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Economizing on food costs

I'm curious what other 'hounds are doing to economize on food costs. Even though times are tough for so many, it seems to me that food costs have not decreased in general, altlhough food package sizes seem to be decreasing. I have always wanted to decrease our meat consumption for health reasons, and we are now consuming much less meat. The impetus to do so was feeling that we need to save money. And even though I love wild caught fish, we seldom eat it. We rely on frozen tilapia filets (which I have grown to detest) and canned. Sometimes I buy a frozen wild caught filet.

I do dig out coupons several weeks a year. It seems to me that coupons are not helpful for the kind of cooking I do, but if I save them up, I can use some all at once several times a year.

I am needing some spices, which I normally buy from our local Penzeys, but I know that I can get a lot of what I need at a local ethnic grocer much cheaper. I may do the latter.

What are ways you are economizing these days?

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  1. We buy what a friend of mine, disparagingly, called "brown meat." The 30-50% off stuff. We buy bacon when it's on special. Meat is probably the biggest saver we do. Produce has gone SO high. Again, the weekly specials. But,lordie, I'm tired of broccoli :) Idon't have to have to most expensive canned tomatoes. I figure I'm adding so much flavor to them that I'm fine with whatever's on special. Just a few thoughts.

    1. I do use coupons, but only for things I'd already be buying - it can be tempting to buy something we don't really need b/c of a coupon ("what a great buy!"), but I try to resist. Mostly I seem to be economizing by the meals I plan & cook - things that make more than one night's dinner, for example. My family loves meatballs, and so I freeze half & serve at a later date. We eat more one-dish meals like taco soup, dirty rice, and beef stew. I roast a chicken whenever they go on sale & use for the next night in chicken & dumplings or other casserole-type meals. I try to buy just what we will use, so that there is less waste. Sometimes I just have to pass up things we'd like and get it the next week.

      2 Replies
      1. re: elfcook

        Like elfcook, I agree that the best way to save money is to plan ahead. For instance, the other night I made a chicken stir fry. I made my stir fry sauce separately and before I added it in, I put a bit of the chicken and veggies aside. We ate the stirfry for dinner and brought it to lunch the next day. The chicken and veggies were used the following day with leftover rice and black beans for a filling in burritos. We had the ingredients for burritos (guacamole, salsa, sour cream and cheese) from our pulled pork nachos we made the previous, which were just another way to use the left over pulled pork we made for dinner....and so forth. The point is that if you are creative and think ahead, you can always make a meal stretch out.

        1. re: CreativeFoodie42

          Absolutely. It's the rare dinner indeed that we don't get at least one more meal from, frequently more. We waste almost nothing.

      2. I don't use coupons much, I find that they're usually for name brands I don't buy. I tend to use store brands and when I find one I like (White Rose brand Raisin Bran (NYC), for example, rather that Post) I stick with them. I do check out weekly supermarket flyers and loss leaders and work with them.
        We've cut back on meat with the exception of pork and chicken, which are still relatively cheap. We eat a lot more pasta, beans, veggies with rice things, stews and casseroles made with cheaper cuts. Grains, everyone's friend, are still a great deal. A modified vegetarian diet, with small amounts of animal protein, is the way to go. Be adventurous. It's that whole out of the box thing.
        Although I like to buy spices from Spice House, we have a brand in NY that you can find in many ethic grocers and bodegas, La Flor, which tends to be really inexpensive and depending on the turnover at the particular store, pretty fresh. My local bodega has whole nutmeg (six in the bottle) for under two dollars.
        Fish is out these days, I just don't have it like that, except for canned tuna and sardines.
        I just found a website for a CSA in my neighborhood, $280 for four months, feeds two-three people a week, that's about $70/month for really fresh veggies. I can't wait for the season to start. They take food stamps, too. Farmer's markets are abundant in NYC but you will pay for the excellent quality they offer.
        I'm also one of the lucky NYer's that has a rather large backyard space, so if I don't grow a garden this summer I'm just a loser.
        The two real big issues I have with food prices now: I don't have the money for the really big pantry I used to keep, ethnic stuff, litre cans of olive oil, nuts, dried fruit, baking supplies etc. and the price of Red Pack tomatoes, which is one national brand I really, really like. Not so long ago a 28 oz. can was $1.19, now it's upwards of $2.69. Red Pack are very reliable for consistency/quality and I haven't found another brand I like more or that is more consistent. My marinara is just not up to snuff anymore.
        I do get food from a local food bank but I realize that's not everyone's option. Currently in NY, food banks are down to basics, a lot of canned stuff, salmon, soups and fruit, rice, pasta and crappy cereal but at least I'm not hungry. Canned salmon has it's value these days, believe me.
        Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to eat this week AND pay my cable bill. Food, cable bill, cable bill, food. :-)

