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ideas for a (new) very tight food budget

I know there have been numerous posts over the years about how to eat on a tight food budget, but I'm looking for ideas and tips beyone pasta. We have teens who need a meal, and given the current state of things, I need to work up a food budget for our family of six for the first time.

Any ideas? Is it a good idea to shop a Sam's Club, etc? Recipes that stretch a pound of hamburg or chicken?

I'm overwhelmed.

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  1. Try replacing some of your animal protein with beans and/or lentils. You can buy them dried in the bulk food section and re-hydrate them by soaking them overnight before you plan to cook them. Bean soups and bean chilis are very filling. Red lentils cook very, very quickly and don't need to be rehydrated before cooking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jetgirly

      i forgot to mention ,save the seeds from veggies like bell peppers and plant them.you can go to a small outlet store and buy planting materials like pots and potting soil. i do this and its awesome.my daughters appreciate the meals better now that they are involved in the growing process. small veggies do not take very long to grow. i live in west Texas and its not easy financially.but what you really need to do is search out orchards and farms in your area,believe me they are everywhere.oh and dont be ashamed to clip coupons!my sister does and told me to go with her one day.i did and
      a single basic run to the store she had saved $67 and some change.thats great
      i was ashamed to do it or was too proud but i do it now and i dont spend near the amount
      i used to,and i know that each individual coupon does not seem like much but it adds up.
      and if what you need to buy is not on sale or you have no coupons for it buy generic or the cheapest brand.

    2. Soups, soups, soups! Very filling and a meal with a salad or some bread. Plus, you can put just about anything into a soup.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nofunlatte

        I'm in complete agreement! I have been making a LOT of soup lately. Possibilities are endless and it will past you a few meals.

        1. re: nofunlatte

          Yes! I just made soup from a huge pack of turkey necks ($2.49) and mushrooms ($1.50). Every thing else was odds & ends of veggies I had already, plus a little sherry, seasonings and wild rice. It made 9 very large portions.

        2. Save your bones from chicken, etc. in a ziplock bag in the freezer, as well as vegetables that are starting to wilt. Use that to make stock. With good stock, you have the basis of a lot of great meals.

          Buy inexpensive meats that are higher in fat and connective tissues (like short ribs) that you can braise (and use the stock that you've made). Long slow cooking softens them up and nothing beats a good braised meal in the winter.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chowser

            Agreed on bones from chicken. I (almost) always buy bone-in breasts even if I intend to make a boneless preparation. It's usually cheaper that way, even considering the increased weight, and you can easily take the filet off and then make chicken stock w/ the bones. Pick off the remaining meat and have chicken soup if you will.

            I also second an idea below: plant a veggie garden, i love it in mid-summer when i can just stroll right through that god-foresaken-expensive produce dept. at Whole Foods w/out stopping. If you don't have space for veggies, at least plant some herbs in window pots.

            Make friends w/ a hunter...they often have more venison than they can use (or know other hunters who would love an excuse to take another deer.)

          2. I think you should really focus on figuring out how to throw things together efficiently. Often, I am left with two stalks of celery, one carrot, a can of beans, etc. -- totally random stuff after the meal I planned to make is long gone. Luckily, my mom was a genious at throwing all kinds of stuff together. She'd make sh!t on a shingle - toasted white bread smothered in ground beef and white gravy, and all kinds of stews and casseroles out of the leftover stuff.

            Some things you can do to help this along, IMO, is buy lots of canned goods - tomatoes, corn, beans, etc. As for recipe ideas, chicken pot pie with frozen veggies and chicken thighs and bisquick topping is always good. As is tamale pie - same idea, but with a Mexican twist. Stews might be a heartier alternative to soups for the winter, too.

            As for money saving strategy, unless you are really good at using up all the quantity, I don't think clubs are always a great value. I'd recommend coupon clipping at your local grocery store.

            1. I love cooking a big, pork shoulder roast in the slow cooker. Tons of meat for all sorts of things. Our favorite is soft tacos. With rice and beans, that really stretches the meat. I've also done turkey drumsticks and lamb shanks in the slow cooker - not at the same time :)

              I like to add orzo pasta or the like to soups. Feels more like a meal to me. I never buy salad dressing. So easy to make your own. Do you ever look at epicurious? Good ideas there --- as well as here, of course! I love casseroles of all sorts. Tomorrow I'm fixing a recipe from Bon Appetit for a baked pasta, cauliflower, cheese dish. If you're tired of pasta, there are more grains out there than I can even imagine what to do with. How about stuffed peppers? I detest uncooked green bell peppers but love them cooked. I've used a mixture of chorizo, spinach, cheese, an egg, etc. Or throw in rice or orzo to make it more.

              These ARE overwhelming times - and we're only a family of two these days. Good luck. I'm sure your creative juices start to flow again, you'll think of tons of things.

              1. Sam's dozen ideas (but no recipes):

                1. No prepared or junk foods, no soft drinks, lots of basic ingredients - rice, flour, beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, lettuces, greens, fruit to make juices, garlic, ginger, corn meal, masa harina, and whatever fruits and vegetables are cheap at the time.

                2. More dried legumes: beans, lentils, peas, and the like.

                3. Less meat (4 oz per person per day is really enough) and more meat/chicken/fish that is on sale; more "off" cuts".

                4. Cook in large batches so that for most meals, a batch big enough for six is frozen or saved for the next day or the day after.

                5. Manage your freezer space: for the on-sale meats/chicken/fish; for the meals cooked in big batches; and for basic stocks.

                6. Filling, inexpensive, high protein meals are those that combine beans or lentils and small amounts of meat. and stir fries with a bit of meat and lots of vegetables.

                7. Use canned tuna and canned sardines - bargains for health and the pocketbook.

                8. Make your own yogurt, mayo, ice cream, stocks, breads, desserts, and more.

                9. Being able to use (all) your oven, stovetop, microwave, toaster oven, and crockpot can save money and time.

                10. Stock up on the spices you and your family need to provide appreciated flavors.

                11. Buy slightly more costly things to keep you all from going mad: olives, pickles, good mustard, some cheeses, butter and bacon as needed, a ham once in a while, German sausages, bagels, and whatever.

                12. But along with #11, an agreement among family members that economizing is necessary; that some sacrifices have to be made; but that you all aren't talking about death march concentration camp food - and that each person will have to do his or her share.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Bless you Sam I Am. Once again you have given us a way to survive in this strange world we find ourselves..... What a treasure you are.....How lucky we are.....

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Such a great list of ideas. And I really agree with #11. I find that if there aren't a couple of things in the house that feel like real food treats (and yes, I just gorged on some wonderful olives), then we are more likely to eat out on an impulse, thus quicky defeating the budget.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      What a great list, Sam!

                      So important to avoid the "convenience" foods, which are both overpriced and devoid of taste and nutrition. I find that buying seasonal fruits and veggies tends to save money, plus they taste better than something that was grown in another hemisphere.

                      Bean soups, for sure...and you can brighten them up a bit by making slight variations with the "leftovers" you have, such as add some fresh spinach leaves and diced tomato, or some nice cheeses for flavoring, a squeeze of lemon or spoonful of pesto, or croutons you make with some day-old bread.

                      I remember something from the old days of watching "The Frugal Gourmet"....he said that meat in so many cultures is used for flavoring, not as the center of the meal, and we would
                      do well to adopt this practice since meat is so expensive to produce. That was a revelation for me and I totally agree. Yes, sometimes for a treat you might crave a nice steak or burger or piece of salmon. But when you save that for special times, you appreciate it more. Also, cooking with meat as flavoring opens up so many creative possibilities, using more veggies and grains.

                      1. re: poptart

                        Ditto on the convenience foods. Example: I have to work seven am to nine pm tomorrow (the joys of being a teacher and having extra-curriculars!). I always pack a lunch, but I'll also need a dinner tomorrow. I was at the health food store browsing today, and seriously considered getting a frozen Amy's Organic dinner, like the Brown Rice and Vegetables Bowl. It was $5.99. In the end I couldn't face the shame of bringing a microwaveable meal to work, and returned to my house to prepare my meals for the next day. I found frozen tempeh in my freezer, as well as frozen "Europe's Best" vegetables. I boiled the tempeh and stir-fried the frozen vegetables along with some fresh broccoli. I added in some sunflower seeds as well (I'd bought them bulk a while ago and I've been storing them in the fridge). I skipped the starch but have bulk wild rice and quinoa on hand. Total today cost= $0, as the food was already in my house. Total real cost= about $1.25 for the tempeh, $1.50 for the vegetables, 10 cents for the seeds. If I'd added rice, it would have been about another 50 cents. Total savings over pre-made dinner = $2.50 with rice, $3.00 as made. Plus, the tempeh will be a conversation starter at work tomorrow!

