What are your favorite cost-saving cooking tricks?
- Dagney Apr 8, 2010 01:10 PM
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Concur that MCF nailed the basics. Just a few things to add...
1) It probably goes without saying to a CH-er, but most of the "budget" cuts are in no way inferior to the glamor cuts---they just need time and moisture. Beef shank, pork shoulder, ox tails, and pork neckbones (to name a few) all make for fine eating. I'm usually home early and we like to eat late, so much of this can be weeknight fare for us. If that doesn't work for you, make a couple of dishes Sunday while you putter around the house---they'll only get better over the next few days. Or think about a crock-pot or pressure cooker.
2) If you don't care about things like grass-fed, free-range, etc., start looking for meat at your local Asian grocers. Prices are ridiculous, and you'll also see some budget cuts your supermarket probably doesn't carry. Same goes for fruits and veggies, but be aware that produce is often sold fully ripe and will not hold for four or five days.
3) Start thinking about meat as more of a flavor component or flavor extender than as a stand-alone entree. A little chopped or shredded cooked meat can go a long way in many a grain or bean dish or pasta sauce---especially if some of the rendered fat is used as a base for the same dish. Or, a couple of slices of perfectly cooked steak or duck breast atop a first course can make a relatively small investment extend to four-to-six people.
4) Save your fat. Rendered chicken fat is divine. Duck fat, obviously. If you have access to pork back or leaf fat, make your own lard. For about 6 bucks I get four cups of liquid gold that makes great biscuits and adds a nameless rich mouthfeel and depth of flavor to countless dishes. We have really cut down on the amount of $$ we spend on butter and olive oil by saving/making our own fat, and by following the next step...
5) Save your good extra-virgin olive oil for places it will shine----salads and drizzling over finished dishes, for example. For the most part, there's no need to fry or saute with extra-virgin.
6) Not everyplace that calls for it needs 100% stock or wine. Lots of recipes will call for something like "a good dry white wine or your best chicken stock" in the bottom of the roasting pan (to avoid the smoke and keep the rendering fat from burning and ruining the resulting pan sauce or gravy). I've found here and elsewhere that using a mixture of water and wine or stock does a great job---you should be getting plenty of flavor from the rendering fat, and much of the water will cook off during the course of roasting or when you reduce the liquid stove-top. (Now, don't skimp for company or Thanksgiving, of course).
7) If you know you're not going to get around to using up some veggies or fruit, pickle them or make chutneys. Even if you don't want to go through the trouble of sterilizing and everything for long-term storage (I know I never do) making a simple "refrigerator" pickle will give those cucumbers or radishes three weeks instead of three days.
8) If you live in a temperate climate and cook with fresh herbs, start growing your own. I'm not sure this would save money if you have cold winters and have to reinvest every spring, but here in Seattle my rosemary and mint stayed outside all winter and are still going strong. Just don't skimp initially: be sure to buy enough specimens of each herb so you can actually use them regularly without having naked plants.
9) Buy meat on sale and freeze. I don't recommend this for things that will be cooked quickly and plainly, as I think the texture changes for the worse, but when you see that Boston butt on sale for $1.79/lb, by all means stock up for your next couple of stews or batches of chili.
That is all for now. Hope something was helpful.
Ask around...you may find butchers willing to give you the lard FREE, pestle. People don't want it, nowadays (alas. Lard has taken a bad rap. It's actually more monosaturated--like olive oil--than not, and a fantastic source of vitamin d, if it comes from healthy, outdoor pigs) and much goes to waste. Just last month, the folks I buy my organic pork from tossed in, absolutely free, 22# of lard fat. I've already rendered half of it, and got four quarts of pure white lard to show for a few hours of crockpot time.
Ditto this and MCF. And let me add, when you want to have a splurgy meat centered meal for a pittance, think VEAL BREAST. I usually find it for about $1.50/lb. Typically, if I'm not going to stuff it, I debone (save the bones for making stock/demi-glace), season and braise the breast - in stock, water, whatever and some aromatics (I have a pressure cooker - about an hour in there and you're good to go).
After the braise, I remove from the liquid put meat in a pan, crank up oven to high and get a nice crust. And degrease and reduce the braising liquid for simple/quick ridiculously tasty gravy.
You can easily serve 5 people for about $5.
1) I check the flyers for local grocery stores when they come out each Thursday and stock up on non-perishables on sale. I also plan my menu around the fresh sale items.
2) Eat less meat and more legumes! Learn to cook legumes and find some recipes you like!
3) Use online recipe sites like www.epicurious.com to find recipes that use the ingredients you have, thereby eliminating waste!! This will also help you to find recipes you like that use less costly ingredients.
4) Plan your meals in advance so that you can prevent waste. Freeze anything you're not going to eat before it goes bad.
5) Avoid buying things that provide little nutritional value for the cost, e.g. pop, candy, snack foods, etc. (I also avoid buying juice and drink water instead.)
Those are just a few of the things I do... Have cut my grocery budget in a major way in the last year or so!
re: Full tummy
I started diluting apple cider - slightly at first, gradually increasing the amount of water. That way, I got used to it and now I prefer a big glass with 3 parts water to 1 part juice. I still get the normal 4-6 oz portion of juice that way, without an excess of sugar.
A good way to assess how economically you are cooking is your volume of garbage, trash and recycling. There shouldn't be many waxed cardboard packages, microwave containers, or much organic garbage. Bones shouldn't see the garbage until they've seen a stockpot.
"A good way to assess how economically you are cooking is your volume of garbage, trash and recycling. There shouldn't be many waxed cardboard packages, microwave containers, or much organic garbage. Bones shouldn't see the garbage until they've seen a stockpot."
Ooh! Yes! Haven't ever thought of this before but I love the idea of having a way to assess how well I'm doing.
Oh gosh, I think I'm pretty good at not wasting, but my husband thinks I produce an awful lot of organic garbage; no problem because it all goes into the compost bins in our yard. Lots of peels, seeds, inedible cores, tops & bottoms, brown and bruised bits, eggshells, stems, roots... It does add up!
re: Full tummy
Full tummy, I am surprised that yours is the only post to mention checking the supermarket flyers. You stock up on sale-price nonperishables. Proud barnacle (the derogatory insider term the grocery industry has for customers who stick to the sale items) that I am, I have ALWAYS done meal-planning based on the supermarket sales. Not to mention that I scope out the markdown cart in produce, the meat manager's markdowns, the deli ends, and the dented cans. If those offer some useful bargains, I buy them and alter my plans so as to use them up promptly. There's always fruit for compotes or crisps, cruciferous vegetables that just need a little trim before using in slaw or stirfrying, mac&cheese from cheese ends, sandwiches from deli meat ends sliced at an angle. Thanks to Jacques Pepin, I know that mushrooms starting to go brown and soft at the edges have more flavor than the perfectly pale ones.
