11 Practical Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget

If soaring food prices are getting you down, help is on the way! Here are some basic saving strategies, practical solutions, and novel ideas to stretch your food budget—and make your life easier.

Grate savings

You pay a lot to have someone else grate your cheese for you—at least twice the price of buying cheese by the block. Currently, at my supermarket, cheese in blocks runs from about $2 to $2.50 a pound for the store brand to about $5.00 a pound and more for name brands. The very same cheeses, pre-grated, run almost exactly double across the board, $4 to $10 a pound. Here’s the tip: Grate it yourself. It will stay fresher and you’ll save money, too.

Pro tip: Commercially grated or shredded cheese comes with an added ingredient like potato starch or modified cornstarch to prevent “caking” or “clumping.” Well, guess what? Those anti-caking ingredients inhibit melting, too. Now you know why pre-grated or shredded cheese doesn’t seem to always melt as readily, often leaving an odd thickened texture.

Found food

You know that last slice or two of bread, the hard-as-a-rock end of baguette or crusts you cut off the kid’s sandwiches? Often they’re dry, past its prime and not enough to make anything respectable, so into the garbage they goes. Well, not so fast.

Making your own breadcrumbs is as simple as whirring a few slices in a food processor blender until the bread becomes fine-textured crumbs. Bake the crumbs on a baking sheet; 350 F stirring every 10 mins. Depending on how much moisture you’re dealing with and the depth of the crumbs, it should take about 20 to 30 mins.

Make Italian-style seasoned bread crumbs by adding 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning blend to every 2 cups to crumbs before baking. Cool completely then store in an airtight container.

Veggie bouquet

Store asparagus in the fridge in a glass of water (like cut flowers in a vase). It will stay fresh for a couple of weeks. Works with celery, too.

Soften butter in a flash

Keeping butter out on the counter for an hour isn’t exactly ideal for a tight schedule. Here are four ways to soften butter quickly:

  • Drop a still-wrapped stick of butter into a small zip-top bag, seal it shut and place it into a bowl of warm tap water for about 5 minutes, or until soft.
  • Grate it with a cheese grater and a cold hard stick of butter turns into fluffy soft butter.
  • Flatten it with a rolling pin (but put it in a plastic bag first) for spreadable, mixable butter in a pinch.

Longer lasting tomatoes

Store tomatoes stem end down to keep them from spoiling as quickly. This prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar where the tomato once attached to the vine. Storing them at room temperature rather than in the fridge also makes them last longer.

Beef in bulk

Buying the “family size” package of ground beef will chop the cost per pound significantly! But if you use it up faster just because you have more, there go the savings.

When you get home you need a reliable way to divide the meat into usable portions.

If a recipe is filling and tastes great with just 1 pound of ground beef, why use 1 1/4 pounds? If you try to eyeball that amount, you can easily be off by a quarter pound.

Investing in a reliable kitchen scale makes lots of sense. You don’t need anything fancy, just make sure to purchase one that can be easily cleaned. I have this digital multifunction food scale.

Vacuum seal portions before placing them in the refrigerator or freezer. Or wrap portions tightly with plastic wrap, then place them into freezer-type bags that are sealed completely with excess air pushed out.

DIY buttermilk

To make buttermilk when there’s none of the real stuff in the fridge, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk. The mixture won’t get as thick and creamy as buttermilk, but it will help create fluffy pancakes and quick bread just the same.

Coke marinade

Tenderize cheaper cuts of meat by marinating them in cola. Several hours ahead of time place the meat in a bowl and cover with cola (Coke or Dr. Pepper works, too). Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. While broiling (or grilling), brush the cola marinade over the steaks. This is a great way to use up cola that has gone flat!

Bye bugs

To protect dry staples such as flour, meal, grits, pastas, and rice from contamination, pop in a couple of dry bay leaves. This won’t affect the taste, but it will prevent pesky bugs from ruining these products.

Weigh bagged produce

Use the handy scale in the produce department to weigh pre-weighed bags. For example, if you’re buying a 10-pound bag of potatoes, weigh several. The bags will vary and you’re sure to find one that’s 10.5 or heavier, for the same price!

Leftover buffet

Take the remains of the week’s meals and serve them for dinner, buffet-style. Need to pad the offerings? Raid the fridge for veggies and dip, make a green salad or toast some crusty bread. Keep this idea handy. You just might decide to make Leftover Night a regular weekly occurrence!

Question: Got a great tip up your sleeve for how you stretch your food budget? Please share it with us in the comments area below!

 

Previously published post revised, updated and republished 11-8-19.

NEXT UP:

14 Things That Should Never Go in the Dishwasher

Best Inexpensive Thanksgiving Cooking Tools

13 More Super Creative Ways to Stretch a Buck


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15 replies
  1. Bake Up, Little Suzy
    Bake Up, Little Suzy says:

    My favorite technique for softening butter evenly in a hurry: fill a mug with water and microwave on high for two minutes. Meanwhile, cut a stick of butter in half and stand up one half (four tablespoons) on a small plate. Once the water is heated, pour the water out and turn the mug over, covering the cold butter like a dome. Leave the mug over the butter for a minute or two. Remove the mug and you should have nice spreadable butter!