                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Yea, Sam, nice list. One thing to emphasize is in point no. 8. When you're watching your food budget, you still need to allow a little room in there for treats, so you don't get down and feeling like a depression child. That's where point no. 8 comes in. Make some desserts/treats like cookies and cupcakes and pies. Just stay away from chocolate, which is a budget buster.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          I would only add one thing: Check some ethnic (particularly Asian) cookbooks out of your library. These cuisines have lots of dishes that make a little bit of meat go a very long way.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            I cook a lot of stir fry dishes.. not necessarily traditional. It really stretches the meat, and I'm lucky to live in an area where I can get Asian veg and tofu really cheap.

                          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Another way to keep from feeling deprived is to bake. A sack of flour, a sack of sugar, a dozen eggs, a pound of butter and some flavorings will cost you maybe 10 bucks, and you can use them to create a vast range and quantity of sweet indulgences, many of which also freeze well (if you have any left over). WAY better than a trendy $4 cupcake. I bake on weekends, while my stock pot is simmering and my washing machine is going. Multitasking!

                            1. re: mordacity

                              I completely agree! Since my "personal economy" has become tight as well, I have been baking something once a week - even if its just bread but more so with cookies and cakes. I don't miss eating out so much now that I am trying new recipes at home, and baking something makes me feel productive while satisfying my sweet tooth.

                          3. Learn how to make things from scratch, especially the simple things you'd normally just buy, tortillas for example.

                            Learn to stock up on sales. You can easily get better prices at a supermarket than Sam's Club if you buy on sale. So be prepared to buy 3 months worth of sugar, 2 month's worth of butter, and freeze 30 lbs of chicken when there's a really good sale.

                            Compare prices and take notes. Know which places sell which things cheaper than the competition, and don't be afraid to shop at 3 different stores.

                            Buy bulk. A box of rice? No way, buy a 10 or 20 lb bag, unless someone's got smaller units on sale for a cheaper price per pound. It's amazing just how much cheaper per pound some things can be when bought in bulk. Check out those huge #10 cans of foodstuffs, and compare the per unit weight cost to smaller cans.

                            1. Soups and stews (perfect for the upcoming cold weather) are filling, cheap and nutritious. You can cook cheap cuts of meat in a dutch oven or crock pot. Depending on where you live, please take advantage of produce stands and farmer's markets for fresh produce.

                              I've never been a pasta fan myself, but one of my favorite dinners my mom made growing up ("welfare" dinners, my father lovingly calls them) are her foil wrap dinners. Chucks of chicken breast, carrots, potatoes and broccoli mixed with some Cream of Mushroom soup, wrapped in foil and baked. It sounds kind of gross, but it's delicious comfort food, and not too bad for you. My boyfriend, who grew up in a family of foodies, LOVES these and always requests them. Go figure.

                              As for Sam's Club, I have never shopped there but I assume you mean to buy in bulk? I've never been much of a meat eater, but my boyfriend's father keeps an eye out for great meat sales and freezes meat. Seems to work just fine.

                              Also, take advantage of coupons!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: chowkari

                                I agree with going the soups/stews direction and slow-cooked meals if your schedule allows it. You can make some really filling,meal-time soups like butternut squash that has been made thick and creamy in the blender; or a big pot of French Onion Soup.
                                Slow cook corned beef for a meal and cook extra for sandwich meals like Reubens.
                                Look up old-fashioned classics like Swiss Steak that use cheaper cuts of meat-bottom round in this case...make it new by serving it over polenta...another inexpensive but delicious meal-stretcher.
                                Make it a point to have a meatless meal once a week; and in the cooler months we often have a 'breakfast-for-dinner' night since we rarely eat a real breakfast in the mornings and we love breakfast food. Make it a hearty one-eggs in it's many forms, waffles, pancakes, grits, polenta, maybe a fruit compote...etc..you get the picture. There is an especially fabulous recipe for a souffle (easy,easy) by Jacques Pepin called Maman's Cheese Souffle that I have made when I have a crowd (like Christmas morning) that I have always thought would be a great supper if there were more than 2 of us- though I will admit I have reheated (in a microwave on 'power 3, or defrost) it very gently when I had a little left over and it was still scruptious. I digress.
                                By the time you add some of these ideas to maybe one night of a pasta meal...well, now you're cookin'...and eating really well in my opinion.

                                1. re: saycheez

                                  I'm so glad you suggested "Breakfast for Dinner!' My mom used to do think when we were kids and it always felt like such a special treat since we rarely had a full breakfast at actual breakfast time. I didn't realize at the time that she was trying to save money and a trip to the grocery store! This is a great tip especially if you are feeding kids!

                              2. I have to second the planning ahead. I'm also a huge, huge fan of the slow cooker. Cheap cuts of meat are great in the slow cooker and you can get so much food for so little effort. Pork shoulder or chuck roast + onions/garlic/beer/salsa/pepperoncinis/broth/whatever = comfort food that can be easily recycled. I'm a leftovers-hater, and so it helps me a lot to have a protein that can be on its own on night one, in burritos on night two, in soup on night three, maybe even in eggs or hash for breakfast!

                                When your veggies are less than sublime, roasting them helps bring out their appeal. You can roast a lot of veggies at once, having two cookie sheets full that you rotate on the two oven shelves, and then incorporate the veggies in your meals. Throw them on pasta, in soup, in your burritos. I think this is one area where a costco membership does help you eat fresh food. A bag of red peppers, a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions, a bag of spinach-- these things aren't hard to blow through, and they go in everything. (Can't say the same for Costco tortilla packs...I learned not to freeze those from experience.) Maybe treat yourself to a big hunk of the cheap Costco parm to have on hand to dress up plain stuff.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Vetter

                                  Wow, color me shocked. I had no idea Costco even sold produce!!

                                  1. re: chowkari

                                    It certainly does, and it's usually high quality, all things considered. It's good to keep an eye on the country of origin of the produce, though. Costco often has Mexican bell peppers next to BC grown bell peppers and the like, and if you look, you can select your produce based on likely pesticide/herbicide contamination that way.

                                    1. re: chowkari

                                      They sure do! Just today, I bought a 24 ounce pack of gorgeous crimini mushrooms for $3.49, and 4 lbs. bananas for $1.79. There were lots of other tempting deals, but we get CSA veggies so I restrained myself!

                                      1. re: operagirl

                                        Cosctco usually has really great produce. It's not always the cheapest, but if I'm there and I only need one thing I'll buy it.

                                        That's another thing.. it's not always worth it to drive from one place to another to save 50 cents. Not only does it waste gas, but you'll end up going nuts.

                                        Another good idea is chicken drummettes. They're really cheap and you can bread them and bake them. Served with a bunch of different dipping sauces, it's a nice change from chicken cutlets.

                                  2. Mom used to do meatless nights once a week-we were a family of 7 and she did wonders with one pound of meat. We did eat a lot of pasta, salad and rice dishes, and potatoes too. Always veg and salad and bread. My father loved bread and butter with his dinner. We tended to have fruit or something later after dinner (probably why I still look for something else after we eat!)

                                    We ate stuffed things often, zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant. I'm sure she used bread crumbs and chopped veg to stretch the meat. She would also use a strong flavored meat like sausage, so a little bit went further.

                                    Homemade pizza is REALLY budget friendly. You don't need to use a ton of cheese or processed meats.

                                    A big package of flour or corn tortillas will help you stretch that pound of meat, and beyond. Saute fresh chopped veggies like peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, then boil and shred the chicken and make wraps or add a spicy sauce.

                                    I found out by accident that if you make tomato soup and float some torn up toasted or fried corn tortillas- it turns into an amazing, filling dish.
                                    I make a white bean chili with ground turkey, ground chicken or chopped/shredded cooked chicken.
                                    Whole chickens at my Sam's are 79c lb and you may be able to get a few meals from just one bird, especially if you shred the meat.
                                    The first time I made my own steamed dumplings I was shocked at how little meat I used and the sheer volume of (tasty) food it made. Shredded veggies, ground pork, etc.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                      I was going to mention homemade pizza, esp if you're feeding teenagers. Either make the dough from scratch-my CI recipe makes enough for 3 pizzas-or buy it from Trader Joe's or a pizza place, for a buck a dough or so. Then...if you really want to stretch it, roll it extra thin and make each dough round into two pizzas (we like it this way because it's crispier). Spice up a can of tomato sauce, throw on whatever you have left in the house: grd beef, veggies, canned pineapple, beans, chicken, refried beans, whatever cheese...