I grew up doing that. My dad was a single father with two children and very little money. I learned per unit cost calculation as a child at a time when it wasn't on the price label... It can get obsessive, though, and my husband often reacts with, "Where are we going to put all that _____?" Now, that doesn't mean I don't indulge sometimes!!! But I do love those bargains!
Sometimes I come home grinning from ear to ear thinking how 3/4 of my purchases were seriously discounted goods.
I remember seeing a Jacques Pepin episode that began with him saying he couldn't pass up these sad, ugly artichokes on discount in the produce section of the supermarket. He carved them up & made a delicious side dish for hardly anything! He had a bit of a chuckle over what we call "damaged" because all the brown, outer section was carved away in seconds.
meatless meals for sure but if protein, we are reducing the size and filling up on more sides, veggies.
I love the creativity of using leftovers - nothing gets thrown out in my house (rarely).
When I chop veggies, the skin, ends, etc. all go in a zip lock bag - when I'm ready to make soup stock - I have my start - including the bones from a roasted chix.
I always buy bone in - debone myself if I want boneless.
I extend chix and tuna salad by adding shredded carrots, celery, corn - leftover veggies. They add a nice enhanced flavor but pushes that can a lil further.
So many great ideas already here. My biggies:
1. Wring the maximum you can out of every ingredient. That means buying meat, especially chicken, whole or in bone-in portions, then saving the bones for stock afterwards (not to mention that the meat is so much better cooked on the bone anyhow). Freeze, in small enough portions that you'll be able to use them easily.
2. Forget what 90% of cooking shows tell you. Extra-virgin olive oil should absolutely NEVER be used in the cooking process. Use corn, grapeseed or some other neutral oil for all your sauteeing and pan-frying. If you deep fry at home (I don't usually), that's when you spring for peanut. Starting your onions and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil is total nonsense -- and the oil is full of flavorful impurities that can even break down and taste bad when cooked.
3. Buy generics and house brands for your staples when it makes sense. There is little difference between the national brands and the cheapos in a very wide variety of products. All-purpose flour, cooking oils, salt, vinegar (except the specialty ones), cocoa powder, baking soda -- these are things I never spend the extra money on for an "upgrade" any longer. And sorry if this brands me a loser, but I think Penzeys and other high-end dried herbs and especially spices are vastly overrated. I don't cook with many dried herbs, but lots of the cheap dried items such as cumin, cinnamon and rosemary are just fine to my palate.
4. A very big one, and something that took me years to internalize: The economy of numbers does NOT work in your favor if you make extra-large batches of food but end up discarding it because it goes bad before you can finish it, or you freeze it for later and don't end up eating it. Be realistic when you cook. If there are two of you, don't make that enchilada recipe that serves 24. There's a high likelihood you'll end up throwing away a lot of it.
5. Corollary to No. 4: Organize your refrigerator and freezer, and coordinate your shopping for when you have time to cook. More times than I like to admit, I've let an expensive piece of produce go bad because I bought it on impulse and didn't have the time to fix it properly. If you love asparagus and you find it on sale for 99 cents a pound, don't buy six pounds just because it's so cheap, unless you absolutely know you'll make and actually eat two gallons of asparagus soup, three nights of roasted spears, and seven asparagus omelets.
6. Recognize that all bulk buys aren't a good deal. I get big bags of almonds from Costco and roast two cups at a time, leaving the raw ones in the freezer. That's an enormous savings over raw almonds in the bulk aisle. But when you really break it down per serving, the extra-big boxes of cereal or multi-packs of pasta are often as expensive or even more than the smaller portions at the grocery store.
7. Yes, I know this one is political. If you're in the US or Europe, make friends with Aldi and Walmart if you happen to have them close by. No, Aldi's produce isn't always top-notch and both stores' focus is on pre-packaged junk. But there are some real finds at both. My Walmart has excellent fresh beef tongue, frozen perch and frozen turkey breast. I buy Aldi's marinated artichoke salads, German breads, table wine and dark chocolate bars.
Looking forward to others' great ideas here.
I totally agree with #3. I go to the cheapest supermarket in the area to stock up on basic items- mostly generic but a few brand name items. Flour, sugar, salt, spices, baking soda/powder, milk, eggs, yogurt, jelly (for baking), peanut butter, granola bars, beans, rice, onions, garlic, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, potatoes... all so much cheaper than the regular supermarkets. I also buy Edy's ice cream, Tropicana oj, and brans name yogurts... the prices are cheaper than when other markets have them on sale.
The extra freezer is my top money saver, I rarely buy meat anymore that isn't on sale at rock bottom prices. All leftovers, after a few days, if I see it's not going to be used, get packed up like TV dinners and stuck in there too, real nice to find a few weeks later when I don't have so much on the menu. The freezer door is chock full of qt mayo jars of various soups and chili, just the two of us rarely finish a whole pot in a week (probably because I often make 2 or 3 different ones at a time, when I have fresh stock) but a quart of homemade soup appearing out of nowhere is such an easy treat.
Ditto on the grow your own herbs, and more if you have the space. I just do 8 or 10 pots up on the side of the porch, and dry what's left in the fall for winter use. You'll never find chocolate mint or pineapple sage in your grocery store!
And the days of taking a recipe and following it to the letter are so behind me, much more fun to improvise with what you've got on hand.
Agree so much about packing dinner-sized leftovers into the freezer, down to the point that they are like treats appearing out of nowhere! I don't have an extra freezer but the door is surprisingly ample, in addition to being handy, for stacking freezer-to-table containers of soups and stews for one or two. Basically any type of delicious homemade goodness that is more efficiently made in a bigger batch and reheats well works. Ditto for the type that cooks fast but causes a storm to make, such as meatballs, crab cakes and dumplings.
And agree that taking a recipe (or a combination of them) as suggestions help so much. Being a recipe purist can end up wasting a lot of food.