        1. I'm a single person, so I can be very flexible and I am.
          probably my biggest money saving tip is that I make soup(s). I then have it for lunches and dinners and freeze it in individual portions.

          I agree with the others about meal planning. Alternative proteins are common for me; cottage cheese, eggs, beans. I eat more chicken than anything else.

          I live in Southern Cal so produce is abundant year round and I shop seasonally.

          6 Replies
          1. re: laliz

            I like making soups too. We eat them for lunch often, esp. in the colder months. And I like getting 2 meals out of one cooked dinner. We also do one night a week that is "catch as catch can." Which for us means we find food in the fridge or pantry and eat that way. Saves my cooking a meal, and uses up leftovers.

            I like all the tips. Any others we haven't thought of?

            1. re: sueatmo

              Were DRIED beans/legumes discussed? I've been really saving on buying 1 pound bags of black beans and chickpeas...cook them up and store in freezer for various uses. Also, what about growing your own herbs/veggies where possible? I live in FL and will be planting some more tomatoes and parsley this weekend. I think even in colder climates you can grow windowsill herbs if you have a sunny exposure.
              *Also* -- coupons...yes I use them but only for items I actually value and buy...I feel especially virtuous when the item is on sale AND I have the coupon. I just brought in today's mail and I have two $1.00 coupons for Jimmy Dean sausage...I don't eat it myself but recently e-mailed the company (now owned by Sara Lee) to tell them I'm glad their sausage is still 1 pound and pretty lean (after using it for a work-related breakfast casserole)...those coupons will probably come in handy over the holidays when I have company.. To boot, the expiration date is like 2013! LOL! A few months ago, I just asked a question on the Northland juice homepage and they sent me the most awesome coupons in the mail. I'm not advising that everyone gratuitously contact all these food companies, but they will often send you coupons just for communicating with them, positive, negative or just information-related.

            2. re: laliz

              I seldom eat cottage cheese, but whenever I do, I'm always surprised by how much I enjoy it and wonder why I don't eat it more often. I find it a lot more satisfying than yogurt.

              Another good alternative protein is tofu. You can even do half tofu / half other protein (say, in a stir fry) to keep costs down if you really miss meat.

              With our CSA, do fine with a couple of vegetarian dinners a week. We often use a small amount of chopped nuts for protein in a dish, say a broccoli salad, or a small amount of cheese. You can keep nuts in the freezer for quite a while. Same with cheese--you can keep it awhile if you handle it properly, and just use small amounts. You don't need much to feel satisfied. Nuts go on sale during the holiday baking season.

              Otherwise, yes, planning ahead so you don't waste. And, if you can afford the cash outlay and have the space, stock up when things go on sale. Buy in bulk if you can, from co-ops, you can usually get a cost savings that way. Their bulk grains are great, but they also sell other things like bulk olive oil, soy sauce, honey, dish soap, etc. Just bring your own containers. I also like buying spices at the co-ops, especially if it's a spice I don't use that often and I don't think I need a whole bottle of it in my cupboard, then I just buy the small amount, 1 tsp or whatever, that I actually need.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I never compared prices, but I think paneer (which I love) is a step up from its wetter cousin, cottage cheese. I have not made paneer although I understand it is simply a matter of adding an acid to milk and letting it drain.

                Re Querencia's downthread post about meat sauce: 4 oz of well-browned diced pancetta as the base for a tomato meat sauce using a lot of shredded or diced eggplant inaddition to the onions and garlic makes a very hearty sauce. Because of eggplant's meaty texture and the intensifying of the pancetta by browning, it seems far meatier than it really is.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I love the pancetta and eggplant idea, thank you!