                                      I also do much better food budget wise when I look at what I have in the fridge that needs to be cooked and develop something with that, rather than deciding first what I feel like eating and then going to buy whatever ingredients I'm missing. When I'm hungry, I often have very specific cravings, but once I've eaten, I'm fine...so fill yourself up with what you need to eat, rather than letting food go to waste.

                                      If you live in an area with lots of local produce, keep your eye out for good deals. Apples here, in Oregon, are $1.99 a pound at least in most grocery stores (obscene!). They are less than $.50 a pound u-pick, $.79 a pound picked for you at a local farm. Even cheaper? That friend or relative with a tree that needs picking, especially if you get efficient and do something long-lasting with the produce right away, like can a bunch of unsweetened applesauce.

                                      I often see free or low cost produce on craigslist.

                                      And nthing beans, lentils, rice, and the crockpot. Trader Joes has great prices on things like rice and pasta and coconut milk and olive oil and dried fruits and nuts, so you can have some more flavorful, luxurious ingredients without spending a fortune.

                                      1. re: girlwonder88

                                        Rice makes a good alternative to pasta for a meatless meal. One of my favorites is risotto made with arborio, chicken stock, onion, celery heart, carrots, and parmesan on top. It's a meal in itself, but also good with a salad. If I'm serving this to company, I make a salad with blood oranges and a sweet ginger vinaigrette. It's great comfort food that's pretty good for you too.

                                        I make a huge pot of spaghetti sauce (9-10 servings) with just a pound of ground bison (more flavor than beef and very little fat) or grass-fed beef. I use lots of veggies--tomato obviously, onion, celery, shiitake mushroom, garlic--for a chunky, flavorful, satisfying sauce with relatively little meat.

                                        Another meatless meal I like is tortillas topped with cheese and onion, and maybe some poblanos if you want more veggies.

                                        I think some processed goodness is OK once in awhile, and some favorites in that category are doctored Kraft three-cheese shells, Tuna Helper fettucine alfredo made with all milk, and nitrate-free hot dogs topped with brown sugar baked beans, chopped raw onion, and mustard.

                                    2. I have also found myself having to economize on food for the first time in my life. So many others are in the same situation these days. Soups, as the OP said, are a great value. A slow cooker is invaluable for this. Beans are inexpensive and delicious additions to most meals. Eggs are inexpensive and nutritious. And, step outside of the normal places you usually shop. I have found the Asian and Hispanic supermarkets in my area significantly less expensive than the local grocers. Salmon for $3 per pound at the Asian market vs $10 or more per pound at the local grocer or fish store. Cheap meats and chicken as well. The Asian markets also have a high turnover on produce, and it is cheaper and fresher than my grocery store. Buy what's on sale, and read the grocery store flyers when they come out on Thurs/Fri. Plan your meals around what is on sale that week, and plan to stock up. Let your kids know what is going on so that everyone understands all in the family have to economize.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: mschow

                                        I was just about to suggest trying Asian and Hispanic markets, then saw your post. I've found that Asian markets, at least in my area, are the best place for cheap produce and fresh seafood. I used to buy beans and spices from the bulk section of Whole Foods or the local food co-op, then I discovered that they are even cheaper in Hispanic markets (or the Hispanic section of my local supermarket, since I live in a largely Latino neighborhood).

                                        I'm also a big fan of almost past its date meats. I always have a list/plan when I shop, but will peruse the meat section anyway. Whenever they have something marked down (50-70%) b/c the sell-by date is approaching I buy as much as my freezer can hold.

                                        I'm slowly teaching my self how to can/preserve foods, hopefully getting a pressure canner/cooker for Christmas, which will big I big $ saver (I hope) since I will be able to "put up" some of the very abundant produce I get over the summer months, often for free.

                                      2. Large roasts and whole chickens and turkeys and even hams tend to be cheaper than smaller cuts of meat or poultry.
                                        Its quite easy to roast a large *something* in the oven, oiled and seasoned simply with salt, pepper, maybe a little garlic powder... surrounded by potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, butternut squash, mushrooms - whatever veggies are on sale! Your kids will think they are eating luxuriously!

                                        Then, use the leftover meat for sandwhiches (much cheaper than 8 bucks/lb sandwhich meat), tacos, enchiladas, pot pies, etc.

                                        Then take any leftover bones, carcass, skin, etc... put in a slow cooker with cheap onion sliced in quarters, a couple carrots - if you have some ends of celery, add some salt and pepper.... and let it go overnight to make stock (chicken will make stock quicker than beef,if you want to set a timer). Or you can just simmer it on the stove top for several hours. Strain out the liquid and consider freezing it.
                                        Make the stock into a soup with any veggies, meat leftovers, pasta, barley, rice, etc. (soups are very forgiving and adaptable)

                                        Alot of what you buy will be individual to your own stores. Its best to scout out the deals online or in their little ads and try to plan around them. You know that cheap turkeys will be coming up soon! Around Easter, hams are all over the place on sale.

                                        I would switch to drinking water only. But sodas, juices, sports drinks, etc will eat up a budget quickly. And water is healthier anyways.

                                        One suggestion for fruits: If you buy a bunch of fruits on sale... and they are about to go bad. Try microwaving them or cooking them on the stove top with a water and sugar (or juice or artificial sweetner) into a filling like for a pie. They will keep in the frig fine like this for 1-2 weeks. You can then eat the fruit over oatmeal or yogurt. Or top it with a mix of oatmeal, brown sugar, butter and flour for a fruit strudel. I'm doing this right now with the cheap pears and apples! A bit earlier in the season it was peaches!

                                        Fruit smoothies from frozen fruit (often its cheaper in the frozen bags, if not in season), with some milk or yogurt are a healthy snack or breakfast.
                                        Oatmeal is a cheap breakfast.
                                        Eggs are great for not only breakfast, but quiches and fritattas to use up any leftover bits of meat or veggies. And even for things like burritos with eggs, blackbeans, and salsa for dinner.
                                        Cooking meat with a starch like rice or barley will flavor everything like the meat - eg chicen and rice, or arroz con pollo if you add some spanish or mexican flavorings, or jumbalaya with some sausage or any seafood on sale...

                                        I buy the nicer loaves of bakery bread (about the same price anyways as wonderbread) and keep it in the frig so it lasts longer. Then, when its getting older, toasting it, as simple toast with soup or stew, or for sandwiches, makes it delicious again. Or I cut it in cubes, brush with butter and garlic salt, and make awesome croutons for salad or soup. Or I toast it lightly and then use it to make stuffing -its not just for thansgiving once a year! You can serve it alongside roasted chicken or even put it in a casserole and bake chicken pieces on top.

                                        Frozen veggies are also often cheaper in the bag... and for cooked dishes you generally will not notice a major difference in taste.

                                        For veggies starting to go bad - cook em! Make cream of ---- soup - boil the given vegetable in chicken stock, then puree and add a splash of cream. Cream of....tomato, carrot (esp with curry powder!), celery, squash, potato, pumpkin, mushroom, anything! Serve with a toasted sandwich or a salad, and its dinner.

                                        1. What works for me really well is every six months doing a bulk store run to stock up on basics - sugars, flours, cooking oil, cases of canned things - and then shopping for fresh once a week or more frequently. Definitely get the kids involved; give them a project to make dinner one night a week for a certain amount or get them to go through the sales flyers to pick out vegetables for the week. They are much more likely to eat and enjoy stuff if they had a part in planning and cooking.

                                          1. hows it going? i am new to this club or whatever and im not quite sure how it works,but i will do my best. shopping at sams club is a good idea,but you have to be very careful because you can walk out and had spent $600 or more.i know i have done it,but i also feed quite a few people on a day-2-day basis. so take a pen,paper,and a calculator for easy budgeting.
                                            okay the easiest way to stretch chicken is to either buy it already ground or have it ground.
                                            chicken does not reduce,so thats a good idea and its very healthy.one of my favorites is chicken burgers.all you need is fresh cilantro,ground chicken separated into 1/4 or 1/3 lb
                                            portions,minced garlic(large jars found at sams club for pretty cheap)salt pepper to taste
                                            ground cumen,and what ever type bun you choose. i personally like large soft bagels. just mess around with these basics until you get it to the way you like it.
                                            so good luck!

                                            1. Rice, lentils, beans, chickpeas. All cheap, filling, and nutritious.

                                              1. The key to feeding teens and keeping it under budget is to involve them in the process! Teaching them basic culinary skills, having one of them responsible for producing a meal during the week, getting their input on menu/recipe planning, teaching them how to shop and budget are vital skills they will thank you for gratefully later in life.