    Reply
  2. Linda Pries
    Linda Pries says:

    Another thing that many people do that wastes money is to automatically assume that bigger packages are cheaper. I always compare the per ounce or per pound price and often find that the smaller size is less expensive.

    Reply
  3. Brenda Heimeyer
    Brenda Heimeyer says:

    I make use of leftovers by making a flavorful soup. Make a base with celery, onion, and cartot, then start adding whatever veggies and meat are in the fridge from other meals. Finish with some broth or bullion and let simmer at least 45 minutes for flavors to blend.

    Reply
    • Cathy
      Cathy says:

      I do that too and call it Refrigerator Soup. I start with the celery, onions and carrots and add broth too, then whatever meat and veggies in the fridge or freezer. Taco meat gets canned tomatoes and beans for chili, ground beef gets canned tomatoes and usually Italian seasoning and chicken gets noodles or rice. In the summer I do similar putting meat, chopped veggies, salsa and cheese in bell peppers for stuffed peppers. Nothing goes to waste at my house!

      Reply
  4. Anne
    Anne says:

    Since it is now just hubby and me, we usually have enough of dinner left for another meal — maybe I will have to add a baked apple or deviled egg to round it out. But, we never throw out leftovers — we routinely have a “clean out the fridge” meal (similar to the “buffet night” you mentioned, but just for the 2 of us). Also, watch sales very closely for everything we buy — just stocked up yesterday on canned goods in a “buy 10, save 40 cents on each item” event! And sometimes I “invent” a recipe using what I have in stock!

    Reply
  5. Katie French
    Katie French says:

    WRAP CELERY IN FOIL! As always, love these great ideas. I think I got this idea from you, Mary and I can’t believe how well it works: WRAP CELERY IN FOIL. It’s shocking how long it extends the life.

    Reply
  6. Linda
    Linda says:

    Another way to prevent bugs in staples such as flour and grain based foods is to freeze it first for 48 hours then take out and wait till it comes to room temp before opening. Most bugs in grains come into your home already contaminated with eggs. If you freeze it those eggs will never hatch. I do this when I buy a larger amount since it will be around a bit longer to use it up. Works with dry pet food, rice, flour, cornmeal, etc.

    Reply
    • Linda
      Linda says:

      I have 2 butter dishes with snap tight lids that hold one stick each. When one is close to empty I unwrap a new stick and put it in the clean, empty dish. I don’t refrigerate after placing it in the dish. Always softened but never melted.

      Reply
  7. Beth Sherrill
    Beth Sherrill says:

    I used to grate my own cheese to save money, but now I compare cost per lb and find that usually by the time you get to two lb size bag, the cost is the same, bulk or grated. No more bloody finger tips for me. Bulk meat, and carefully watching the sales pages really helps. Often by waiting until the 80/20 ground beef goes on sale in 10 lb tubes, I can get it for 250 to 300 dollars a lb. Here we have only one big chain grocery and two small local grocers. Watching ads carefully, you can find the same cut of meat at 3 different prices. Since ads cycle, one week ground beef may be the only good sale, the next it may be chicken the next only pork, so instead of buying beef, pork and chicken at the same time, only buy a months worth of what’s cheapest, each week and rotate so you are only buying at the lowest price. You may have to acquire the taste, but once you do, a meal of dry beans and cornbread can be delicious, filling and very cheap, with pressure cooking the beans take very little time to cook, in a crock pot they will take longer but still get done. Add a few herbs, spices left over ham, delicious.

    Reply
  8. Gail Locy
    Gail Locy says:

    I would take the purchase of family size meat a step further. If the ground beef is not for burgers, I would cook it all and then package it in recipe size portions. I also do this is chicken breasts. One dirty pan. Then on a busy night, I can grab a package, defrost for a minute or so in the microwave and continue with the rest of the recipe.

    Reply
    • Linda Pries
      Linda Pries says:

      The cheese around me costs the same whether chunk or grated so I buy what I need. I haven’t bought beef hamburger in decades. I started buying ground turkey back in the 70’s because it was a fraction of the price of ground beef. Now the price has gone up considerably but it’s still less expensive. My granddaughter grew up this way and her new husband declared he would not eat turkey burger and was quite surprised when he found out that he’d been eating it quite happily for some time.

      Reply
  9. Betty Thomas
    Betty Thomas says:

    These are great tips! I would of never thought to weigh those 10 lb. bags of potatoes as I assumed the producers weighed them as they were filled. As far as grating your own cheese it is not only money saving but the cheese actually tastes and melts better too. Pre grated cheese has something mixed in with it to prevent it from sticking together. Thanks Mary.

    Reply

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