I just thought of this as I stuck the rest of the veal roast from Easter into my "chili bag": save all meat scraps, ends of roasts, even cold cuts in a gallon Ziploc, then when it's full make a pot of chili or enchilada stuffing. Same with leftover bones and scraps of veggies: when the bag is full, make stock. I had a boss that used to call certain items we sold something like Gefelte Gelte, my Yiddish isn't good but it meant Found Money, it's like that. Free food for all!
Also when I buy basil or parsley in the winter, I used to just throw away the extra leftovers like I was a millionaire. Now I stick whatever is left in the freezer and add to the next appropriate dish I'm cooking, rather than dry herbs.
Ziploc bags are definitely your friend. I actually do the similar thing of sorting scraps according to their anticipated use, in separate freezer bags. For example, I almost never have time to cook the ribs of kale and Swiss chard, and so I would just do a quick sautee of their leaves for dinner, and then put the ribs straight into their special bag. When I have collected a big bag of these (which happens quickly) and actually have time to dice and sautee them properly, they make a wonderful basis for clear soups and lentil dishes. It makes me feel so virtuous too, to not waste anything!
Growing your own doesn't always save you money. If I run a strict P/L on low-yield crops such as okra or bell peppers, I bet they end up costing much more than at the supermarket. And it has so much to do with what part of the country you live in. Here in the Midwest, some of our growing seasons can be surprisingly short and wet. Last year, I'd be shocked if I ended up with four pounds of edible tomatoes all summer long.
The garden's benefits go far beyond the plentiful crops in good year -- but I don't think it ends up actually saving me money on the bottom line. Your mileage may vary, and you may be a much better gardener than I.
I grow my "bedding plants" from seed that I save from year to year....and I fertilize primarily with compost and rabbit manure (and kelp spray, from a powder you add to water...LOTS of water) so those are quite economical for me. The veggies with the best yields are green beans (the sluts of the garden because they always put out ;-), chard, summer squashes, kale, potatoes (if you save your seed potatoes from year to year) and--once its established--an asparagus bed, that just pours forth those luscious spears for six weeks, easily.
I agree that okra, peas, and corn take up a lot of space and don't yield much for the money, but sometimes I get BUMPER crops of bell peppers (enough to can dozens of jars of pepper relish) and these I grow from seed, as well, so they're cheap, too.
Seek the source, or at least as close to the source you can find, for your food purchases. I go to a fair amount of trouble researching, chatting up local farmers, seeking word of mouth recommendations, to avoid the Middle Men in seeking the "champagne taste" foods I want on my "beer budget." Because of this networking (and some driving), I get organic, pasture-fed chickens for about $6 each, eggs from same for $1.50--$2.50 a dozen, organic beef (I buy a side) at an average of $2.75 --$3.25 pound (and that includes not just ground beef and soup bones, but also prime rib and sirloin), and pork (including bacon, tenderloins, etc., plus the lard, which I render for an extremely low-cost, healthy fat for pastry and frying) for about the same price. I also get fresh, raw milk from pastured Jersey cows, at the farm, for $3 a gallon, which I can turn into butter and creme fraiche and so forth...
Then, for exotic stuff, I head to ethnic grocery stores (buying rice in 25# bags, or cases of mangos for $12, and so forth, and fish of all kinds at much better prices than found at mainstream grocers) or watch Amazon carefully (they have fantastic sales on great food--including organic and gourmet items--shipped FREE with super saver shipping. If Amazon doesn't have what I need (although, recently, they've had THE best prices on coconut oil, Kashi cereals, de ceco pasta, etc.)...then I look for "Mom and Pop" online venues that specialize in serving an ethnic group. For example, Minos Foods has dozens and dozens of brands of olive oil, and I can get large cans for less than smaller bottles, in the stores.
Then, next, I follow Michael Pollan's advice and "shop from the edges" of my regular grocery stores, avoiding the pre-packaged, often unhealthy, convenience foods. We cook almost everything from scratch, and to help with the time crunch this causes, all three members of the household--including the teenaged daughter--know how to cook and we take turns making dinners. I grow all our needed vegetables during our (too short) growing season, so that saves us a fair amount of money for at least a FEW months of the year (I can't help dreaming of what it must be like to eat from your garden more than just 5 months of the year!) and we can and pickle the surplus.
One more thing: let the food dictate your recipes, not the other way around. Shop first, choose what's on sale, what's abundantly in season (it'll taste better, anyway) and then come home and figure out what to do with the foods...You can waste a LOT of money letting a recipe dictate your shopping. I've seen my sister waste vast sums of money tracking down blackberries in January or running out for a specific cheese from the gourmet cheese shop, rather than let the ingredients dictate the recipes.
I dump veggie scraps in one of two bags in my freezer: the one of southeast Asian scraps for pho broth (lemongrass stalks, ginger trimmings, mint stems, etc.) or the one of all-purpose western stock basics (onion ends, fennel stalks, thyme stems, etc.).
I freeze things constantly, and I now finally keep my freezer in a semblance of order. I label indeterminate-looking things (pints of cooked beans, homemade salsa verde, bags of chipotle pepper ice cubes) with masking tape with their contents and the date I froze them. Because I don't buy convenience foods, I make my own (for instance, potstickers or pesto) to freeze. I frequently rely on an old book my mom once found and gave me, hilariously titled 'Will It Freeze?' (The answer is usually yes.)
Oh, and although I throw most things in the freezer before they can go bad, I keep stale bread around for pappa al pomodoro.
I too have taken to using meat mostly as a flavor enhancer; often I use small quantities of anchovies or pancetta in sauces or vegetable dishes, or I add Italian sausage or kielbasa from my local Polish meat markets to soups. For fresh meats, I mostly cook pork since it's so cheap and lean (and since I've been cooking so many Chinese and southeast Asian dishes lately).
By the way - some stores (like Fairway here in New York) will sell oddly sized scraps of prosciutto, other cold cuts, and smoked salmon for a fraction of the usual cost. That's the only way I buy such stuff anymore. Meanwhile, I usually shop for spices, herbs, dried mushrooms, much fresh produce and basic cuts of meat at Asian supermarkets, where they're far cheaper. And since the only expensive processed groceries I buy are juice, oils/butter and ice cream, I stock up on whatever decent brands are cheapest at local American-style supermarkets each week.
I like your meat sauce idea; subbing tofu for beef would not have occurred to me. I used to make lots of meat sauce, too, and once I got sick of eating it on pasta, I'd add spices and beans to turn it into chili.