                                                We sit down about twice a month with the newspaper advertising circulars and figure out which grocery store has the best deals. We make a tentative menu/recipe list for 14 dinners, create a grocery shopping list from that, keeping in mind staples and fresh produce that need replenishing. We divvy up chores like who will go shopping, who will cook, etc. We keep a "menu" list on the fridge of what potential meals we can make and assign a person to a specific night. There are 3 of us at home and our teen prefers not to cook, so she is responsible for marketing or setting up the table/clean up chore duty. Once a month, I do a whole Sunday in the kitchen with all four burners and oven going. We maintain a large frost free freezer that we treat like a "bank". We keep an inventory of what's in the freezer - soups, meats, chicken, lamb, casseroles, baked goods and we use these up.

                                                I find you have to be a savvy shopper - we belong to Costco and some things are cheaper there (imported cheese, wine, certain cuts of meat) but some things are cheaper at the grocery store on sale (toilet paper, paper towels, etc). We also frequent a very discounted local store primarily for supplies like flour, sugar, cereal, etc. You have to educate yourself about your town, what's available, what you are willing to do (and drive) to save a buck.

                                                1. Okay, now my 2c.

                                                  Costco/Sam's can make for good deals but you also need to shell out of a membership. If you watch what you're doing, you can easily do better shopping at Wal-Mart (If you have one in your area) and by looking for sales.
                                                  As has been said, stock up when you can but also be reasonable. Don't stock up too much on stuff that really doesn't keep well and not on stuff your family isn't crazy about. I'm not a big fan of eating something because it's cheap but doesn't taste all that great. My mom can do it. I can't.
                                                  Reading the Thursday sale adds for me is great. I can see what's on sale and then plan accordingly. One thing to watch out for is making too many stops. If you start driving here, there and everywhere to save a few bucks, those savings will be eaten up in fuel costs.

                                                  Don't waste stuff. Bones for stock as well as veggie trimmings. Make "Refrigerator soup" to use up leftovers. Save your grocery bags to use as garbage bags. Save your bread heels/scraps to use as bread crumbs. Things like that.


                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: Davwud

                                                    I think I make up the money on the membership at Costco just based on their generic OTC medications and some of their toiletries, which are much, much cheaper to buy in bulk there than I have seen anywhere else. Believe me, I have looked. Saving in that department can give me extra money to spend on food.

                                                    As Mellicita says down farther, it is important to make sure you're actually going to use the items you purchase in bulk. If you can freeze an item and have room for it in your freezer, buy multiples when it is on sale. You can also get sales on items that need to be sold that day, so sometimes shopping a little more often can be helpful. Most of my grocery destinations are extremely close to me and I can make a stop to one or two without going out of my normal route.

                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                      Did you know that you can buy prescriptions at Costco w/out a membership? (For sure, in CA, anyway.)

                                                      Just, when you walk in the door and they want to see your card, just say I'm here to pick up a RX and they'll wave you through. I've compared; they are always less expensive.

                                                      I do have a membership, think it's worth it for me, but I thought I'd pass this info on.

                                                      1. re: walker

                                                        This is a federal law. All pharmacies must sell to anyone, so every membership club must sell RX's to the public. Nice law, indeed.

                                                    2. re: Davwud

                                                      I justify my COstco membership because I got a great deal. Long story short, they screwed up my original membership and when I negotiated with them to "make it up to me" for customer good will" I got 2 years for the price of one. It's amortized to like $2/mo, which I can easily justify because of the savings.

                                                      The big takeaways I was trying to make in my post were: 1) try to go to one store per week, take advantage of their specials and sales, be a savvy shopper and 2) plan, plan, plan because impulsivity is what fuels expensive food cost

                                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                        Believe me, I'm a huge Costco fan. I'm just saying that for some people, they may be better off not going for the membership.

                                                        We have an Amex Executive membership so by the time we get our rebates, we get a free membership.


                                                    3. edinaeats, I'm curious. Do any of these ideas sound appealing? Are any or all of you picky eaters? Years ago our family of four (girls were about 8 and 10) got stuck in our mountain cabin an extra day due to snow. At that time we just shopped for exactly what we needed. So dinner was a casserole of pasta and ham and there was a (aka one) baked apple. One of the girls asked "what's that?" And I said "it's dinner and if you don't eat it, it's going to be a very long time til the meal called breakfast :) " They weren't and aren't picky eaters. If you and yours are, you might need to learn a new skill :)

                                                      1. Another great trick is to learn to debone your own chix, buying a whole chix is much cheaper and if you have kids that ONLY like boneless breasts - you can save the other pieces for something like a great jambalaya (with mostly chix, sausage, maybe a few shrimp). Same with Paella, great filling meal where you can decide what's in it. Long time ago, was on welfare in school full time, single with a little one and we would have breakfast for dinner. This is the same time that I learned to debone a chicken. Good luck, I just came from a farm stand and excited what $16 did to fill my fridge.

                                                        1. One method of budgetting is to make each meal for your family come in under a certain dollar amount, for example perhaps your goal is to feed the family on 10 dollars each dinner. This can allow you to buy a slightly more expensive item, as long as it fits into your total meal budget. Eg, perhaps you got a great deal on 59 cents/lb chicken wings for buffalo chicken wings, and are serving it with a cheap stalk of celery cut into sticks...and can now afford a $4 little chunk of blue cheese to make into your own dip with a dollars worth of sour cream.

                                                          Also, sometimes, if you dont use a particular item alot or will quickly grow tired of it, it may not be worth it to buy the larger bulk size even if its cheaper per ounce. Eg, if you only really need one lemon, spend the dollar for it, rather than buy the 4 dollar bag of lemons and then try to figure out how to use them up in stuff you really didn't need like lemonade, lemon curd, etc.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Mellicita

                                                            Using your example of lemons, here's what I did this weekend. I came upon a couple of 3 lb bags of lemons for $1.99 each. My daughter (14 1/2) and I spent some time in the kitchen together.....she zested the lemons while I juiced them. Then she put the zest into a freezer bag, squeezed out as much air as possible and then pressed it out flat and put into the freezer. I measured the lemon juice in tablespoon increments and put in an ice tray. Then I froze and put the cubes into a gallon freezer bag. Now I have zest and lemon juice to use in recipes when buying one lemon would cost me close to $1.

                                                            Watch the reduced produce and meats. With a little effort at home, you can save those to use later. I buy up peppers, come home and dice the green ones to freeze, roast the red ones and then chop and freeze, etc.

                                                            I plan menus for a week in advance. I sit down with the sales and plan my meals based on those. Then I watch for other reduced items in store. Don't buy a poor quality item just because it's reduced but you can find deals. I find that avocados are usually best when the store reduces them, same goes for mangoes, pineapples, and a few other items. Bananas, especially marked down, are a real value and I can simply come home, peel, and put them into a freezer bag. I let my 9 yr old son smash them in the bag and we have bananas for breads, cupcakes, cookies, pancakes, etc. in the freezer.

                                                          2. We save on foods by having a set dinnerplan for the week.
                                                            Mon: veggies only
                                                            Tues: fish
                                                            Wedns: soup
                                                            Thurs: fish
                                                            Fri: meat
                                                            Sat: splurge
                                                            Sunday: pancakes

                                                            This routine saves money in the way that we know what kind of meals we need to prepare and shop for in advance, so that we're always finding good deals that fit our week. (Also making planning sooo much easier) And when we made a routine of not eating meat every day we saved a lot.

                                                            (I live in Norway, so I don't know about how fish will make an inpact on your budget. Here we can always find good fish at a low price.)

                                                              1. re: anni

                                                                Thanks for sharing that site! Some of the recipes look really good!

                                                              2. Pay attention to the garbage can in your kitchen. The less that's in it, the better you are economizing I do not have a sink disposal, yet I generate very little garbage other than produce detritus (scallion roots, onion peels, squash stems..), eggshells, and coffee grounds. If I were physically able to have a vegetable garden I wouldn't even have those because I'd have a compost heap. Carrot peels, meat bones, and the like go into the freezer for making soup. My 3 dogs happily relieve me of gristle and the occasional overcooked item or "iffy" leftovers. Apple cores, pits, potato peels, and the like get tossed into the adjacent woods for the wild critters. I recycle all eligible packaging and paper, so there is almost never any food matter in the trash. It's mostly the outer wrappings of meat, cheese, and frozen vegetables. If you are rigorous about consuming food before it spoils, and don't buy expensively over-packaged food, you should not have a lot of garbage. If there's something you really don't like, try to doctor it up to make it more palatable, rather than tossing it.

