Get a good job with more pay and you’re okay
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team
And no, I’m not talking about the Pink Floyd song — ‘though it does make a nice backdrop for this post (go on, play it — you know you wanna hear it while you read the rest of this post!).
Food is a basic need. Water, food, and shelter = the trinity needed for survival. But while we all need to eat, it is possible to eat healthily and tastily, yet still save money while you do so! Here are some ways that I save money with our food budget:
Watch for sales. Peruse the sales papers of your local grocery stores, and you’ll begin to notice a pattern. Take advantage of sales to stock your freezer and to fill your pantry with non-perishables. Plan your meals around the foods that present the best deals that week in your sales papers. Lean sirloin steak, pork loin roast, lean boneless pork chops, lean beef rump roast, bone-in chicken breast — these are items I usually buy when they’re either on sale (I especially love the “buy one get one for a penny” sales!) or are reduced for quick sale (see below). When tinned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and/or tomato paste are on sale, I stock up. You get the idea. 😉 Seek out those sales!
Plan ahead. You will notice that usually speaking, a week or two before holidays (such as Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukka, New Year’s, Saint Patrick’s Day, etc.), items that tend to be in high demand for the holiday will be on sale. If possible, stock up then on the items you will need, freezing them if necessary. For example, hot dog and hamburger buns (and hot dogs) often go on sale just before the 4th of July. A week or two before Thanksgiving, baking goods — such as flour, sugar, evaporated milk, chocolate chips, nuts, and the like — often go on sale. Corned beef brisket and cabbage often goes on sale a week or two before Saint Patrick’s Day. If you’ve thought ahead enough to know you’ll be using any of these items, and you’re keeping track of the sales papers, you’ll be able to snag up needed items at a better price.
Check the “reduced-for-quick” sale bins. Reduced for quick-sale items — or items marked for clearance — are usually just items that have reached or neared their “use, freeze, or sell-by” date. Depending on the product, you can cook it up that day or put it in the freezer. As always when shopping for food, just use your common sense: if the can is dented or swollen, for example, don’t purchase it. If the meat doesn’t look fresh, give it a pass — it won’t be worth any potential savings. And by the way, if you learn when your local grocery stores get in new shipments of meats, dairy products, etc., you are more likely to find unexpected bargains of “reduced for quick sale” items the day before a new shipment arrives or the day the new shipment arrives, as the store is working to clear up space for the fresh stock.
Check expiration dates. Not only is this common sense — you’d hate to get all the way home, only to realize that the bag of chips you bought is stale or the cheese expired last week –when you find an item that is at or near its “use or sell by” date, hunt up a store manager, point it out to him or her, and ask for a clearance price reduction. More than likely, you’ll get it at a reduced price — but you’ll never know unless you ask!
Don’t pay for convenience. Yes, there is a time and place for convenience products, just learn when and where to draw the line. For example, if you’ll take 3 or 5 minutes to grate your own cheese, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll be rewarded with fresh- tasting cheese that, if you’re cooking with it, will melt more easily. (Pre-grated cheese is coated with something to keep it from sticking together, which means it doesn’t melt well in recipes. It also doesn’t have as much flavor as cheese you grate yourself.) Another example: depending on what’s on sale that week, it may be more cost-effective for you to purchase whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them into strips yourself, as opposed to purchasing pre-cut chicken strips. All that being said, there are sometimes circumstances when it’s better all around, cost notwithstanding, to choose convenience — but we choose when; it’s the exception, rather than the rule.
Give generics, store brands, and regional brands a try. Some will be good, some not, but you won’t know unless you’re willing to give them a go.
Check out the frozen food section. Frozen vegetables and fruits are, depending upon the season, often more affordable than their fresh counterparts, yet because they are “fresh frozen,” they can serve just as well in vegetable salads, stir-fry dishes, fruit desserts, and the like. Similarly, frozen fish (I love those individually shrink-wrapped fillets!) is usually a more affordable option than fresh fillets, yet will be just as yummy in most of your fish recipes as a fresh fillet would. Give your store’s freezer section a chance — I’m betting you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised at the goodies you find there. 🙂 (And it will also show that sometimes, convenience AND savings do go hand-in-hand!)
Substitute lean (93/7) ground turkey for lean (93/7 or 96/4) ground beef in some recipes. No, ground turkey isn’t the same as ground beef, but it’s much more affordable (and “two legs instead of four,” which “they” are currently saying is better for us), and if you select the recipes you choose for substitution carefully and adjust them as need be, then you can have a tasty, healthy, more affordable meal that tastes yummy, just like its beef counterpart. Generally speaking, I’ve found that ground turkey substitutes well for beef, often with no or very few adjustments to the recipe, in spicy dishes (think TexMex and Italian-style meals). In other traditionally beef-centric dishes (such as Salisbury steak or hamburgers), you’ll want to add in some finely minced veggies to add moisture and aid the texture. I alternate using lean ground beef and lean ground turkey — it helps keep our menu from feeling stale, too.