Oh, and I wholeheartedly agree with Beckyleach regarding her advice to let your food dictate your recipes. Sticking to a prescribed shopping list bores the hell out of me. I just give myself a budget, keep track of what my shopping cart's contents will cost as I browse, and pick things I figure can work together for meals. This not only prevents me from having to hunt around for ingredients for particular recipes but also encourages me to try new ones. (And, of course, I still pick up staples. I never go shopping without coming home with a pound of coffee beans, a bag of mushrooms and some olives). Say I go to the store, think "hmm, haven't had fennel in a while, I'd like to make something with fennel -- oh, and chard, too," and then grab a pound of each. I then come home, Google those ingredients and invariably end up making some new dish I love.
Oh, and my biggest cost-saving method: I brew my own beer.
Having read through all the responses -- which are alll great, by the way -- I just want to stress something to the OP.
Don't lose sight of the forest by focusing on the trees alone.
What do I mean?
All of these cost-saving ideas, while terrific, generally require a good bit of time and planning. And, alot of us nowadays between family, work, kids, etc., don't have alot of time.
Last I checked, all of us still only have 24 hours in a day to work with.
You just don't want to end up spending so much time trying to save on food costs that it takes away from your quality of life in other aspects of your life -- e.g. spending time with loved ones, enjoying your hobbies, etc.
So, while sometimes it's more expensive to buy that pre-cut slab of beef, in the long run it might actually be a cost-effective way to prepare a meal because you'll have saved some time to "spend" it ong other things you want to enjoy in life.
Just some perspective ... that's all.
Good advice. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a full-time homemaker (well, my children were homeschooled but one's off to college and the other's entirely self-directed, now) and thus have lots of time but not much money. I wouldn't expect anyone to be able to do all the things I do to save food (seek out local farmers and providers, cook from scratch, can jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, etc.), grow my own vegetables--all from seed, including the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.) comparison shop, etc. if they work outside the home, too. BUT you can incorporate a lot of these ideas, or do them on a smaller scale. Good luck!
On another message board I frequent, a woman posted an ad on Craigslist offering to sell home-cooked meals. She found a twenty-something male who didn't really know how to cook and missed his mom's meals. She charged him $100 a week for five home-cooked dinners and lunches. If you're cooking anyways, you might be able to up the portion sizes and sell them to someone who doesn't like to cook!
late last year i saw a raw-food documentary and it preached the higher nutritional value of carrot tops, the external leaves of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and cabbages. i'm not sure if their claims are true but i now save and chop-up those parts mentioned to make vegetable stock and i do get tasty results.
a microplane is a great investment as the rind of citrus fruits are often discarded but we all know how how great they are.
My DH and I sit down each Saturday morning and make a menu for the week. Then we check the pantry, make sure of what we do/don't have for the week's menu and do our grocery shopping accordingly - whether it is at our local grocers, farmers market or Costco. That way, we make sure we are using fresh ingredients where possible or buy in bulk and vacuum seal, then being able to use something for more than one meal that week if we need to (i.e. since there is just two of us now, buying bacon and having breakfast for dinner one night and BLT's another night). It sure beats the "what do you want for dinner?" question, which we hate!
I received a free rotisserie chicken from my pharmacy. Used part of the chicken for a chicken dinner, salads and saved the bones for a delicious chicken broth. I use less meat for my meals concentrating on vegetables by following advice from a Chinese cookbook.
This is one of my favorite subjects! Top money savers from highest-impact:
1. Plan. Just about any plan will save you money. I like flexible meal plans myself, and I think planning around a starch rather than a protein is the best idea since the price of, say, rice doesn't fluctuate in the same way that produce and meat prices do. (So, for instance, Monday rice, Tuesday pasta, Wednesday potatoes, Thursday quinoa, Friday bread/dough-based, etc. -- and then you'd fill out the menu with whatever is on sale at your local market.)
2. Can the processed, pre-prepared food. HUGE cost saver, with a corollary benefit of cutting out a lot of junk as well.
3. Eat less meat. This has made me a more creative cook as well.
4. Know what things should cost. Have a mental "high number" that you absolutely will NOT go over. I don't care how good that asparagus looks, I am not paying more than $2/lb for it. I can do this now without having a price book, but some folks find them really helpful. Also aids in resisting the siren song of the bulk aisle and the warehouse store!
5. Make stuff that's cheaper to make, buy stuff that's cheaper to buy. That seems like a no-brainer, but the point is that sometimes people who are trying to be frugal get caught up in "it must be homemade to be frugal" and miss the fact that, for example, this week, Stonyfield Organic yogurt was on sale for $1.56 for a 32-oz tub and I can't make yogurt that cheaply!
6. Remember that it's all relative. I would never pay $6/gallon for milk to drink, but the milk I buy (local, non-homogenized, only minimally pasteurized) to make yogurt is that price. It makes the best yogurt, and for yogurt $6/gallon is a crazy bargain.
I buy whole boneless pork loins on sale for $1-1.50 per pound. It's about an 8 pound roast and i cut them into chops and freeze them. Makes about 28 pork chops that usually go for $2.99 per pound. That's cheaper than hamburger. I try to make some "poor people food" especially to balance out a more expensive meal. "Poor people food" would be ham hocks and beans, jambalaya, Red beans and rice with sausage, Spaghetti and meatballs or stir fry anything.
I have never tried it but you could keep a crock pot on low all the time. Trow your bones and vegetable scraps, potato peels, chicken skin. Whatever... It would make a great stock. After a few days make soup.
On the ridiculous side....If I was desperate, I would go down to the local lake park and pick out a nice duck or goose....here goose goose goose.... snap it's neck and load into the trunk and drive home. Hey I said if I was desperate!
I live on a lake where the geese are an enormous nuisance during the winter months. A couple neighbors have admitted to me they've done just what you describe. They're Canada geese, which means the little buggers are almost nothing like the big sacks o' fat you get frozen. They're much bigger and almost as lean as factory-raised chicken.
Even though it's, shall we say "extra-legal," I plan on trying it myself some day. Can't use a gun, obviously, and they are VERY aggressive punks. But it's on my bucket list.
I would say my two most consistent methods are
1) use everything and
2) cook what's on sale
In the first one, that means that the meat bones and chicken necks and gizzards and veggie trimmings are saved for making stock. Leftover bits of stuff or byproducts (meat drippings and rendered fat, seeds and skin from tomatoes, whey from paneer, broth from cooking beans) get tossed in the freezer for later use. The tough stems of broccoli or asparagus are used to make creamed soups. The shrimp shells get saved for sauce.