                                                                Study the weekly supermarket flyers and plan your meals according to what's on special. Do this at home ahead of time, and shop with a written list. Put a dry-erase or chalkboard in the kitchen and get everyone used to noting items that you are low on or out of, copying them onto your shopping list. When you arrive at the market, first check the marked-down meat, deli ends, and produce, and take advantage of these bargains, adjusting your list on the fly, if called for. When you get home with the bruised fruit, make a compote or fruit salad, cutting away the bad parts. Reduced for quick sale ground beef = chili, meatloaf, spaghetti sauce.

                                                                Don't use coupons for things you wouldn't normally buy. They are usually for highly-processed and packaged foods which have cheaper store-brand equivalents, so you're not always saving all that much.

                                                                The extra shopping and cooking takes time. Even kids too young for knives and stoves can help by washing produce, peeling onions by hand, cleaning up. A wire cheese slicer is a safe way for them to turn cheese ends into slices for sandwiches. Teens should be expected to help with more advanced tasks. They may not do a great job slicing and chopping at first, but show them how, and show appreciation for the effort. Kids are less likely to balk at foods they've helped prepare.

                                                                Warehouse clubs are great for paper towels, TP, batteries, and plastic bags of all sorts, if you have storage space. You do need to be familiar with supermarket food prices so you can compare.

                                                                Don't eat out often; brown-bag work and school lunches.

                                                                1. Lots of good suggestions... here are a few recipes that got me through the lean times. These meals can be purchased for under $10- and the recipes are very fluid. You can use canned or fresh ingredients.

                                                                  Vegetable Soup-
                                                                  1 head of cabbage, finely chopped (melts into soup, you'll never know it is there- very filling)
                                                                  stew meat (or no meat)- browned, small chunks
                                                                  4 cans of beef consume - I think this is Campbells
                                                                  3 C beef broth (you could use veg. broth only; use boullion cubes if you have them)
                                                                  1 can diced tomatoes
                                                                  1 can corn
                                                                  1 bag of frozen green beans
                                                                  2 potatoes, 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 1 onion- small dice

                                                                  Brown the meat and set aside. Add carrots, celery, and onion to pot and saute until tender, add potatoes, consume and broth. Bring to a boil. Add cabbage and simmer for 30 minutes, next add green beans, tomatoes, corn and meat. This can simmer for several hours or you can serve it as soon as potatoes are cooked and the cabbage has almost disappeared. It is better on day 2.

                                                                  Salmon cakes (4)
                                                                  You can use canned boneless, skinless salmon or a fresh skinless fiet. This recipe is very easy to double. The larger cans make about 3/4 cakes and the smaller cans (tuna sized) make about 2 cakes.

                                                                  1 can salmon
                                                                  1/2 med. onion- minced
                                                                  1 egg
                                                                  1 Tbsp soy sauce (optional- use S&P instead)
                                                                  1/2-3/4 cup bread crumbs

                                                                  Mix all of the ingredients together- add bread crumbs a bit at a time until the mix will stick together. Divide evenly and form patties. Saute in a bit of olive oil or butter until brown on both sides. The canned salmon is already cooked. If you use fresh, rub with olive oil, bake in the oven and then chop it up.

                                                                  Good Luck- I think you can find inexpensive ways to make every meal that your family likes.

                                                                  1. I'd always wanted to believe that farmers' markets were less expensive than grocery stores, but I'd often found myself paying the same (or a little more) and chalking it up to moral turpitude. not any more--the farmers' market one block away from my grocery store has seasonal produce an average of 30% less than the grocery store. I'm guessing it's because the apples at the grocery store are all the way from Washington State, and the farmers' apples are from right here in New York. if you have access to a farmers' market it does make a difference now!

                                                                    1. I've recently read many articles on Cook Once Eat Twice. You cook larger portions the first night and then dine on the leftovers the next night, or use them to stock your freezer. The real benefit of this is that you can utilize the larger packaging of Sam's Club and not have a lot of waste. Plus you save yourself some time and labor.

                                                                      I've recently tried this for myself and even though I live alone, I've noticed a huge savings in my grocery bills.

                                                                      Fresh and Easy has discounted prices each week on a specific cut of meat or poultry. I got an enormous package of chicken breast for eight dollars. Poached them and used some of the meat/poaching liquid to make soup. From the remainder, I made chicken salad and shredded seasoned chicken. I froze most of the chicken soup and shredded chicken and had the chicken salad for several days. All for $8!!

                                                                      1. Another way to save that's very timely is to take advantage of post-holiday sales. Check out the big-box stores tomorrow and you'll find all the Halloween stuff marked down 30%, by Monday it will be 70%. It's a great time to stock up on snack-size packages of pretzels, cookies, or dried fruit intended for trick-or-treaters. I'll stock up on fun-size packs of M&M's to put in my lunch each day (and prevent expensive impulse trips to the vending machine). I'll also buy a bunch of paper products - it doesn't bother me if the paper plate I'm using to nuke leftovers have out-of-date seasonal prints, but you can also stock up and save them for next year.

                                                                        1. there are many good suggestions on this thread- the best general advice is;- buy what's on sale (even better if you have two or more grocery stores that you can alternate between). - avoid convenience and processed food (shop the perimeter of the store).- avoid waste ;- cook once, eat twice (or more) by buying larger quantities and using leftovers to create new dishes (ex. leftover grilled fish becomes fish tacos)
                                                                          Another tip- buy different, cheaper cuts of meat and search for recipes. I buy turkey thighs when they are on sale. I take the skin off and cook them in the crock pot - no liquid, just a few seasonings. When they are done, pull the meat off the bones and use it for casseroles, chili, tacos, sandwiches, etc.
                                                                          Get the kids involved in meal planning and cooking.
                                                                          Look at it as an adventure rather than a hardship. As tough as it may seem, there are always people in worse situations than you, so you should count your blessings.
                                                                          Happy cooking

                                                                          1. Shop when you're the most relaxed and the store isn't too busy. You won't feel rushed and the aisles will be clear for you to price compare. If you go really early in the morning, the produce is usually first coming out. Sometimes I shop at 9 or 10pm and I get first pick at all the 'reduced' items.

                                                                            An empty store = better deals for you.

                                                                            1. If you don't eat out, you'll save so much you won't have to cut back probably at all at home. There are just two of us and we're retired. But with the recent downturns, we're cutting back in every way. That includes one meal out a week which is a $10 breakfast which we share. I'm sure there are night when you're tired and it seems so easy to pick up a pizza. But, if you cook extra almost everytime you cook, you'll always have a cheap, easy, quick meal at home. Not especially fun but necessary.

                                                                              1. I can't really say that I've had to pinch pennies on food yet, but I recently started eating in much more often, and now that fall is here I am making a lot more thick soups (lentil, bean and potato) and stews (economical cuts of pork), and am really enjoying them. I also made a risotto (ok, I used expensive imported rice) using a cream of shrimp (a thick sauce using just a few shrimp with plenty of heads and shells), rather than the many whole shrimp I used to mix in. It was every bit as delicious as my usual shrimp risotto, if not as "decadent".
                                                                                experimenting with different vegetables (squash, eggplant, cauliflower) can be great- roasting them in a pan with some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper (add some heat, too, if you like) and mixing with pasta, is very tasty. you don't have to splurge on parmigiano reggiano, either- grana padano, dry asiago or dried salted ricotta work well to sprinkle over pasta, also.
                                                                                use leftover bread to make bread crumbs- not only are they great for bread stuffings, but also can be toasted with oil and parsley and sprinkled over baked pasta, or used to coat chicken breasts before you bake/fry/saute them.
                                                                                i also agree with those who recommended stocks. they are easy and economical to make, and can add a lot of rich flavor to basic foods, such as rice dishes. cook the stock down and add it to mashed potatoes instead of butter or cream for a delicious surprise.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: vvvindaloo

                                                                                  I forgot to mention polenta! Make a rich vegetable/mushroom stock, reduce it, add some fresh sauteed button/cremini mushrooms and grated cheese, and you've got a great dish.
                                                                                  Definitely check out this thread for more great ideas:

                                                                                2. I don't think anyone has mentioned eggs. Even though they have gone up in price too, you can still get a lot of mileage out of them in omelette's, fritatta's, egg foo young or stirring egg into broth soups at the end for cheap protein. Crepes too - inexpensive and easy to vary flavors and use for clearing out odds & ends from the fridge.

