How to Save a Ton by Eating Soup Every Day (and Never Get Bored!)

By Max Wong on 19 May 2017 0 comments

In January I found a sale on Progresso Soup for 99 cents per can, down from it's normal $3.29 price at my local grocery store. It was a huge savings on something we usually buy as a last-minute lunch backup. And since I love soup, this sale was extra exciting to me. It's a veritable soup coup!

So, naturally I had to call my husband, Mr. Spendypants, about my glorious, souper duper find.

Yes, this is what passes as exciting in our marriage. Don't judge us.

Taking full advantage of our soup savings

We fell into this yummy life hack by accident. My husband and I are currently working opposite schedules, so it's hard to make a more complicated meal that is hot and on the table when both of us are home and hungry. January was so overbooked with work that we agreed to simplify suppertime. Instead of our typical, fancy multicourse dinner, we'd just split a can of soup and eat some homemade bread. To round out the meal, the person who got home first would make a vegetable side from whatever we already had in the fridge.

At the end of the week, we were shocked to find that we'd only spent $20 on food for two people.

We decided to make our bread and soup dinner a nightly habit for the rest of 2017 as a part of our ongoing budget challenge. You don't have to go to that extreme to realize advantages from a scaled-back version of our plan. And you can improve the nutritional profile by sticking with low-salt, vegetable-laden, and no-cream varieties of canned soup, or making homemade soup. Beyond the price, there are a lot of benefits to our limited menu.

1. It's flexible

My husband and I are committed to bread and soup dinners for a year, but I know our meal plan sounds a little hard-core and weird to anyone who isn't a big soup aficionado already. However, canned soup has a long shelf life, so it's great to have on hand for those particularly busy weeks when every minute counts. Consider stocking your pantry with two weeks' worth of these timesaving dinners to get you through rough patches in your schedule.

Also, if automating seven meals a week is going to cause whining at the dinner table, you could always start by automating just one meal a week, to give the family cook a break.

2. It's not boring

One of the reasons why this meal hack works so well for us is that it doesn't get boring. There are approximately a bazillion canned soup varieties to choose from, and even more recipes for homemade soup, so we don't get tired of eating the same thing.

To keep dinner costs at a minimum, we have also been careful only to buy produce that is both on sale and in season. This shopping limit has had a secondary effect of keeping our side veggie plate interesting because we can't rely on eating the same fruits and vegetables year-round.

3. It's simple to make

Because we are using canned soup, this is such an easy meal that a 10-year-old could make this with very little supervision. It requires no special tools or cooking skills. Dinner can be ready and on the table within 10 minutes.

Want to try homemade? Even if you are a novice cook, it's hard to ruin soup. Ease yourself into cooking from scratch by practicing with some basic soup recipes.

4. The numbers are easy to track

The automation aspect of this meal plan makes it easy to budget around. The soup costs about $7 a week. The bread ingredients cost less than 50 cents per loaf, or less than $2 per week. Since we have access to cheap or free produce in our area, we've managed to keep our side salad budget to around $5 per week. Our grocery spending is much more predictable now.

Pro Tip: My mother eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an apple every single day for lunch. She knows not only the cost of her lunch, but also the nutritional value and the calorie count. If you want to be super calibrated with your calorie counting and grocery budgeting, you can automate one meal each day to this basic level. (See also: 4 Easy Ways to Automate Your Everyday Life)

5. It works with almost any budget

We've managed to keep our dinner budget to about $2 per day for two people, but you can make the meal even less expensive if you are in a budget pinch by making your own soup. I saved even more money on our grocery budget this week when a friend gave me a turkey carcass to turn into turkey broth. Also, this month we've been using the weeds out of our backyard as salad ingredients.

6. Homemade soup can be made in bulk in advance

We are currently dining on a lot of canned soup in part because our tiny freezer is packed with food. As we eat through our freezer stash, we are making room for homemade soups. Obviously it takes longer to make soup from scratch than it does to open a can, but it's still very easy to make a huge amount of soup in advance and then freeze it in individual portions. And, because we own a slow cooker, soup is one of those dishes that we can actually make while we sleep!

7. It's easy to scale

Do you have company coming over? Thaw more soup. Are you eating alone? Open a can and put half in the fridge for later.

8. It works with most diets

Because this meal is basically soup and salad, you can tailor it to your own dietary needs or available pantry supplies. If you don't like bread, substitute potatoes, rice, or another inexpensive grain dish for the bread.

9. It increases vegetable intake

Since my husband and I are borderline vegetarians, our new canned soup habit has actually increased our meat consumption. That said, the average American does not eat enough vegetables, and soup is an easy way to up your vegetable servings. Obviously, vegetarian soups like gazpacho or Turkish lentil soup will increase your vegetable intake the most, but even canned chicken noodle soups provide between 10 percent and 50 percent of the daily value for vitamin A.

10. It reduces stress

There's no decision fatigue with this meal. The only thing we have to think about is finding another sale on soup before we run out. Luckily, soup goes on sale pretty regularly, so we've already re-upped our supply twice.

Also, because our menu planning is simple and clear, shopping requires no forethought. Our shopping list consists of: milk, coffee, soup, tea, bread-making ingredients, and the least expensive vegetables in the store that week.

11. It saves on food waste

One side effect of our extremely tight dinner budget is that we are not tempted to buy more food than we can eat in a week.

Also, soup is the perfect vehicle to transform leftovers into a delicious second meal. Even unattractive food like wilted lettuce, broccoli stems, and stale bread can all be converted to soup or added to pre-made canned soup to stretch it further.

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