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What are your favorite cost-saving cooking tricks?

I never used to pay attention to cost-cutting cooking measures, however, since husband and I have taken fairly drastic pay cuts in the last year, we are looking for ways to stretch our menus. I am sure many Chowhounders are in a similar predicament with our weak economy.

I make a meat sauce (with lean beef) once every couple of weeks. Lately, I have substituted smashed tofu for one half of the portion of ground beef. The other day I chopped carrots into the tiniest pieces possible and used them in the sauce for added texture, flavor, and vitamins.

What are your favorite cost saving methods to extend meals?

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  1. We go meatless several times a week. There's tons of ideas for eggs, beans, tofu, seitan, whole wheat pasta and homemade veggie burgers. Budget friendly and meatless items usually make a nice light lunch over salad the next day.

    Protein is usually not the focal point of the plate. Instead of serving ribsteaks, I'll cook a London broil, slice it and serve it over salad with baked potatoes on the side. Just as filling as a giant steak, but cheaper and healthier. I do the same with grilled chicken. Or I make a roasted chicken and save what's leftover for a veg/chicken soup later in the week.

    I also make items that people typically buy- granola, salad dressings, pickles. I buy veggies whole (lettuce, broccoli, cabbage) and cut them up myself. Convinience products are just that, but they typically have lots of stuff added or cost an arm and a leg.

    1. Even if money's not tight, I hate waste and I like high quality ingredients. That means to save, I don't pay for cut up and prepared meats; I cut up chicken at home and grind meat for burgers. I buy whole vegetables and do all my own prep, and always find a way to use leftovers either for my own lunch or as part of another meal, from using carcasses for stock, or leftover braising liquid for a soup base, etc.

      Doing my own prep and not wasting stuff offsets the extra I'm paying for grass fed meat and dairy, wild fish and organic veggies.

      For total cost savings, I definitely think augmenting animal proteins with vegetable proteins is a good way to go. I also think some high fiber/high protein beans (black soybeans, frex) are helpful added to chili or salads, etc.

      Like Cheesecake17, I serve grilled meats and fish over a big plate of mixed baby greens, maybe with some goat cheese and nuts added to the salad; that's our standard summer dinner.

      And definitely buy whole items and do your own prep; the per lb. savings really add up and you'll have a better, fresher product.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mcf

        I'd be interested to know how you grind meat. I only have a food processor, and haven't liked the pasty quality of meat ground in it. It seems to incorporate too little air and grind too finely no matter how judicious I am with the pulse button. Is your grinder a hand crank or mechanized, for instance? Do you have any brand recommendations?

        1. re: amyzan

          The KitchenAid stand mixer grinder attachment comes highly recommended on the Boards.

          1. re: amyzan

            I bought a Waring electric grinder online for $59, and I use the medium coarse disc. By pulse button do you mean processor? That's not grinding, more like blending, makes mush, IME. The only issue I had was the burgers the first few times were too soft from too much moisture in the meat. The last time, I ground flank steak onto paper towels, spread it out, covered it with more paper towel and stored it that way for an hour or two prior to making the patties. I also rinse the meat and rub it dry well with paper towels to help remove bacteria prior to grinding. I put the grinder parts into the freezer for a while first, too, to prevent the meat warming while I grind it.

            1. re: amyzan

              My wife and I bought the Northern Industrial #12 meat grinder in 2008, and we could not be happier. It is a full-service grinder, with sausage attachments and fine, medium and coarse cutting plates. It is relatively easy to assemble/disassemble and to clean. After each use I use hot soapy water to clean the parts and then dry them thoroughly with paper towels, then put the smaller parts in a baggy and store the unit until next use.

              The one gotcha is the star-shaped grinder blade. If you put it in backwards you'll get crushed meat instead of ground meat. You'll know right away, though, because the meat will not be flowing through the cutting plates. You'll then need to reverse the grinder blade. Other than that, it's pretty straightforward.

              We buy nothing but organic/hormone-free beef (usually chuck steak, but other inexpensive cuts as well), and organic pork, and we grind our own meat. We haven't tried making sausages yet, but we certainly have the tools if the mood ever strikes.

              What I do is rinse the meat under running water and then use paper towels to dry it thoroughly. I cut it into large cubes (the grinder takes surprisingly large cuts), and then I fire up the grinder. I put some paper towels on the counter under the plate that I use to catch the ground meat.

              You can grind the meat twice if you wish, once using the coarse cutting plate and then again using the fine cutting plate. I did that the first few times, then I tried using just the medium cutting plate and we decided that works for us, so now we only grind the meat once.

              You can also coarsely chop some onions and peppers, if you wish, and grind them into the meat.

              Now that I have gotten used to the grinder and have a routine, it only takes a few minutes to clean and grind up enough beef/pork for the week. We usually grind about double what we'll use in a day or two and freeze the extra.

              I think we paid about $120 for the grinder, and it is now on sale for $99.99. Here's a link:

              http://www2.northerntool.com/food-pro...

          2. I think mcf hit all the major points in the post above.

            What I will add to that is to PLAN AHEAD your meals. Plan your meals based on your shopping habits -- i.e., if you shop once week try and plan your meals for that entire week. This way you buy what you need and what you will ultimately consume before it spoils.

            Of course, this doesn't always work because sometimes "life" happens -- you go out to dinner, guests come over, you get that certain craving for something "else", etc.

            But to the extent you can plan out your meals, you'll be surprised how much food you won't waste and how much money you'll end up saving.

            1. using smart cookware (like pressure cookers and pyrex pans) to save on fuel and using residual heat to cook or warm other food. i often wrap root veggies (potato and yams) in foil and toss them on the coals during a barbecue. here in asia we cook rice at least twice daily and i regularly add two or three eggs (washed well). also, when rice is almost cooked i'll steam my veggies (usually asparagus, baby corn and carrots) on top.

              1 Reply
              1. re: epabella

                Yes, living in SWFL, I've also learned to use residual heat...even in the cooler winter months...if using the oven on the weekend, I try to throw in some sweet potatoes and/or white potatoes to have on hand for lunches during the week or I'll roast up some root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips. Crockpot and pressure cooker get good workouts also. Preparing dried beans instead of canned has also saved me some $$, along with using every scrap of veggies into stocks/broths.

              2. Like everyone has said. The less "value-added" processing, the less the price. So no frozen, refrigerated, dehydrated potatoes. I wanted fries, I chopped a potato ect. Only buy what you will eat. A sale is not a sale if it will go bad before you finish it.

                I ate eggs a lot when a college student and added starches to extend meals. For instance whole wheat pasta with potatoes with pesto and whatever green veggie was on sale that day. Or make vegetable curry and top with a fried egg.

                I could never go a whole week without stopping at a store. I like cooking too much and my attention span for a meal is about 5 meals and no more then twice a day. So even if I have two-three bowls of left over black bean homey soup, I would stop at the store and make something else to mix it up while finishing the soup.