                                                                                  Open faced sandwiches seem to allow more veggies and less filling, plus eliminates a little bread. Eating it with a fork is a slower process than eating a regular sandwich (in my house). Slower eating = eating less, enjoying more sometimes!

                                                                                  It doesn't hurt to let the members of the house understand what something costs. I recently let my SO know the per slice cost of some lunch-meat and how many slices of cheese I expected a chunk to provide. The "dagwood" suddenly wasn't as appealing, and more sprouts, slaw, etc.began to be added instead of just meat and cheese...Instead of slicing an avocado for a sandwich, mashing it allows more servings and still has plenty of flavor. Same with shredding cheese rather than slicing - a little can go a long way.
                                                                                  Heating something like a sandwich often improves the flavor, letting you "need" less.

                                                                                  My SO does feel a need for chips, something easy to eat a lot of. I just divide the bag into portions as soon as it gets home now. (I haven't been able to work regularly for a year, SO just got laid off.) We make it into a game and try to get creative with it. Remember, most peasant food is cheap and tasty! Have fun with it, even bare budget cuisine can be delicious and nutritious.

                                                                                  Lots of great ideas on this thread!

                                                                                  1. I'd like to flip approaches from most of the wonderful suggestions.

                                                                                    What do you love? With a family of 6, you can do 2 nights a week that are "Dedicated Favourite Dishes"-- but go for the Side dish or the dessert, not the main course.

                                                                                    Eating on a budget is easier for the grownups who are making the money and the spending decisions about food. Many posters have mentioned that involving teens and children in the process is helpful -- and perhaps for you this would not work due to extracurricular obligations.

                                                                                    So, find out what your family likes best: Tuesday is mashed potatoes for Son 1, Wednesday is apple crumble for Daughter 3, mac'n'cheese for the littlest one...

                                                                                    In the same vein, make changes gradually where possible.
                                                                                    Switching from a menu of long-familiar foods into a vegan/fish/cheap cuts will give your family vertigo and increases the likelihood of resentment and, unfortunately, wasted food. I spent a little time hunting down a garbage study [but couldn't find it] about the '70's --more meat was wasted then because people didn't know how to appropriately prepare the cheaper cuts they were making.

                                                                                    It may be a "necessary adventure," but it also may need to be a permanent lifestyle change. So, take it slowly and enjoy!

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                                                      I think what's also true is that once you start, and you find a way of doing this that you're comfortable with, even when times are better, there's no need to spend more on food if you feel you're eating in a healthy, ethical, delicious way. I have found that without really intending to, I've permanently lowered what I spend on food. I don't know about you, but I'm never at a loss for what to do with found money ;)

                                                                                    2. 1)Definitely shop any ethnic grocery stores in your area.. it's true that produce and other items will often be much less expensive. I.e. the grocery near me often has bananas 4 lbs for $1, oranges or limes 15 for $1, tomatoes 2 lbs for $1 etc. Buy these items in quantity when you find them on special and make items that can be frozen or canned for long term use.

                                                                                      2) as others have already suggested, coupon clip. it's well worthwhile. Use the coupons at the stores that will give you the best value. i.e. the other day at Winn-Dixie I was able to purchase Kraft shredded cheeses for $1.25 per 8 oz package by combining the coupons with in-store specials. Kraft sliced singles ran about 90 cents a package with the coupons. I cut coupons while I'm watching TV.. it only takes a few minutes, then I file them in a little accordion file that fits into my purse.

                                                                                      3) scout out online specials. I often find items on special by the case at amazon.com for less than I can purchase them locally.

                                                                                      4) As others have said, the slow cooker is your friend -- you can use far less expensive cuts of meat and cook them lower and slower for delicious meals.

                                                                                      5) I make iced herb teas to drink instead of soda (I stay away from it for a number of reasons). I use the fruit flavors and don't add any sugar or sweetener - it's sweet enough with just the fruit flavor. Places like Big Lots can yield some pretty good deals on tea bags and other items (just check the expiration dates -- and don't be afraid of them.). My Big Lots had Ocean Spray cranberry sauce for 20 cents a can. I used it for a glaze on slow-cooked pork.

                                                                                      6) Try to plant a herb and tomato garden for those tasty extras that can really add up at the market (fresh basil is not cheap -- but, if you garden, it's far less expensive).

                                                                                      7) Cut out the snack foods.. most people snack far more often than they really need to do. Find less expensive substitutes like the fresh fruit that you got on special.

                                                                                      8) The only frozen meals I have are the ones I froze myself... I cook some items in bulk (bolognese sauce, chili, soups, etc) and freeze them in single portions for convenience.

                                                                                      9) Do get a good vacuum sealer if you don't have one -- so you minimize freezer burn -- freeze meats when you find them on special.

                                                                                      10) Search on websites like fatwallet.com and slickdeals. net for good prices on the items you wish to buy.

                                                                                      1. If you are in New England, you may have an Ocean State Job Lot nearby - in that case, check out the food section for great bargains on all kinds of things to spice up a meal - chili peppers, pickles, jams, pasta, Bob's Red Mill grains, dried fruits, sardines etc. We also buy one of their bulk coffees at 3.99 for 26 oz. - mix it half and half with our Starbucks italian roast for our morning brew at a reduced price (we like dark roast).

                                                                                        If you can start a garden you'll save money and eat better. If you find a freezer on sale, buy it and you can fill it with garden produce or meat that you find on sale (find out the day your grocery store marks down - often it's monday, at my store that day there are wonderful deals on meats). It may seem obvious, but turkeys are cheapest at thanksgiving, buy a few and toss them in the freezer, corned beef in March, lamb at Easter, etc.

                                                                                        Have international food night or ethnic night to try new meals that do not rely so heavily on meat.

                                                                                        Buy pizza dough balls in bulk or make your own crust and have pizza night where you make your own pizzas for a LOT less than frozen or take-out.

                                                                                        Sams may work for some people but I don't find the prices as good as local stores for most things. Paper towels, pizza dough balls by the case, and some of the cheeses are what we have found to be bargains there. My husband bought a membership but I buy the vast majority of my groceries elsewhere. The sizes for many things are too big for my family of 4.

                                                                                        1. Rice is always a great meal stretcher. Remember those ubiquitous Rice and meat and veg combos? all mixed together.

                                                                                          And Fried Rice is an even better deal since you get a little extra protein from the eggs. You can also toss in a handful of peanuts for extra protein and taste.

                                                                                          I also bought a #22 meat grinder. Now I just wait until something is on sale and stock up the freezer. Then i can grind my own hamburger or pork. A little bit cheaper than the stuff at the store, even when hamburger is on sale, and at least I know exactly what I"m getting. My sausages are probably as costly to make as the leading brands, but are much healthier, lower sodium, and lower fat.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                                                                            One other thought is dehydrating. It is a wonderful way to store unexpected bounty or that great bulk deal you just found. A good dehydrator is worth the price...but in the warm spring, summer and fall days, you can use a solar dehydrator that costs nothing but the lumber, screening and glass scraps to build it...

                                                                                            I have dehydrated tomatoes, pumpkin, apples, plums, bananas, hot peppers, watermelon (yep...it can be done... ), plums, beans, carrots, green peppers, venison jerky, potaotes (was recently blessed with a free 50# sack! some of it got canned... ), onions, mints and other herbs, etc.

                                                                                            Just this morning I had honey in yogurt with apple slices; apples I had dried and put back years ago! Let them sit a bit in the liquid, and, voila, gourmet breakfast from apples that my kids and I picked and for which we paid very little. The best part was the memory of that fall day picking together, and that next couple of evenings washing, coring, slicing and drying the apples. Now, close to 10 years later, a wonderful breakfast and great memories!

                                                                                          2. The current issue (Feb/Mar 2009) of Mother Earth News has an article about cutting your food bill. There's also an inspiring article about raising fruits and vegetables on a small city lot to cut your food costs.

                                                                                            1. Mom of three, family of five here, and I feel you! When I am cutting back, I tend to remember how my grandmother cooked & served meals.

                                                                                              Make bread or biscuits from scratch to serve with just about every meal. No matter what any cookbook will tell you, all you *need is flour, yeast, patience and a strong arm to turn out awesome bread. Ironically, it's terrifically stress-reducing for many (me included) and that's a huge plus!

                                                                                              Remember to go back to quite a few things on the table and plate, rather than just one big serving of an entree. When I'm lazy, you'll see homemade lasagne on our plates. When I'm not, it's less lasagne, more salad, maybe some sauteed zucchini, and bread.

