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.
Granted, one of these strategies on its own is not likely to make a huge difference. But lots of small strategies working together—that’s the way to see huge results.
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.
Keep breakfast cheap
Breakfast is one meal that can easily be simple and take up a very small portion of your food budget. Foods like eggs, oatmeal, and toast can all be cheap but filling ways to start your day.
Breakfast for Dinner
Once a week or so, consider having breakfast for dinner. Kids love this and so will your food budget. A meal of eggs, pancakes or waffles and juice is nutritious, meatless, and super cheap. Get creative with leftovers and watch how far you can stretch your food dollars. Those leftover baked potatoes from last night’s dinner will make fabulous hashbrowns or fried potatoes to go with scrambled eggs.
Eat the sales
Plan your meals around what’s on sale, and you’ll chop your food costs—by up to 50% or more. And when you can load up on super sale items to last until the next time they go on sale. Nearly every grocery store or supermarket publishes a weekly sales ad flyer—and posts it online. What a handy tool to help with meal planning. Eat the sales to stretch your food dollars.
There was a time when if a recipe called for half an onion, I’d toss the other half in the fridge where it would sit until it was over the hill and I could toss it out guilt-free. What a waste! The solution is pretty simple: Plan ahead. I know ahead of time that I’m using the other of that onion for another recipe later in the week. The same goes for half a pepper, partially used cans of beans or ground beef. Generally, splitting one portion into two meals is a great way to make your food budget stretch.
Not planning meals ahead of time is the best way to blow a lot of money on eating out, picking up, and driving through. It takes time and effort on the front end to plan out meals for a whole week or two but in the end, saves so much time and money. No more wondering, “What’s for dinner!?
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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 prime, and not enough to make anything respectable, so into the garbage they go. Well, not so fast.
Making your own breadcrumbs is as simple as whirring a few slices in a food processor or 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.
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. Discover every possible way you can stop throwing away precious food dollars in the form of rotten produce.
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 tomatoes 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 one 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.
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. Your recipe will turn out great and you’ll have saved yourself an expensive trip to the market. You know the routine—you run in to grab milk and come out with $45 worth of things you didn’t know you needed. Right?
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 and avoids buying a $6 bottle of prepared marinade.
To protect dry staples such as flour, meal, grits, pasta, and rice from contamination, pop dry bay leaf or two into the container. 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 5-pound bag of potatoes, weigh several bags. The bags will vary and you’re sure to find one that’s 5.5 or heavier, for the same price!
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 in the comments area below!