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Are the popular “reality” television shows anything close to what you consider reality? Take the venerable hit show Survivor, getting ready to launch its 39th season, for example. To me, that seems more like fantasy than reality.  And, honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had to survive on approximately 14 grains of rice per day or think of multi-legged creatures in terms of grams of protein. Still, I think that borrowing a few basic “survivor” attitudes and skills could help us to look at some of the items in our freezers, refrigerators, and pantries—like that lone can of tuna—a bit differently.

A familiar blue can of StarKist albacore tuna

Let’s say that 6-ounce can of tuna in your pantry is the only scrap of protein in the house. You’ve got four hungry people to feed. A trip to the store is completely out of the question (did I mention we’re marooned on a deserted island?… wink, wink). What will you do? What WILL you do?!

That’s exactly the question I once posed to three frugal food experts. Their responses, while varied, prompted me to make sure I have canned tuna on my shopping list as soon as I return to civilization.

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Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with the cost of food? I just read that the average cost of ground beef in the U.S. has once again hit an all-time high. I believe it, and not only beef.  It is shocking how grocery prices are going up, which underscores the need for a well-stocked pantry.

 

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The way to fight back is two-fold:

  1. Buy groceries when they’re on sale
  2. Eat at home

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it can be if you make sure your kitchen pantry is well-stocked. It’s annoying and expensive to not have basic items on hand. You don’t have what you need and don’t have time to go get it, which means, of course, you’ll just have to go out for dinner. Again. 

Taking the time and effort to make sure you always have the following 9 essential pantry items will save a lot of money, provided you pick these items up as they go on sale. Think of this as a project. 


MORE: 5 Fabulous Ways to Hack a Boxed Cake Mix 


Evaporated milk

I basically detest the stuff because I had to drink it as a kid. But used in cooking and baking, evaporated milk is fabulous! Keeping a few cans in your pantry ensures you’ll always have milk on hand when the recipe calls for it. Read more

Faithful readers will recall that my husband and I tested and now continue to enjoy the most popular meal kit delivery service.

 

 

Since first writing about that (Dinner-in-a-Box is Not at All What I Thought) I’ve gotten the most interesting feedback. But first, a quick review:

From the meal kit delivery services available at that time, I selected Home Chef because 1) our zip code is in its delivery area—nearly 98% of the country is, 2) it is the cheapest and 3) I predicted it would be the most family-friendly. Turns out I nailed it.

Home Chef meals are absolutely delicious and use normal, fresh food—not exotic fare or ingredients we’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce.

A Home Chef meal kit includes all of the fresh ingredients and instructions needed to cook restaurant-quality meals for 2, 4 or 6 people in the comfort of your own kitchen, eliminating recipe searches and food shopping by sending everything required for that meal—perfectly portioned and ready to go.

Seriously, Home Chef is like having your own personal shopper and sous chef. Read more

Who doesn’t wince at the thought of throwing out food that’s past its prime? Take bread for instance. It’s no longer fresh. It’s hard and dried out. Tossing it in the garbage does seem like the only thing to do.

But wait! Provided it hasn’t begun to grow mold, you really can turn leftover bread, rolls, or baguettes into something deliciously awesome.

Here’s the secret: Grilling, toasting, baking or frying gives bread a second yummy life. In fact, the following are all best when the bread is not fresh. Prepare to be amazed.

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French toast

In a bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 2/3 cup milk. Soak 6 slices stale bread in the mixture, turning to coat both sides. Heat lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Place bread in pan and cook on both sides until golden. Serve with butter and syrup.

Croutons

Rub 4 slices of stale bread with a crushed clove of garlic. Cut bread into cubes, crouton-size. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add cubes and cook, stirring often, until crispy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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For years I’d tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh basil—$3.50 for a few measly, wilted fresh basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes and mostly pink strawberries—that prompted me to try.

I started with tomatoes, basil, and peppers (a salsa garden!). In no time, I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire—even corn one year.

 

But I have to be honest. My harvests have ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only that one year did my garden produce enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that. So far, I’ve been unable to duplicate the results.

Uniquely talented

One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I’ve never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do. And I can take them right through the season until they actually re-seed themselves for the next!

Oh, the effort

While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but actually produces something we can eat, I’m not 100% in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps, and fear of needing hip replacements.

There has to be a better way

While in the past my efforts to grow a garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food—specifically produce—tells me it’s time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient, but in a cost-effective way.

True cost? Yikes!

While I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost-effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years.  That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I’m ready for a new way to do it.


RELATED: Grow Tomatoes at Home Even If You Don’t Have a Garden


 

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I remember my grandmother saying, “If we didn’t need food, we’d all be rich!” This may be true. But then, a life without food would be a little less pleasurable.