                                                                                              Big bags (usually 10lbs each) of chicken leg quarters are your friend - usually at less than a dollar a lb, and almost always cheaper than anything else in the store. We happen to like baked chicken (could be lemon-pepper, could be teriyaki marinated, could be just with salt and pepper), but they're also perfect for gumbo - know and love gumbo, it's an ideal leftover or budget-stretcher, served over rice w/french bread. In fact, that's our dinner tonight. All told, I'll be feeding five with leftovers for 3 for about $4.

                                                                                              Other cheap chicken ideas as mentioned before are pot pies (try a little sherry in your sauce, heaven!) and casseroles. Or chicken and dumplings - that turned out to be a family favorite I had NO idea we'd all like.

                                                                                              1. My grandfather swore that grocery store sales were best late in the month, and my limited anecdotal experience has confirmed that. Plenty of people get paid on the 1st, and stores don't need to discount as much to bring people in to shop. Later in the month, budgets are tighter, and so sales are more effective.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: dtremit

                                                                                                  We had a couple of frugal months last year, and instituted much of what's already been suggested here. We set a budget, and budgeted within that budget. In other words, I set a limit on what I was willing to pay per pound for proteins, for fresh fruits and vegetables, and eliminated any convenience items that I could realistically make at home. I did a lot of baking and stock making, and froze meals and turned leftovers into other meals. Some examples--we made our own cookies, salsa, yogurt, gyoza, lunchmeat, salad dressings, mayo, jam, english muffins, etc. Our few splurges were good cheeses like parmesan, olives, and occasionally sausage for more than the per pound limit on meat and poultry. It's amazing how many meals one can get by buying meat and poultry on the bone and using every bit, including the bones for broth and stock. This takes a lot of planning and more time in teh kitchen, but it has its rewards, beyond frugality as well. It got to where I enjoyed seeing how little I could spend one week, and still feel we ate well, which we did I assure you. Take this as an opportunity to enjoy your kitchen more!

                                                                                                2. Pâte à choux,and it's myriad uses.

                                                                                                  1. decide what you are going to eat for each meal of the week based on what is in your pantry, freezer and fridge, and shop only once.

                                                                                                    1. Eat local! Many farmers markets are cheaper than the big-box grocery stores and more nutritious per weight as well.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: Jessica Laurel

                                                                                                        I wish that were true near me. I save money when I actually go to the farm, but the farmer's markets are total cash killers. I can't get out of the Asheville NC market w/out dropping $60 on nothing but fruit and veg , bread and cheese. You have to be really careful about things you normally pay for by the "each" in a grocery store. I came home w/ a $6 broccoli crown (fit in my hand) this fall.

                                                                                                      2. I have four supermarkets that i am near in my weekly travels around the area. conveniently, when i get the thursday fliers, i get fliers for all four. so i sit and make a list of whatever is cheapest at each store and i only buy that stuff. so i've kind of given up the 'one big shop' which i always did with a list and a menu plan, and at this point i really literally shop the circular and make meals with what's on hand from that. i don't hit all four stores in one day, just over the course of the week.

                                                                                                        I eat oatmeal for breakfast, which is very inexpensive, and i've started baking cookies for my kids lunch/snacks. also, i pop popcorn on the stove instead of chips/goldfish type snacks. i buy juice boxes on sale only, and they are only for school. for my lunch I always eat leftovers, no specifically purchased lunch food.

                                                                                                        1. Hi EE-

                                                                                                          That overwhelming feeling will hopefully pass- just like anything that's new, there's often an amazing human capacity to adapt and meet the challenge.

                                                                                                          Just wondering if you're in a position to day how "tight" your food budget is? And who you're feeding regularly? One of the best assets in the kitchen is simply the ability to cook and feel comfortable with the process. With that alone, you're ahead of the game.

                                                                                                          I do realize that some of the suggestions I make might seem too "pasta-like"- but hopefully a dish with rice noodles won't seem too plain/boring.

                                                                                                          -Make your own potstickers/dumplings. I don't make my own dough, but even with buying frozen skins, for less than $5, I can make a huge batch of veggie/meat treasures that are a God-send when I'm famished and need a quick dinner.

                                                                                                          -Peanut noodles- very flavorful on their own or a great way to stretch out a small amount of meat (especially if the noodles are loaded with julienned/shredded vegetables like carrots, cabbage, scallions, etc.)

                                                                                                          -Indian food- include staples like rice and dahl in the meal, and meat can stretch a long way when it's cooked in a flavorful sauce. Hopefully you have access to an ethnic market or bulk food store where spices are less expensive than grocery store stocks.

                                                                                                          -Mexican food- meat goes a long way when it's shredded in a spicy sauce, spooned into tortillas or on rice and you have yummy pinto or black beans to supplement. And I really like the cheaper iceberg lettuce with my Mexican meals more than any other greenery.

                                                                                                          -Polenta is another nice meal base as an alternative to rice or pasta.

                                                                                                          -Meat- free meals aren't always cheaper, but they often are. During tight times, I'm often turning to vegetarian cookbooks in the library for inspiration (love many recipes from Deborah Madison).

                                                                                                          FOOD ACQUISITION TIPS

                                                                                                          - I also agree that growing your own food is a great place to cut costs and maintain good food for the family. It's great to snatch only a few springs of parsley instead of having to buy a whole bunch (and half of it usually goes slimy before I can use it!). Some big money-savers for me have been homegrown basil, thyme, sage, cherry tomatoes and squashes. (when it seems like I'm going to be faced with a deluge of zucchini- more than I can even give away- I'll pinch off the blossoms and use those as a special treat. ) The upfront cost for me was about $15 for my gardening supplies, but it's been worth it to me. Could be a GREAT project for the teens.....

                                                                                                          - If the thought of growing your own food seems like too much at this point or it isn't feasible, then try to use everything that you buy. If you buy a family-pack of something, try to do different things with it instead of making a huge batch of something that will get tossed or frozen into oblivion (e.g. you freeze it to avoid throwing it away, not because you actually will use it later)

                                                                                                          -When it comes to meats, remember that the lowest price per pound doesn't always equal the best value. For example, sometimes sirloin beef is on sale for $3.50/lb, and chuck roast is priced at $3/lb. After trimming excess fat/gristle off of both, the yield of the sirloin might lead to a better "final" price/lb than an initially-cheaper cut. Another consideration is whether the meat you're buying is going to be stretched with less expensive vegetables/beans/starch or not.

                                                                                                          -If you buy a "manager's special" package of meat, open the package before you leave the store to make sure it's OK. A lot of times, it there's someone right there at the meat counter, I'll ask if they can poke a hole in the package so I can smell. That way, I know if it's OK to eat- if it's not, then the store clerk can simply toss and I'm saved the trouble of having to keep spoiled meat in my fridge for a refund.

                                                                                                          -Make sure you know what food mantras are myths for where you live. For example, there are many times at my grocery store when meat cuts go on sale at the same price (or even cheaper) than the whole cut (e.g. chicken thighs are cheaper than whole chicken).
                                                                                                          "Buying what's in season" is kind of a crapshoot for me- strawberries go on sale around Valentine's Day, and I know they aren't "in season"....but I'll buy them for some fresh fruit that week. I'm a big supporter of buying local produce when possible, though, because if it tastes better, it's more likely to get used, and it usually stays fresher longer than produce shipped from half a world away. But sometimes price does play a big role in determining if that tasier produce grown near me is coming home with me.

                                                                                                          -This sounds like an odd tip, but try to use a cart size that matches what you need. Grocery stores may subconsiously influence you to buy more (or buy things you don't need) by providing more shopping carts that are large. If you just need to buy milk, then don't even take a basket that you'll be tempted to fill with things you don't need at the time.

                                                                                                          -In addition to looking at grocery store flyers online, keep an eye out for sales (or even regular prices) at drugstores. A half-gallon of Byrne milk is cheaper at my local Rite-Aid than at any grocery store in town every day. And sometimes, Sun-Maid dried fruit is cheapest when it goes on sale at a drugstore (even though regular price may be almost double what it costs in the grocery store).

                                                                                                          -Don't be put off by "generic" brands- I've been pleasantly surprised by many.

                                                                                                          -With the sizes of packages changing all the time, try to look at the unit pricing of times (e.g. $/oz) instead of the actual cost of a package. The more expensive package (especially for staples) may actually be the better deal.

                                                                                                          -Conversely, the bigger package is not always the better deal in the long run- if you look at the unit pricing, you may be saving only a few cents per lb/oz/qt, and if you don't use it all, it may not be worth it.

                                                                                                          Sorry if I'm repeating anything or telling you about things you already know......and good luck! I bet you're going to get the hang of this and will be sharing your own tips soon! ;)

                                                                                                          1. I recommend Pam Anderson's book, "How to cook without a book". Yeah I know... it's a book. It has a lot of quick meals and talks about setting up your pantry and learning a few techniques so you can throw something together no matter what.