                  Regarding paneer-- it's a cinch to make and really a good idea in terms of making veggies more interesting for those of us who haven't trained our palates to love veggies alone. To make paneer, you just boil milk and add an acid (lemon juice, yogurt) and then drain the curds in cheesecloth. I used to just hang the cheesecloth from the kitchen faucet. I will even admit to having used an old tshirt at one point.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Another trick for making the sauce meatier - a can of anchovies packed in olive oil. Chop them very finely with kitchen shears, and toss the oil they came in into the sauce, along with your eggplant but instead of pancetta. Makes it incredibly rich without any red meat.

              2. 1) A small amount of meat with a lot of onions and canned tomato puree and some green pepper, all cooked in the crock pot, will result in a huge amount of meat sauce that can be mixed with an even huger amount of cooked pasta. Lasts all week. 2) Nothing beats half a ham for economy because you use everything. Have baked ham, scalloped potatoes with ham, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, ham with sweet potatoes, ham with baked beans, and ham & eggs. Freeze some if you get tired of eating ham. Cut off the rough bits and put them through the Cuisinart with some pickles, add mayonnaise and mustard, and have sandwiches for days. When you do this, save the pieces of skin and baked gristly stuff to cook with future pots of green beans. Make a few gallons of split pea soup with the bone. Then fish the spent bone out of the soup and let the dog enjoy it in the back yard. 3) Eggs: omelets, quiche, fritatta, deviled eggs, French toast, fried egg sandwiches, scrambled eggs & sauteed mushrooms, meringues, baked custard.

                1. READ GROCERY ADS: STUDY THEM. Know what day of the week your local newspaper carries grocery store ads and be sure to eyeball them because loss leaders mean significant savings. Last week in Chicago a major supermarket chain sold round of beef, including eye of round, for $1.99 lb. This week 3-lb bags of apples are $1.50 (usually more like $3.99). A one-day only Sunday special last year was ten packages of chocolate chips for $7 if you bought all ten---70 cents apiece for what is usually $2.49. Watch for these special deals also in chain drugstore ads (Sunday paper where I live).---milk is often cheaper at CVS or Walgreens than at the supermarket. Look to stock up in November when chains compete with each other for Thanksgiving shoppers---everything will be on sale. We have one chain that always has sweet potatoes for around 15 cents lb then---I freeze all the mashed sweet potatoes I can cram into my freezer.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Querencia

                    Another great buy at Walgreens is usually their nuts; often one or two types are featured sale items each week. Nuts might be considered expensive but walnuts for example especially are a good value because of the nutrition they impart and if you are cutting back on meat sources of protein, nuts can be a smart option IF they aren't loaded with salt. I especially love it when their Deerfield house brand of walnuts (6 ounce bag) is on sale 2 for $5.00. I just put them right into the freezer. Down here the milk at Walgreen's is usually about the same price as the grocery store and I've had a few 1/2 gallons of the Walgreen's milk go sour on us before the expire date so I usually don't buy it there, just my experience.

                    1. re: Querencia

                      I'm like you. This has really helped curtail our budget!!! It's important to know, also, which stores are likely to sell out, which offer rainchecks, etc.

                    2. Querencia,

                      Your post could have been written by me! Other than the pea soup (not fond) I have done just about everything that you suggested with a ham I purchased for 98 cents per lb.right down to the doggy getting the bone :-) (ham bone is the only bone she gets)

                      I still have another half in the freezer ready and waiting for collard season here in Fla.For some reason my garden doesn't grow collards well but i do grow great tomatoes,onions,peas,so I trade with a friend.

                      Take Care,Robin

                      Take Care and Thanks to everyone for the tips.My Hubby was laid off recently and

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Robinez

                        Even if you don't like pea soup (I can relate; I don't hate it, but I wouldn't want gallons of it) you can use the bone to make other kinds of soup like a creamy potato soup. A pot of beans, black eyed peas, or even lentils always benefit from a ham bone as well.

                        Querencia has it right also. I do the same with store ads. I do use some coupons, but mostly for non-food products. If you pair the coupons up with the loss leader sales, you can come away with some pretty amazing deals (free TP, 50 cent deodorant, etc.). Most of the big chain supermarkets send out coupon books of store coupons every now and then also. Fry's (Kroger) sends me coupon books about once every quarter. I've gotten coupons for free eggs, free ice cream, $X off frozen/meat/dairy/produce purchase of $X, as well as coupons for store brand products. I just got a booklet from a local chain grocery that has a coupon for a 10 lb bag of potatoes for 98 cents! You can stretch a lot of things with potatoes.