The freezer is your friend. So is cling wrap, freezer bags, and freezer-safe food storage containers. When possible, purchase meats (especially ground meat) in bulk — in 5 or 10 pound packages, saving money per pound — and then divide it, wrap it, and freeze it. Wrap and freeze leftovers for future meals. You can freeze rice — did you know that? Ditto with soups and such made in bulk in the CrockPot — you can freeze servings (either individual servings for lunches later or larger servings for meals later). Ditto such things as spaghetti sauce, meatballs, lasagna — I’ll make up a whole lasagna, and if hubby and I don’t feel like eating on it for a couple of days, I just freeze half of it and we have an easy meal another night. I’ll make up a big batch of meatballs, use some for that meal and freeze the rest for a quick, easy, yummy, healthy future meal. Meatloaf is another food that can freeze well, ‘though the leftovers make great sandwiches. You can also make “individual” meatloaves, which is handy when cooking for singles or couples — just shape your meatloaf into individual servings, bake (obviously it will take a bit less time), and you can easily freeze what’s leftover or pack it for lunches.
The container I use depends upon what — and how much — I’m freezing. The key to freezing food successfully is having it be as air-tight as possible. If the quantity and type of food is enough to fill a Tupperware-type container that I have (such as, say, a soup, stew, lasagna, rice, whatever), then you can put it in a container like that. I usually add some plastic wrap on top, as well, before putting on the lid, just to make sure it won’t be exposed to air.
Quart and gallon-sized freezer bags are also very handy for many items, from cooked rice, soups, stews, meatballs, etc. Once again, I’ll often wrap it snugly in cling wrap (e.g., Saran) and then place it in a freezer bag.
I do the same thing when I purchase meats in bulk or on sale — if I have to divide the meat up, I’ll wrap it securely in cling wrap and then put it in freezer bags.
As for thawing and reheating, it depends upon what it is. For example, when you freeze a hearty casserole (such as lasagna or potato casserole or some such), you don’t have to thaw it first — you can cover it with aluminum foil and pop it in the oven frozen; it’ll just take it longer (up to possibly twice as long as if it were thawed) to heat all the way through. To reheat things such as soups and stews, I’ve found it works best if I add a bit of liquid to a pan and then dump in the soup or stew and let it reheat slowly on the stovetop, checking on it and stirring as necessary, until it’s heated through and bubbly. You can thaw it out in the microwave, too, but I’ve found that seems to take forever; I’d just as soon let it simmer on the stove! Also, I’ve never tried this, mind you, but I’m betting that if you have a CrockPot, you can put a frozen soup or stew in the CrockPot (no need for added liquid — the CrockPot creates its own liquid through steam), turn it on to low, and you’d have hot soup or stew when you get home.
Frozen cooked meats — such as chicken breasts, say, or whatever — I usually try to thaw either overnight in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Exception would be something like meatballs, which I would put in a sauce still frozen, letting them thaw as the sauce simmers.
With frozen rice (and I’ve also frozen pastas, such as spaghetti and such, as well), I put a small amount of water (2 to 4 tablespoons) in a pan, bring it to a boil, dump in the frozen rice, cover the pot, reduce the heat, and essentially steam the rice.
Be creative with leftovers. Yes, you can freeze them, but you can also use them in different ways. For example, leftover roast can become pot pie or soup or stew…leftover chili makes chili dogs or gets served over spaghetti or baked potato or some such (LOTS of ways to use leftover chili!)…leftover steak becomes a steak sandwich or tops a salad or is served alongside eggs for steak and eggs…you get the idea. Another way to make leftovers “fresh” is to take a break — fix something else for supper the next night, then have the leftover food the night after that (as opposed to having it two nights in a row).
Go ahead — spill the beans! Beans are GOLDEN — nutritional super stars (high in fiber and protein, and naturally fat-free) but incredibly inexpensive. Add them to casseroles, soups, serve them as a side, add them to salads — beans are a healthy, yummy, affordable addition to any menu.
A tip on beans to help reduce the potential for intestinal gas: with dried beans, I do a “quick soak method” 1) rinse and sort beans. 2) cover with water. 3) bring to a boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. 4) cover, turn off heat, and remove from burner. 5) After 1 hour (60 minutes), pour off water and continue cooking beans as per your recipe with fresh liquid. By doing the quick-soak and then pouring off that soaking water, you reduce the potential for intestinal gas.
When I use canned beans, I always drain and rinse them — this not only reduces the sodium, it also, once again, helps reduce the gas-causing tendencies of the beans. 🙂
Remember — being yummy and healthy doesn’t mean it has to be expensive!