The second is to pay attention to what is cheap that week, and use that as your starting point, rather than making up a menu and buying regardless of price.
- chicken thighs and legs are cheaper and tastier than breasts. Tough cuts of meat are cheaper than steak. And they both often taste better than tenderer but blander cuts of meat, if you cook them properly.
- dry beans (and lentils, and chickpeas) take more planning, but they are dirt cheap and taste better than the canned versions. Likewise, whole grains (brown rice, etc) take longer to cook, but are very filling.
- check out the cheap fruit and vegetable rack at the grocery store. Old mushrooms make great mushroom sauce or soup, bruised apples are good for apple sauce - if you cook the stuff quickly, it can save you a lot money.
- make meat less of a centre piece for the meal - avoid dishes that have a big piece of meat in the middle in favour of casseroles or stews where you can use less meat and make it go further.
Some really good advice so far, here's mine:
1) If you're storing leftovers/bargains etc in the freezer, write a list of the contents and stick it to the door. Cross stuff off when you've used it, and be strict about eating what's in there and not letting food get forgotten about - it's not the right place for something you didn't enjoy the first time around, and are unlikely to use.
2) When you're coming close to needing to do grocery shopping, do the "pantry challenge" - see how many days you can hold off just by using up what's in stock. For me, this often leads to eating the random/impulse purchases, like canned cassoulet brought back from France, but it's as likely to be sardines and sriracha over rice, with whatever veg is lurking in the fridge.
3) Google your fridge! If you're running out of ideas, pull out a few ingredients, google them, and see if it throws up anything good.
4) See meat as more than just one meal. So if I've bought a ham hock which yields 1lb cooked ham, I'll allocate that to two two-portion meals, plus make a batch of pea/bean soup with the stock. A roast chicken will be a meal for two, then two or three chicken based meals before becoming stock.
5) Work out what matters to you. I like to bake, so I don't tend to buy bread, and the time investment pays off for the quality of the produce. On the other hand, the cost saving for canned vs. dried beans, homemade pickles, and homemade pasta aren't really worth the time investment for me, so I don't bother.
#2 is a big one for us. I tend to stock up on things when they're on sale or when I hit Costco, and then I get bored with tuna fish or what have you, and there it sits for a long long time.
About once every month or two, we have a grocery shopping moratorium and force ourselves to make dinner with just what's on hand. Sometimes the meals get really "interesting," but we usually get at least a week of food out of the pantry and freezer. Frankly, we could even go longer, but after two nights in a row of some sort of lentil/canned chicken/fish sauce concoction, we give up and go back to the store. =)
Lots of great replies so far. I love this thread. Extenders and store fliers are great, and we use them both to good effect in our house. But for a different train of thought, try this on:
Think like a peasant in substance and volume.
It helps to really think about what food is, and what is enough. Many folks have lost sight of what a portion is, or what they really want. Lots of times, if you just think about what you want, it's a lot less than what you'd make without thinking.
Simple meals can be wonderful. (There is no better supper than two good, fresh eggs fried over-medium in olive oil until the edges are crisp, and slid onto a plate of hot whole wheat spaghetti, with a little parm, salt and pepper.) Made routinely, simple meals can help you save money, lose weigh, live ecologically, and be healthier.
• Stock your larder with dried lentils and yellow split peas. They are really cheap at an Indian grocer, and not much money anywhere else. While you are at the Indian grocer buy a big bag of brown basmati rice and spices, too. Buy cheap house-brand cans of black beans, chick peas, and pintos at a grocery store. Buy good peanut butter. (Costco organic is great. Use one beater of a handmixer on low to mix it up, and put it in the fridge to keep it from separating.). Get your olive oil at Costco too. Buy potatoes, onions, and eggs. These are the stuff of real cooking. Buy whole wheat flour and yeast. Buy Oatmeal in bulk.
• Learn to make a few simple recipes for dal (spiced peas) and lentils. Have them with brown basmati rice. (Find a used rice cooker. They are priceless.) Rice and beans is a simple, wonderful and tasty dish. It does not have to be complicated. I have some great dal recipes with 4 or 5 ingredients. I love having rice and dal for lunch. It always amazes me that something so good and good for you can be so easy and cheap.
• Learn a few simple recipes for great bread. Making bread can be simpler than driving to the store for it. I make the Bittman no-kneed bread:
And James Beard's "Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread"
With these handy, you have the basis for lots of things. One slab of this brown bread and garlicky home-made hummus is a fine meal.
• Drink tap water.
• Think simply. Breakfast can be a hardboiled eggs (boil a bunch and keep them in the fridge), sliced into quarters on toast with maybe a little jarred salsa. Or just a bowl of oatmeal with a little salt, sugar and milk. You can make a big batch of oatmeal and just reheat what you need. Stir in a tablespoon of peanutbutter into your oatmeal, if you like. We often have refried beans in the fridge, and cold baked potatoes. Have a plate of beans on a baked potato (reheated in the microwave) and some salsa, and you won't need to eat for a long time.
• Lunch can be bread and soup. Learn to make a simple broth you like. The Golden Noodle Broth from Laurel's kitchen is really good. This link does not credit her, but that is its source:
Put sliced cabbage in or any vegetables and meat you you have handy.
• Does all this sound too '70s Hippy? Maybe, but "Lulu" --the fantastic provencal cook who inspired Richard Olney, Patricia Wells, Alice Waters, and countless others-- drops this recipe in "Lulu's Provencal Table":
How simple and cheap is that? Yet this lady, one of the best cooks of her generation and inspiration for many great cooks and eaters, had that soup nightly with her husband. And they lived happily, and well for a long, long time.
Anyway, keep up the good advice everyone. I'm enjoying this thread a lot.
re: Dave Westerberg
You know, I read an article recently that said that it's only recently that people don't know what it's like to feel hunger pains...not in a bad way, but eating when you actually are really hungry instead of because it's dinner time. Hard to do with the family, but I'm keeping it in the back of my mind.
re: Dave Westerberg
I like the advice of 'enough'. I have wasted food by making more than I could eat alone, or by taking more on my plate than I was able to finish. Of late, I've really been making an effort not to do either.
Having said that, a big batch of soup and lunch size portions have really lowered my lunch budget. I take lunch from home 3 to 4 days a week - a savings of at least $100/month and somewhat easier on the waistline too.
As a single person who lives alone, here's a tip that works for me and may help others.