                        1. re: Robinez

                          Honeybaked Ham stores sell frozen ham bones which often have a lot of meat still attached. I ask first, and if they happen to have one that has not yet frozen, I'll take that one and remove some of the meat before making soup. Otherwise I thaw and trim, having learned the hard way after putting a frozen bone in the soup pot - SO much meat came off as it cooked that I had to run out for more split peas and wound up with 17 quarts of soup.....

                          1. re: Robinez

                            Dog lover jumping in:

                            Please DON'T feed your dogs cooked bones!

                            Dogs can eat raw bones just fine. Cooked bones splinter and can kill them by puncturing their stomach or intestines. Highly dangerous to give a dog any bone that has been cooked.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I'm with you on that one, and I find it a whole lot easier when the house isn't filled with tempting treats. I'm not likely to overeat chickpeas, oranges, apples, and spinach, hahaha.

                            2. My local Albertson's gives 10% off your entire bill IF you wear the local NFL team's jersey to the store on game day. For real, I only shop on gameday now.

                              1. We've always tried to eat seasonally and buy local. But, other than that, we're not doing anything significant to cut down on food costs. Good food is too important to us. Economies come from elsewhere in the budget

                                1. I check the flyers online, every Thursday night (the day they are released in my area), to see what's on sale in local grocery stores. I stock up on sale items that last. We eat a lot of legumes (dried, not canned), and inexpensive seasonal produce, like cabbage. I stretch the meat with lots of veggies (good for the waistline and wallet). I use all the food up, never discarding leftovers and make good use of the freezer for the rest of the dish, or for the 10 pounds of red peppers I recently bought, for cheap, and roasted. I avoid buying prepared foods. One of the most important things is meal planning and cooking ahead (I do a certain amount on weekends to prepare for the busier weekdays), so you're not tempted to buy overpriced frozen dinners or restaurant food.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Full tummy

                                    I agree that pre-planning my meals has been the most effective thing I've done in terms of cutting down on our food budget. There's only two of us, yet, in the past, we've really racked up our grocery bills!

                                    Worse, this year, we're living in France while my husband goes to school. Groceries are more expensive here in Europe than they are in the US. However, by spending a lot of time the stores, I've realized that, while some things cost A LOT more than at home (basmati rice, tofu, tortillas, yogurt) other things that are pricey in the US are quite inexpensive here (buffalo mozzarella, gruyere, shallots, chantarelles, beets, pre-made puff pastry, etc.)

                                    So, part of it has just been being creative with our menus and learning how to cook new (less expensive) foods. Which has been, fun, too.

                                    One thing we do is make sure to ALWAYS eat up our leftovers.

                                    I find that learning about different ethnic foods helps in this arena, because it gives you more options for using up leftover ingredients. For example, the other week we had a TON of leftover carrots. I shredded them and made an Indian carrot salad (my mother-in-law's recipe) with cumin, yogurt, cilantro and lemon. Problem solved.

                                    One helpful tip, too, for using all those left over ends of cheese or half-zucchinis, spinach, etc. we all have at the end of the week? I chop everything up and put it, with eggs and a bit of milk, into a muffin tin, bake for 20 minutes. When they're done, we have little egg cups that we can eat as a quick breakfast or snack for a few days, and we've used up things before they go bad. Sometimes, if they're very good, I even bring them over to my morning book club meetings and things like that - everyone always likes them, and it's cheaper than going to the store and buying something to bring.

                                    Ditto to Full Tummy on avoiding the frozen dinners - I usually keep ONE frozen meal in my freezer for "emergencies" and that's all.

                                  2. For economizing you cant get any better than old beans and rice. As boring as that is, if more people in the US knew how to cook them they may be better off. And you can extend this to getting higher quality rice and various dried grains and bean. Another thing that has been helping me a lot is veggies at the local farmers market. I can buy a fridge full of veggies for about $20.00 a week, with great variety. Meat is so expensive I can only go for bulk chicken breast anymore. Costs have almost made me a vegetarian,