PDF version of my menu FIKitchenblogpost. The editable word version is here: FIKitchenblogpost. This is something you could adapt to your situation. Just think of the top 20 “go to” meals that you enjoy and create a menu. This requires knowing your self and what meals you will enjoy eating on a consistent basis. This will help with step two. Step two is creating an inventory list of all the ingredients you will need to supply your FI Kitchen. Revisit your menu every spring and fall and adjust some of the meals as necessary to account for changing tastes and seasonal availability.
When I had my coffee shop we relied on the menu and inventory list to account for every dollar. I think running your kitchen like a business will help with achieving your FIRE goals. Of course for those rare times when you are not craving anything on your FI Kitchen menu, it’s okay to eat out. Sometimes eating out, avoids waste especially, if the item you are craving requires a lot of ingredients that will not be used up and therefore go to waste. Here is an example of my menu, I have also included some of the recipes below as well. Notice how the prices are at least 75% cheaper than eating out even with mostly organic super healthy foods.
First let’s invest in the kitchen. Take some of that money you would otherwise put into the 70/30 portfolio and invest in some equipment that will make your life easier.
If you drink coffee, I suggest buying a french press ($15) and a magic bullet to grind the coffee ($35). This will allow you to make delicious coffee for about $0.16 a cup that is much faster then driving to McDonalds or Starbucks.
The second piece of equipment to invest in, is an InstaPot ($80). A baked sweet potato can be made in less that 15 mins. I make my Thai coconut curry dishes in this as well. Rice can cook in about 20 mins. So many other recipes can be made in the instant pot. I want to be able to choose any one of the items off my menu and be able to make it quickly (hence the insta-pot). I also have a wire shelve with wheels I picked up from Costco ($89) so that I am able to see my inventory clearly and stay organized. Most times investing in good kitchen equipment can pay out much better returns than the stock market. The key is to make your kitchen efficient so that cooking doesn’t have to be a chore.
When designing your menu, it helps to have items that don’t spoil. Having a menu and keeping all those ingredients on hand to make anything on the menu, allows flexibility. Looking at my inventory list below, almost everything stores well. Most of my veggies and fruits are frozen (I do keep a micro green garden for fresh greens). As well, most other things on that list are shelve stable. The other benefit is being able to shop once a month due to most ingredients having such a long shelve life. Your menu will be different most likely but it is a good idea to include meals where the ingredients are shelve stable. If that is not always possible, maybe you can make a large batch of something and freeze the rest, for example, I do this with my coconut curry soup.
What about a weekly meal planner? If this works for you great, but unfortunately it hasn’t worked for me. The down side with a weekly meal planner for example is, it constantly has to be updated every week (and it assumes you will crave those foods on the planned days). With a menu, you have multiple meal ideas you can choose from, and you only have to update it maybe twice a year (spring and fall for example). Another bonus, all ingredients for the menu are kept on hand. Okay with all that said here are some of the recipes from the menu above
Coconut Thai Soup
Also pairs good with rice and veggies. In a glass dish, top rice and veggies (I use frozen veggies) with some of this soup and then freeze for super easy weekday lunches that can be reheated in the microwave at work. I swear this tastes just like Amy’s coconut curry for 80% cheaper.
- 1 TBS sesame oil
- 1 medium white onion, sliced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 8 ounces mushrooms, wiped clean, cut in halves or 4ths if larger
- 1 TBS brown sugar
- 1 TBS fresh ginger, about an inch diced
- 2 TBS Thai red curry paste
- 1 1/2 TBS fish sauce (omit if vegan)
- 1 TBS reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 block firm or extra firm tofu, drained and cut into bite sized peices
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 3 TBS lime juice
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, (found in the Asian area of the grocery store, usually in a can)
- sriracha to taste , I typically add 1 tsp
- lime wedges for garnish
- cilantro for garnish
Heat a 6 or 8 quart Instant Pot, using the sauté function. Add oil, onions, and peppers and sauté 2-3 minutes. **If you are going to add chicken, this is when you should do it (see notes below).
Add the mushrooms, and cook for 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, ginger, curry paste, fish sauce, lite soy sauce and stir. Add tofu then broth.
Close the lid, seal the pressure valve, and set on manual/high for 4 minutes.
Once the time is up, let the pressure release naturally for 5-10 minutes, then flip the valve to release the remaining pressure (careful some liquid may spout out). Remove the top carefully.
Add lime juice, coconut milk, and sriracha to taste. Stir everything to combine.
Serve the soup and garnish with lime wedges and cilantro. Enjoy!
Next is the Gourmet Beet-Loaf. It does take some time to make (55mins). However , this in one of those recipes that stores well for left overs. This is great to put in freezable containers with some peas, corn and mashed potatoes for those future lunches at work.
My inventory list
Veggies and fruit:
- sweet potatoes
- fruit in season (usually strawberries and bananas sometimes blueberries)
- frozen fruit (usually strawberries and mango)
- frozen veggies (mixed veggies, peas and corn)
- ginger root
- Red and yellow onions
- red bell pepper
- frozen spinach
Spices and Condiments:
- spices: Rosemary, garlic powder, salt and pepper, thyme, paprika, red curry paste, bullion cubes, Cinnamon
- condiments: Vegan butter, sesame oil, olive oil, soy sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, lime juice
- brown lentils
- frozen walfles (natures path buckwheat)
- coconut milk
- plant based milk
- cereal that’s on sale
- green powder genuine health brand
- protein powder vega brand
- canned peaches in water or juice
- snack bars (usually hornby brand bars)
- noble jerky
- sour dough bread (Portofino brand)
- lemon juice
- chick peas (canned)
- vegan mayonnaise
- pumpkin pie mix
- pumpkin pie spice mix (clubhouse brand)
- taco kit
- pasta sauce
- gf pasta
So there you have it my inventory list for the above menu. I generally save upwards of 50% on my inventory because I shop when items are on sale and stock up. Could you imagine operating a business without a menu and inventory list? It would create so many inconsistencies, and the employees would get so frustrated. Customers would be confused because the menu is not consistent and changes day to day, The employees would get frustrated because they can’t make proper meals with missing ingredients. It would just be a mess. When we make food at home without a plan, then we get frustrated and eat out, order in and buy our lunches at work. This would subtract from our wallets, and increase our risk for health problems such as obesity, stroke, and diabetes. Do the upfront work of creating a menu and an inventory list (similar to a shopping list). Revisit the menu every spring and fall and update as needed. You got this!
Was this a helpful view of looking at meal planning in order to organize your life and save money? Would you have added anything else?