                                                                                                            I highly recommend pork tenderloin. It's cheap, flavorful and quick. Lots of ways to cook it. I'm from Texas so we bbq them...a lot! Nothing better than bbq pork tenderloin and hot smoked sausage and they only take about 20-25 minutes. Looks around... and despite what you hear, you can bbq in the oven. Just use a little liquid smoke in the sauce. No it isn't as good but it is quick.

                                                                                                            I also stir fry on week nights (also in the book). I started stir frying because I love chinese take out but after I got laid off, I couldn't afford $30-$40 especially when you figure out how cheap the materials are. In fact Pork tenderloins are tapered at one end and they come two in a package which is more than I want in 1 meal. because they are tapered, they do tend to cook uneven unless you fold the tapered end. I buy a pack of two and slice off the tapered end so I have 2 smaller tenderloins that are even in size. I slice the rest in strips for stir fry. A few nights ago, I had pork lo mein and fried rice. It took 20-30 minutes.

                                                                                                            I buy whole boneless pork loin (not tenderloin) on sale for $1- 1.50 per pound. I cut them into chops and trim the excess fat and freeze the boneless pork chops. I get about 28 chops out of an 8 pound loin. The store charges $2.99/lb. What I pay is cheaper than hamburger.

                                                                                                            I can get chicken thighs or drumsticks for $0.99/ lb most days. I can get whole chicken breasts on sale for $1-1.99 per pound. I have to debone and trim them myself but it is quick and doesn't take long to learn. After the 3rd or 4th one, you know as much as anyone. A chicken cacciatore recipe in your repertoire would be in order.

                                                                                                            A batch of beans and ham hocks or Ham and bean soup for you northerners is hard to beat and provides left overs for lunches. Don't forget the cornbread for those beans. I would be surprised if a big batch cost more than $5.

                                                                                                            Pot roasts are pretty cheap. You might want to make sure you serve either salad or soup before the meal and enforce the meat and potatoes boys (your sons and husband) eat it before the main course. They will eat less. It will be better for them and it will better guarantee leftovers.

                                                                                                            Here is where I will draw the ire of some. You aren't always going to be able to avoid eating out. Become familiar with cheap places and cheap menu items. Save up your restaurant coupons and use them. When I can't avoid it, I eat off the dollar menu at the local Mickey Dees. My son used to invariably order a quarter pounder. He gets 2 Mcdoubles for a $1 each which is considerably cheaper than a quarter pounder. Most drive ins have a cheap menu. Use it if you have to.

                                                                                                            If you can go meatless a meal or two, great. As for me... I didn't fight my way to the top of the food ladder to graze on vegetables.

                                                                                                            1. Hi all!

                                                                                                              I know this is an old blog, but just came across it today and thought we could all use some updated tricks.

                                                                                                              I am the mom of 2 boys who live at home and a 19 year old who lives on his own but raids my cabinets, fridge and freezer every chance he gets. I have learned quickly how to stretch a dollar at the grocery.

                                                                                                              When I hit the grocery I have the two younger boys (11 and 8) in tow. I set a budget amount (usually $10) and hand them a calculator. We see how much food we can get for that amount.

                                                                                                              Last shopping trip, I bought: a small bag of mini peeled carrots $1, a pack of celery $1.29, a pack of 5 chicken legs $1.32, a pack of biscuit mix $0.55, a 2-liter of Cola $0.89, a half gallon of ice cream $1.48 (normal price store brand), a loaf of bread $0.88, a dozen eggs $1.59 and a can of green beans $0.79. with tax on the pop only it came to $9.84 TOTAL!

                                                                                                              I boiled the carrots, celery, chicken, some onion I had at the house, bay leaf already in the pantry and salt and pepper and dropped in the biscuit mix to make chicken and dumplings. I heated up the green beans and we ate 3 of the 5 chicken legs that came in the pack for $1.32.

                                                                                                              I saved the broth, picked the meat off the remaining two legs and made chicken noodle soup (I had part of a pack of noodles at home). This gave me dinner for the night and 3 more tupperware containers of soup which I froze for lunch later this week.

                                                                                                              I fried up some of the eggs and made egg sandwiches for the boys (which they LOVE) for dinner another night. With the remaining bread and eggs I have made Dunky Eggs (over easy eggs with toast) and French Toast sticks.

                                                                                                              The boys are in heaven with the ice cream (fudge ripple) as dessert every night too! I even had celery leftover, which I filled with peanut butter for snacks at work and carrots leftover to go with ranch dressing.

                                                                                                              Not bad at all for less than $10!

                                                                                                              1. Right now some produce is on sale. I purchased 30 lbs of carrots for $5.00. I have cooked and mashed them and froze them flat for future use. Did the same with 20 lbs of turnips. Cheap and comfort for some extra work beforehand. Instead of prepared cuts of chicken, learn to skin and debone your own. I purchase medium ground beef it is cheaper and I drain the fat from it once cooked. I do not think the difference in fat content is that great once the fat has been drained. Soup is a stretcher, fills you up and you can add some pasta to it and prepare it beforehand and freeze for future. Buy meat on discount as they near the end of best before date, use immediately or freeze and thaw and use immediately. Hope the above is of help to you.

                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                                                                  I learned a while ago to make my own salad dressing and many sauces are very easy and cheaper to make on your own. Things like canned tomatoes instead of a jarred pasta sauce, or homemade mustard, ketchup and bbq sauce are easy as well. Canning your own pickles, fruit or jams can be a bit of an investment at first but saves in the long run, also freezing your own vegetables is always cheaper. The only exception I find on this is frozen berries from Costco, can't purchase and freeze my own for the price, it's crazy.

                                                                                                                  1. re: cleopatra999

                                                                                                                    Agreed super-expensive to purchase strawberries here. I did freeze them one year and they were so good, just not affordable anymore. I buy the Europe's Best blueberries, as they are the small ones and remind me of ones from Northern Quebec where we used to live and they grew in the wild. I have canned beets as well and might do some fermentation for the first time, saw it on TV yesterday.

                                                                                                                2. I've found myself the mother of a hungry teenager recently, and one thing I've done is to have 'Chinese' or 'Pizza' night every week or so, only I make it instead of ordering in. Pizza is a snap, especially once you find a good crust recipe (I use Jim Lahey's no-knead), your biggest expense is cheese, and shredded cheese freezes just fine so buy it when it is on sale and keep some bags in the freezer. I keep baggies of frozen tomato sauce (homemade or the last 2-3 oz. from a can when I make pasta w/canned sauce) and top it with whatever I have...a few pieces of bacon or ham, a leftover sausage, crumbled, caramelized onions, olives, tomatoes, almost anything that you put on a pizza, a kid will eat...and on Chinese nights I just make fried rice (cold leftover rice from an earlier meal, an egg or two, some veg or meat, usually leftovers...shrimp if they're on sale), and I often let the kids walk up and buy a few eggrolls at our local joint (I've made them, too, and they're dead easy if you buy the egg-roll skins for about 2-3 bucks...but sometimes I don't feel like frying somthing...), and that way we have our treat for 4-5 dollars instead of 25 dollars. We can afford to treat ourselves now and again, but I like to expose them to really good, well-prepared food, so we save our eating-out budget for really worthy places, and go less often. An even once-a-week Applebee's or Pizza Hut jaunt adds up very quickly, and more importantly, it isn't very good!

                                                                                                                  1. 1. Sloppy Joes made with ground turkey, throw in a can of corn or sliced or chopped black olives, or both.

                                                                                                                    2. Pizza ~~ make your own, buy Boboli or pizza crust, top with mixture of ranch dressing and bbq sauce, bbq chicken and sliced red onions, and cheese

                                                                                                                    3. Make your own chicken fingers in quantity and freeze carefully, Serve w/frozen french fries and broccoli slaw (purchased broccoli slaw and poppy seed dressing)

                                                                                                                    4. Homemade mac and cheese

                                                                                                                    5. Breakfast for dinner ~~ pancakes or waffles, bacon or sausage, egg stratas, ham steaks, bisquick biscuits slathered with butter and jam; or sausage gravy

                                                                                                                    6. Homemade salad dressings

                                                                                                                    7. No meat meal once a week.

                                                                                                                    8. Quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, burritos with refried beans and rice

                                                                                                                    9. Home made Chinese (fried rice, chow mein)

                                                                                                                    10. Meatball subs

                                                                                                                    No, I wouldn't go to Sams. I loathe Sams.