Stretching Food Dollar - Without Deprivation
I have found myself lately trying to stretch my food dollar ever so thinly. Lots of times that means chicken 4 nights in a row. So I have found a renewed sense of artistry in the kitchen to try to make this repetition palatable. Baked, then stir fry, soup then rice salad...
I have also devoted lots of garden space (even among yard plantings) for things that are outrageously priced in my grocery: Herbs, fennel, asian greens, interesting tomatoes, walla wallas and squashes. I also trade with fellow neighbor gardeners (like strawberries for favas).
So I am wondering what you hounds are doing to stretch your food dollar and also if you have any interesting leftover food recipes you might want to share.
Oh yeah; left overs. I'm sorry I don't have any recipes, I just open the frig., grab a bunch of left overs and create something. In my kitchen, that's the height of joy in the cooking experience.
Looks to me like you're pretty well programmed for saving a few bucks around the house with the techniques you describe. The only one I can add is that my wife and I subscribe religiously to weekly adds from local markets, we read them with a view of which on sale items compliment others (or which can be complimented with something we have on hand) and we plan our weekly menu around those decisions. We make a list of the stores we're going to visit and travel in a circle to reduce the number of miles we'll have to drive in visiting each. We enter the store with a list and NEVER stray from the list, no matter how great the temptation, unless we run into something that wasn't advertised and it's an exceptional value. We've been doing this for so long that we (my wife is better at it than I am) can identify which store will have the lowest price on any given shelf item and, of course, when we find a real special deal we tend to purchase in bulk. One exmple of an unadvertised exceptional value, Brisket last week at 59 cents a pound at one place. Can't beat that with a stick.
Someone on another thread used the phrase "meat as a seasoning". This is good way to look at "not chicken" meal days. Get an occasional good cut of beef, pork, lamb, or what ever and just use less of it. You are already doing this to some extent with stir fry, so expand on it. Pasta flavored with beef strips or cubes, Garden stir fry with accents of pork, fried rice with a hint of grilled steak, etc
In the 1990s The Chefs Collaborative had a successful program entitled "Rethinking the center of the plate" which took expensive meat away from the spotlight. By focusing attention on various cuisines from around the world, grain-legume combinations take the place of meat and provide complete protein.
As a gardener, you're already familiar with seasonal availability so you know that what's local and flooding the market will be the best-tasting and least expensive.
We have several meatless meals weekly and neither DH nor I find it deprivation. We choose to think of it as an adventure - travel without the TSA headache! Is this always a cheaper alternative? No, but it could be. If I make a porcini risotto it involves some expensive ingredients (Arborio rice, Parmesan cheese, porcini) but a pot of Soupe au Pistou is equally delicious and dirt cheap. There really is a mindset change at work; look on this as a burden and it will be. Look at it as a challenge and you'll surprise yourself with clever solutions as well as new skills. You are miles ahead by growing some of your own product.
rworange has written exhaustive posts about eating on the cheap and her writing is full of excellent suggestions. There have also been numerous other posts along this same line recently, some including great solutions.
I think the key to delicious meals on a budget is stepping back from what has become "normal" and taking a long look at food in general. "HUNGRY PLANET, What The World Eats" is an interesting book that shows exactly what a particular family eats for one week.
In the U.S. we've become very spoiled with low food prices. Historically, we've paid a smaller percentage of per capita income for our groceries than any other country. I shop in ethnic grocery stores when I make the opportunity because the selection and cost of many items is low. Here in the Phoenix AZ area, I have easy access to Hispanic and Asian markets with excellent products and value.
Sherry, thank you for the ref of rworange. We do have to reallign our thinking in this house about meat being the focus. We have a couple veg nights a week especially in the summer when we are flooded with veggies and my husband always gets a hang dog look on his face when he sees it is "one of those nights"... even when it is something delicious.
I am still trying to get over TODAO's 59 cent brisket find. Food is expensive where I live. They have to truck it out to the boonies.
Anyway, thank you.
re: Sal Vanilla
Where are your boonies? Isn't there something local, abundant and inexpensive???????
Would your husband think spaghetti carbonara a deprivation? I made some the other night using two strips of thick-sliced bacon and it was knockout delicious. A couple of eggs, some cheese and we were home free with a great green salad alongside. I don't think the whole meal came to $2. Would pizza or calzone be an acceptable meal? a delicious curry? how about enchiladas? stir-fry? chicken nicoise?
As I said, mindset is key. If looked on as "deprivation" it will be; self-fufilling prophecy.
On the other hand, if vibrant flavors predominate, there is no deprivation except in the case of the meat-centric.
If that is your case, loss-leader meat items from the supermarket may be your answer. It's cheaper than divorce (she says tongue firmly planted in cheek).
Oh there are plenty of local and abundant veggies... right in my own back yard. It is a meat makes a meal issue. I could make a lovely veggie lasagna and I watch him inspect for meat. Beans - he loves them! But he wants to see ham or sausage or... it is maddening. I started doing meatless a couple times a week abt. 5 Y ago just for health and he STILL roams around the kitchen later in the evening looking to sate his imaginary hunger (because of no meat or little meat at dinner). You should witness his reaction to tofu or TVP. I long ago gave up on that. I may indeed have to meat him up with some cheap meat... too funny the divorce comment!
Variety does a lot to relieve the feeling of being deprived; if you notice good prices for something you don't usually eat or cook try it out. This can broaden your repertoire as well as your tastes. Low expense end of the food scale is just as varied and interesting as high end. As for recipe suggestions, are you cooking for just one or two or for a crowd?
Bacon. You want to start cooking with bacon. Just a couple slices can add an incredible amount of flavor to a meal and is very cost effective. You can even save the drippings and use them for another dish. For example, I'll cook up a few pieces to crumble and throw on a salad, then fry potatoes in the grease.
We've also been eating more eggs for dinner at our house. Eggs are still pretty cheap and can be made into so many different things.