Still, there are so many ways to make great food cheap, make perishable food last, and the grocery budget stretch like nobody’s business.

Enjoy today’s tips, filled with practiced wisdom for practical solutions to make cooking and brewing coffee fun and rewarding for you and your family. Bon appétit!

One lovely cuppa

If you love coffee as much as I do and have never tried a gadget called AeroPress you are in for a delicious surprise.

Aerobie is manual and the cheapest, easiest, fastest way to make a really great cup of coffee. And yes, I do mean just one cup of perfectly brewed coffee at a time—or up to three cups.

Aerobie is small enough to store in your desk drawer at the office and another at home. Can’t break the $4-a-day Starbucks habit? This could do it.

Heat the mug

Tired of that first morning cup of steaming hot coffee cooling off too quickly? Do this:

As your coffee is brewing, fill your coffee mug with water and heat it to boiling in the microwave. Pour out the water into a dirty dish or pan that needs to be soaked, and replace with hot coffee. You’ll be amazed by how much longer the coffee stays hot.  Read more

Do you wonder why you never have enough money to save some? Why there’s always so much month left at the end of the money? Maybe it’s time to consider that you’ve been handing over your savings to local restaurants, drive-thrus, diners, and coffee shops. Think about it.

man-holding-empty-wallet

What if you didn’t eat out so often? What if you were strategic in buying basic ingredients and then cooking great meals at home? What if you had more of your money tucked away in savings rather than in the coffers of local eating joints?

No matter your lifestyle, I am confident that with the right strategies, you really can reduce the amount of money you spend on food in order to have more money to save—and still eat healthy, satisfying meals.

MORE TIME THAN MONEY

If yours is a single-income household struggling to survive in a two-income world, keeping food on the table and the bills paid can be quite a challenge. The good news is that time is on your side. The one not working outside the home has the time—it takes time to carry out the best strategies—to keep the cost at rock bottom without sacrificing quality.

MULTIPLE STORES. All grocery stores and supermarkets have tremendous weekly sales—even Whole Foods and Sprouts. And they announce these details in their weekly flyers—in print and online.

MORE: 25 Ways to Chop Your Food Bill

EAT THE SALES. Buy only loss leaders and items that are on sale. You won’t starve and you’ll have a huge variety of food items to choose from and in every department. All food stores, even Whole Foods and Sprouts, have weekly sales. When your budget is really, really tight don’t give in to the temptation to buy more just because it’s on sale.

COUPON LIKE CRAZY. Matching coupons to sales is the best weapon you have against rising food costs. There are free websites like CouponMom.com that will hook you up with the best coupons out there—and teach you how to use them to your best advantage.

BECOME AN EXPERT. Invest five weeks and $39 in Erin Chase’s Grocery Budget Makeover! (she’s the $5 Dinner Mom). You’ll gain expert status in no time—and recoup the cost the first five minutes you put this valuable information to work. Registration for the class closes soon, so if you’re interested, do not delay.

LITTLE TIME, TIGHT BUDGET

For dual-income families with kids, time becomes an especially valuable commodity. It’s scarce. Both of you work full-time jobs. Kids are in school plus all of their extra-curricular activities.

Then there’s church and weekends filled with sports and just playing catchup to get ready for the next week. You don’t have time to visit every store; to take advantage of a variety of sales. But money is still really tight, which makes the challenge even greater.

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I have loved my Instant Pot since the day it arrived back in 2016. I’ll admit to being slightly intimidated in the first few days but that was short-lived. Thanks to a few tips, tricks, and these ridiculously simple recipes, in no time I was making dinners in 30 minutes or less—start to finish.

Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker

Meals from my Instant Pot are as good (often better) than slow-cooked meals that I have to think about early in the day—and only one pot to clean at the end.

While there are plenty of recipes out there for electric pressure cookers, I find myself going back to my tried and true, no-brainer recipes that are as simple and the gadget itself.

All you need to pull this off in your kitchen is an Instant Pot, a few awesome, albeit it simple, recipes plus a general knowledge for how it works. Here are the basic terms:

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Revisions

Who doesn’t wince at the thought of throwing food in the garbage that is past its prime? Take bread for instance. It’s no longer fresh. So what can you really do with leftover bread, rolls or baguettes that will turn them into something great, almost if by magic?

Here’s the secret: Grilling, toasting, baking or frying gives bread a second yummy life. In fact, the following are all best when the bread is not fresh. Prepare to be amazed.

26006816_m

French toast

In a bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 2/3 cup milk. Soak 6 slices stale bread in the mixture, turning to coat both sides. Heat lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Place bread in pan and cook on both sides until golden. Serve with butter and syrup.

Croutons

Rub 4 slices of stale bread with a crushed clove of garlic. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add cubes and cook, stirring often, until crispy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Read more