If I have it at home, I don't buy it out. That is, if I have a tomato or two at home, and I make a trip to the grocery store, I don't buy *more* tomatoes unless I actually have a plan for them. Exceptions can be made for an extremely good deal, but in general it's not enough to think that I *might* need them.
It's one thing to stock up, quite another to make sure produce gets used before it goes bad. I'd rather make another stop on the way home later in the week than see food go bad because my plans changed or my appetite was low.
To net 2 lbs of favas, you'd need far more than 2 lbs of fresh beans in the pod -- I'd say around 3 lbs. I personally would use dried or canned beans for a soup -- with the amount of work it takes to shell fresh favas, you'd waste your effort and their delicious fresh flavor making them into a soup. Canned or dried butter beans would be a much better choice for a soup, unless you are going for a light spring soup that features the whole beans.
re: Dave Westerberg
Here is a better version of Laurel's Kitchen's "Golden Broth" (the original). It uses a little oil, and I think that helps a lot:
"Laurel's Kitchen" is a cookbook is well worth owning.
Here is a great recipe for refried beans from "New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant," (another book well worth owning).
We have made these countless times, and used them many ways: as a main course, a side, with rice, on toast, in tortillas, and of course, on potatoes for breakfast. I increase the cumin, corriander, and tamari.
I re-read my post and winced at "No-kneed bread." Although it's true: there are absolutely no knees in it, it's properly called "No-knead bread."
I'm enjoying these posts. My contribution: someone on CH suggested storing veggies and herbs in glass containers and I've been doing this, even for lettuce and I'm convinced it all lasts a lot longer. Put berries in clean glass jars with a lid -- even raspberries last twice as long, at least. Feta cheese will last longer, too.
Also, sometimes I take my lunch in one of those lunch on the go things -- lately I've found them at Ross, TJ Maxx. I put salad in the bottom and have salad dressing in those plastic salsa containers, upper has 2 containers, I usually just bring one with cottage cheese. It has a thin blue ice thing you keep in freezer until you're ready to leave and it's inserted in the middle. Everything stays cold for many hours. I also brew fresh tea leaves (steep 4 minutes) and put into a Nissan thermos -- stays hot 10 hrs.
Several people have noted this already, but the freezer is your friend. I live alone, and almost everything I cook, I'm going to have leftovers that I'm going to be tired of long before the number of days it takes to eat it all fresh.
So, if I make a roast for dinner, the next night I'll have a french dip sandwich for dinner, and then the rest I'll make into a stew and freeze in meal-sized containers. If I make a bolognese sauce, after the first day, I'll portion it into containers, some for the next day in the fridge, and the rest in the freezer. If I make a roast chicken, I'll eat it for dinner one night, use some sliced breast for a sandwich or a chicken salad the next, and the rest I'll make into a chicken soup or stew and freeze in portioned containers.
Your leftovers in the freezer, if organized into serving-sized portions, are much more likely to get eaten, than a giant container of who-knows-what that gets buried in the back of the freezer. I have about a dozen of the same sized plastic containers, about 2-cup size, and they stack well in the freezer. when I don't have time to cook, I always know I'll find something good in the freezer. Right now I've got containers of spaghetti sauce with meat, beef stew and pork chili in there.
I also freeze english muffins, bread and corn tortillas. The muffins/bread keep great in the freezer, especially if you are going to toast them, and the tortillas keep perfectly -- just heat them over a burner on the stove.
I also tend to keep on hand mainly veggies that don't go bad quickly. Romaine lettuce keeps a long time, as do those butter lettuces you can now buy with the roots on. Cherry tomatoes keep well, as do celery, carrots, onions, etc. Unless I'm cooking it that day, I try to stay away from things that perish quickly, for I find that's my biggest source of waste. Get creative with what you can keep on hand. Roasted root veggies are a treat anytime, and carrots, potatoes, turnips, parsnips keep practically forever in the fridge or a root cellar. If you are out of lettuce, slice celery at a diagonal, mix with halved cherry tomatoes, scallions and a vinaigrette, and you've got a refreshing salad. Serve that salad with an omlette made with a little cheese (also keeps a long time), a slice of toast from your freezer, and you've got a satifying dinner made of whole foods that is also economical, unwasteful and ready in minutes, whether you've been able to get to the market or not.
A couple more ideas that we implement:
1) Shop the bulk bins. The local grocery store sells whole wheat flour for $1.49 a pound in the box, and $.99 a pound in the bin. Sure, you have to find a place to store it when you get home, but a handful of glass Ikea jars will cost a one-time investment of $10 and enable you to shop the cheaper sections. Likewise with their dried fruits, beans, lentils, etc.
2) Make your own pre-made: Instead of buying pancake mix, mix together your dry ingredients, put in a jar, and put a label on it that reminds you what wet ingredients to add to make pancakes. If you use a wipe-off label, you can put an expiry date as well. Most store-bought mixes can be done like this (brownies, breads, cakes, etc.). We also do this with muesli, trail mix, etc. This can also lead to healthier eating, as, for example, our "pancake mix" is buckwheat pancakes with some flax meal and wheat germ tossed in for good measure.
3) Everyone has mentioned buying meat in bulk on sale and freezing, but we also cook it first and use it for sandwiches. Whenever whole chickens are on sale, we buy at least two or three and cook them all at the same time, then slice up the extra and freeze in individual-size portions. Instant single-serving lunch meats at a fraction of the cost and with no added chemicals, sodium, etc. We've even done this with turkey, though I will say two whole turkeys is a whole lotta sandwiches.
Embrace the greens! Collards, mustard, kale, beet, etc are nutritional power houses, delicious, versatile, and, in keeping with thread, they're dirt cheap!
Our biggest savings comes from leftovers. Actually, as I heard someone else call them, "Planned-overs." I always like to make a chicken into a couple meals: Usually, roast parts one night, and the white meat for chicken salad or casserole later in the same week. You can also use it for other ingredients, though. We were having stuffed chicken with a cream cheese and jalapeno filling, and I made enough to use the extra for sandwich spread and to add to a casserole for an extra perk. A $1 block of cream cheese usually gets half-used around here then the rest goes bad. When you're trying to make every bit count, it's important to be sure even the "little bits" get planned for and used. Making a week-long menu before shopping has really helped me to get these small spends coordinated to save some grocery money.
I have already posted some ideas and the ideas that others have suggested are good, but with the economy the way it is, it seems like we could all find ourselves eating poverty food.
