Ed Note: With food prices expected to keep rising (and a rumored, perhaps-overblown bacon shortage grabbing headlines; oh no, aporkalypse!), we turned to one of our very favorite budget food bloggers, Beth of Budget Bytes, to help us keep our grocery bill under control. We’re super psyched to welcome her to Block Talk — and we’re hoping to convince her to cook for us next.
Cooking at home can either be a budget saver or a budget burner. New cooks are often plagued with wasted leftovers, unused ingredients, and massive grocery bills that scare them away from making it a habit. Luckily it only takes a little know how to start you on the path to filling your belly on a budget. Use these six tips to help you get started!
1. Plan Your Meals – It may seem obvious, but most people still fail to plan their meals before heading to the grocery store. Going to the store with an ingredient list in hand will prevent you from wandering around grabbing whatever looks good (we’ve all been there, right?). Choose your recipes based on what is on sale that week, what produce is in season, or what ingredients you may have at home waiting to be used up. Once you’ve chosen your recipe, make a list of the ingredients you’ll need to buy, and you’re ready to go!
2. Use Ingredients Wisely – Flavor often comes in the form of expensive ingredients. Fresh herbs, cheese, nuts, and meat may all be full of flavor, but they’ll also take a bite out of your budget. Stretch the flavor and your dollars by combining these expensive ingredients with bulkier, inexpensive ingredients like pasta, rice, and beans. Properly combining expensive and inexpensive ingredients can mean having your cake and eating it too.
3. Don’t be Afraid of Leftovers – Somewhere along the line leftovers got a really bad reputation, but I’ll let you in on a little secret — leftovers are awesome! When flavors have a time to mingle and meld, dishes often achieve an even more amazing level of deliciousness. Sure, not every dish works well as leftovers, but writing them off altogether is a huge mistake. When stored properly, most recipes can be enjoyed for days and serve as quick “grab n’ go” lunches or dinner on nights when you’re just too tired to cook.
4. The Freezer is Your Friend – A freezer can help you reduce waste, take advantage of sale prices, and make sure that you always have meals ready to go. When a recipe calls for a half can of tomato paste or just a few stalks of celery, consider freezing the leftovers. Rather than throwing away leftover ingredients, they can often be saved for later use by freezing.
Take advantage of meat sales when you see them. Even meat that is close to the “sell by” date can be safely stored in the freezer for 2-3 months. Grocery stores often sell larger “family packs” of meat for a discounted rate, which can then be divided and frozen.
Make your own TV dinners by dividing meals into single serving portions and freezing them in resealable plastic containers. Having a freezer full of microwavable meals is a life saver on busy weeknights and is a fraction of the cost of take out. Just remember to label and date everything!
5. Shop Around – It’s easy to get into a grocery store rut, but exploring new stores will save you money and can also be quite fun! Ethnic markets often have herbs, spices, condiments, and other hard to find ingredients at much lower prices than regular grocery stores. Produce and farmer’s markets are filled with amazingly fresh produce for very competitive prices. So, take a leisurely Saturday afternoon to explore alternative food retailers in your area. You’re likely to discover new ingredients, find fresh flavors, and save some money while you’re at it!
6. Portion Control – Overeating not only affects your waistline, but also your wallet. Keep both in check by portioning out your meals as soon as you’re finished cooking. Aim for portions that satisfy rather than stuff and you’ll feed yourself for longer.
Learning to cook and do so on a budget is a skill and like any it takes practice. Start small and don’t get overwhelmed. Soon you’ll be reaping the benefits – yummy meals and a fat wallet!
For more grocery budget-taming tips and fantastic wallet-friendly recipes, check out Budget Bytes.