Here are a few real poverty ideas. Asians eat a lot of rice, Mexicans eat a lot of beans and corn because those are cheap forms of protein. They store well (for months or years actually). This type of food is the main attraction in the meal and the meat when it is there is secondary, maybe only a few ounces per person.
Where I work, there is Viet Namese woman supplements her food budget by making fried rice to go dishes and selling them to her coworkers. I take advantage of it a couple of times a week sometimes. I doubt that she pays anything for the food her and her family consume.
Anyway, here is a list of poverty foods and I suspect everyone could benefit from once or twice a week making a meal out of one of these dishes. They all make good left overs too.
Pinto beans with salt pork and corn bread.
Fried rice with whatever meat & veggies you have
Noodles and whatever you have ( an egg, leftover taco meat, veggies)
Red Beans and rice
The list goes on and on.
My brother seemed to live on rice with a can of soup poured on it for years.
Home made mac & cheese would be better for you but boxed mac & cheese with a can of vienna sausages cut up in it. isn't bad.
If you have to eat out every once in a while, have some cheap alternatives. Chinese take out is great but it is very expensive especially when you consider how much the raw materials cost. We all have the dollar menu at micky dees to fall back on.
Some of the posts here suggest making a game out of it. That sounds like a great idea. Make it your new hobby. How cheap can you eat?
Alot of what I do to save $ (and also avoid wasting food!) is already mentioned, but need to add that one good value, meat-wise, is turkey thighs. Skin off, they are terrific in a crockpot in several applications as a sub for chicken thighs, or even pork.
Another thing I do is freeze leftovers I know I won't get to, in small quantities so there's always a few homemade entrees in the freezer.
Oh, and I can't stress enough the importance of a SHARPIE MARKER in your kitchen. I label all leftovers with the date, and even jars I've opened to keep track of their lifespan--food safety meets frugal!
Buying a whoel chicken instead of just breasts in the styrofoam tray because they're the same price and with a whole chicken I can roast it, or (take the breast out ) make stock out of the bones, before or after roasting and just end up with more!
I buy meat when it's on sale, or clearance and cook it up, or freeze it.
Always buy things on sale, so lots of frozen veg and even good artisan bread and freeze it, it heats up lovely!
Where I live it's not often that a whole chicken is cheaper than parts. Last week, chicken breasts were .99 cents a lb. Whole chickens were 1.89 lb. Sometimes, leg quarters are .59 cents lb. in 10 lb. bags. When they are on sale, I will buy several whole chickens and cut the breasts & other parts off a couple to package for several meals. Otherwise, I only buy what's on sale.
Pork is usually cheap here; when pork loins were on sale for .99 cents lb back during Christmas, I bought a couple. During Thanksgiving, turkeys were .49 cents lb, I bought three. Just a couple of weeks ago, one store had whole turkey breasts on sale for .99 cents lb. There's a whole lot of meals in a turkey. If you can buy meat when it's on sale, there is no need to cut meat out, that's not to say that a few meatless dishes would hurt.
I was also raised on what one poster referred to as "poor people food" as my family is from the south; I don't consider pigs feet, tails, neck bones, etc. poor people food because both those with limited funds and those with no limited funds eat those types of food here in the south, it's food regional to this area. So, I load up when I see a sale on anything that I use as I have a large freezer.
I grow a lot of produce seasonally, which is cheaper in the long run than what's in the stores. It's not cheaper for me to buy okra or tomatoes etc. from the grocers. It's cheaper for me to buy a packet of okra or tomato seeds for 1.00 and eat all summer then freeze the bumper of the crop for the winter. I still have pesto & other veggies I need to use up from last summer before the new crop comes in.
Truthfully, I could eat from my freezer & pantry for four months & not have to go to the grocery store as I bake & I keep dried milk on hand. A lot of great ideas have been posted on this thread.
Just a couple more about using your freezer: alot of things can be frozen that may not be thought of. For example, eggs freeze well; they can be cracked into ice cube trays then popped into a zip bag. Thaw for baking. Most cheeses freeze extremely well. Butter & milk can be frozen as well as buttermilk for baking. I buy a couple of gallons of milk at the time and freeze one.
I buy carrots, onions, celery and bell peppers when on sale and bag up stir fry packets which I freeze. I'll dice up carrots, celery & onions to freeze & later use a handful to toss in a sauce or soup. Of course, all veggie scraps go in the freezer for stock and citrus gets zested for baking then all gets composted
For those who like to hunt & fish, it's free eats!
Even when I just want boneless breasts, I'll often by bone-in. Last night at Whole Foods, boneless was $6.99 and bone- in was on sale for $3.99. Plus, I'll make stock out of the bones and freeze it.
Another thing I've noticed about chicken: the organic chicken at my "normal" grocery store is actually MORE expensive than Whole Foods. I suppose because it's a specialty item for them.
Ditto all the people who said grow your own herbs. If I had to buy herbs at WF I'd go broke.
I try not to have anything specific in mind when I go to the store. Invariably, if I'm dead set on one thing , like I'm dying for crab cakes, when I get to the store the only crab available will be a zillion dollars.
Be willing to tell the cashier "no". I hate to do it, but if I have failed to notice an outrageous price, I will just tell the cashier "so sorry, I didn't realize that one tomato was $5, could you please put that back for me"
Once a month or even twice a month cooking is a great way to save money. Plan out menus for 14-30 days,using meals that can be frozen before or after cooking. Then create a shopping list for those meals. Planning is key, for example, browned ground beef is used in spaghetti sauce, chili, goulash, stuffed peppers or grape leaves. Chopped onions are used in almost all of the above meals mentioned, as are canned tomato products. You can buy and cook in bulk, saving time and money. You will still have to visit the stores throughout the month for fresh veggies, fruits and other perishables such as milk, cheese, etc... but a day spent cooking and freezing can save so much time and effort on busy weeknights, and you always know you have ready to heat meals on hand !
1. Use bacon drippings for sauteing vegetables for soups.
2. I've been using more misc greens such as beet greens to cook rather than chunking them & just using the main food item.
3. I learned to make my own "Italian Gravy". Now I'm getting an excellent pasta sauce that can be sued for multiple purposes (pasta, casseroles, pizza) and it tastes great. I make a big batch and freeze it in smaller portions.
4. Have always been a fan of making big batches of beans. Cheap & easy to make. Can't compare w/ canned.
5. Started making my own multi-grain oatmeal type cereal. I make it w/ steel cut oats, barley, flax seed, brown rice & a few other things. The bigger items I grind a little in the blender.
6. Made all my own baby food!
I've also had a change for the worse in my financial situation, and have learned to get more creative with pasta. I use what's available from the refrigerator or the garden (we grow just herbs, haven't gotten to growing vegetables yet). With just a little olive oil, lemon juice, leftover fresh herbs, onion, garlic and a little cheese I turn out a filling and inexpensive meal for the whole family. If you grow your own tomatoes, you can slow roast them using a little olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar. The tomatoes add a nice dimension to the dish and the flavored olive oil is a great base for the sauce.
Another thing I have learned to do is to experiment with different combinations to take advantage of leftovers. Lots of odds and ends can be stir-fried. Leftover rice is an automatic starter for stir-fried rice the next day. A little left-over fish filet can be added to quick fried peppers and mexican-type spices for fish tacos the next day. As others have mentioned, chicken is really flexible for use as leftovers.
I'm a home-smoker, so small amounts of smoked meat or fish can be added to give great flavor to a stew or soup. (I sometimes smoke stuff as a service to a neighbor of mine. He catches the fish and, as a "fee," I get a bit of the finished product.) Also, I always keep home made chicken stock and beef stock in my freezer and lots of leftovers can be tossed in a soup pot using a stock base. I often make the soup into more of a meal by adding beans or (my favorite) barley.
We like to entertain but, given our current situation, I've had to undergo a change in my concept of hosting. Our close friends are aware of our situation but want to still enjoy meals together (and, I like to think, my cooking,too). So, for Thanksgiving I did the cooking alone, but shared the shopping costs with two other families. This took some getting used to, but our close friends are wonderful people and not only came up with this suggestion, but have done it in a way that it's comfortable for all. While we don't entertain as much as we used to, we are still able to get together for holidays and special occaisions.
We, like many here, go meatless 2-3x per week. This saves so much money. My DH and I are both active people, so meals need to be filling and have protein. No simple salads for us after 2 hours in the gym!
I make a lot of "cakes". Salmon cakes, tuna cakes, black-eyed pea cakes, black bean cakes, pinto bean and cheddar cakes, zucchini cakes.
Salmon and tuna can go asian or italian. Black-eyed peas cajun, black bean cakes are generally latin style and zucchini are simple. These last three are all excellent laced with a little shredded deli ham or bacon bits. Or just fried in bacon fat.
These can serve as a real center for a meal. With a little spiced sour cream or remoulade, with rice and another veg. The cakes are also great on top of salads as a protein boost. YOu can call them fritters if it makes it easier to sell.
The salads are also good with just white or black beans on top. Some avocado or some other fat source.
We're from the south so once a week we always have the garden dinner. Pretty traditional in the south. So in the summer that means sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, maybe some fried eggplant with bread and butter. In the winter it's a little trickier, but roasted squash, a pot of greens, maybe some baked potatoes. Throw in some bread. Pretty great stuff.
Sure. For 2 people the basic recipe is:
1 can of beans, mashed with a fork (or one can tuna/ salmon)
1/2-3/4 cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper
Extras are up to you. I like to pick a theme and go with it.
Italian: pesto, sundried tomatoes, hard cheeses
Mediterranean: red pepper, feta chunks, olives (good with white beans)
Asian: green onion, ginger, garlic, chili flake (good with salmon and tuna)
Latin: onion, garlic, cilantro, chipotle
Cajun: onion, celery, green pepper, cornmeal in place of breadcrumbs
Southern: pinto beans, cheddar, onion, cayenne, cornmeal
Mix it all in, add bread crumbs last until it pulls together. Form into cakes the size of your palm and dredge in more bread crumbs. Fry over med to med-high heat, 5 minutes or so on each side, until crispy and brown. Don't flip before they're ready! Possible disaster!
Toppings can be cumin-sour cream, vinaigrettes, remoulade, pesto mayo, or just some chili sauce.
This isn't a food tip, but a shopping tip - the next time you run out of window cleaner/counter-spray/whatever it is.. try plain white vinegar, undiluted. Yes, it smells strong for a few minutes - but it cleans and disinfects as well if not better than 90% of the products on the market. (My favorite - use it instead of jet dry in your dishwasher for sparkly dishes.)
I find that my biggest shopping expense comes when I'm out of cleaning stuff - which seems to happen all at once. So keep an eye out for when your favorite laundry detergent is on sale and buy two.
And this is sacrilege to my mother, but apparently our tushes are hardier stock than hers.. cheap toilet paper isn't as bad as it used to be. I literally buy a "good" brand and stick it in the cabinets, only bringing out a roll when she's over. (She finds it a personal failing to use the 3.99 Petal Soft Store Brand.)
Yeah, this is pretty frugal also, but in this ecomomy every good idea helps.
I save water that I've cooked potatoes in by draining it into glass jars and keeping it in the refrigerator until needed. This not only makes a very flavorful addition to gravies and vegetable soups, but is also absolutely nutritious.
When I make mashed potatoes (white or sweet), I've taken to steaming them. I just put about a1/2 to 1 inch of water in the bottom of a sauce pan, plop in my steamer insert and put the chunks of raw potatoes in. Cover and steam until fork tender. Doesn't take very long, uses way less water, and your potatoes don't come out waterlogged. Drain and mash (with whatever you prefer) as usual.
Someone mentioned Asian groceries, I've also found them to be inexpensive. This is also true of Mexican groceries. The ones I've been to have great meat counters & you can buy bulk spices at a fraction of the cost of American grocery store brands. But DON'T buy food from the Mexican aisle in an American grocery, its always way overpriced. The store brand of black beans in the regular aisle is about half of the "specialty brand" in the Mexican aisle.
Oh & plant a garden & a fruit tree if you have room(& rain) if not at least grow herbs in pots. A garden isn't as much work as a lot of people think. Once its planted mulch well, I never have to weed..
1) dried legumes. Become one with the Goya aisle.
2) Chicken soup. You can get at least two meals from a chicken or parts thereof. Eat the chicken at one meal and make soup with what's left. (don't forget the giblets)
3) get a fishing rod. The old saw about teaching a man to fish is actually true.
4) shoot a dear, I mean deer.
5) Learn to use a knife. Whether chicken, fish, game or whatever's on sale at the supermarket one thing can become two or more meals. For example, two whole chickens can become four fried chicken cutlets, four legs and four thighs for the grill, four Buffalo chicken wings (granted an appetizer portions) and a nice soup from the backs and giblets. Ditto fish fillets and fish chowder. Boneless pork loin and back ribs. etc.