As we all tighten our belts and try to stretch our dollars as far as we can on smaller and smaller budgets and higher food prices, we need to explore more ways to stock our cupboards to get the most out of the money we spend on our groceries. With some shopping savvy and culinary savior faire, there are many ways to beat the high cost of feeding our families or for that matter, ourselves.
Make a Menu
You don’t need to be an executive chef at a Five-star resort or own a restaurant to write a menu. But you cannot begin to shop for food if you don’t have a game plan. What does your family enjoy eating? Can you make a slow cooker stew or a casserole that will be eaten over a few days? Write a menu for a week or for the month including all three meals. If your child or spouse takes a lunch to work or school, include that also. It does help if you have a bit of a culinary acumen, but if you eat out all the time we may have some trouble.
Here is a sample menu for a week’s worth of dinners:
Monday-Tacos with Rice and Beans
Tuesday-Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots
Wednesday-Macaroni and Cheese with Hotdogs or Kielbasa
Thursday-Hearty Pork and Barley Soup
Friday-Lasagna with green salad
Saturday-Whole Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, vegetables
Sunday-Meatloaf with a baked Potato and vegetables
Before you can begin to shop, you need to know what you are buying. Recipes are a crucial factor in the money saving equation. If you have cookbooks, internet access, or the recipes in your head; write down all the ingredients separating them into categories to make the trip easier. I divide all foodstuffs into categories such as: freezer, cooler, canned and produce. This way you can easily flow through the store aisles like a breeze. It would truly help you in shopping if you know someone who lived through the depression, for they have many tricks to stretch the dollar when it comes to buying and preparing food. One important thing before going to the market is to check your cupboards, pantry, refrigerator and freezer to make sure you don’t already have the items you are going shopping for. Always keep your pantry full of such staples as flour, sugar, condensed soups, canned tomatoes, rice, pasta, bread, cheese, lunchmeat and cheese.
Grocery stores have an abundance of ways to cheat the recession, but it always helps to know some of the tricks as you walk through the store. Look for the saving inserts that are stacked as you enter with your cart, these are the in-store specials. In all the aisles there are saving stickers for store name brands and deep discount items that are being promoted. The ends of each aisle have discounted items also. The lower you go, the better you save. Check the bottom shelf for things like cereal, rice, in addition to other items that are cheaper than the same items as the shelves above them. Sometimes it takes time and concentration to find deals and specials, so if possible, try to shop without any disruptions. It also helps if you can shop in a large discount store. It costs money to join the club but pays off in the long run. Furthermore, you don’t have to buy name brands. If you are making a stew and need diced tomatoes, buy the cheapest diced tomatoes available, as it is getting mixed up with other ingredients and no one will know the difference. The same goes for the meat in the stew. Buying a lower grade meat such as chuck roast will not hurt the integrity of the stew; it will probably help it as it has more marbling of fat and will enhance the flavor profile. You can always find incredible deals on such items as mashed potato mix and macaroni and cheese that will last for weeks and is not perishable. Buy frozen vegetables instead of canned, not only are they better for you, you will also find they are less expensive and usually are on sale. The freezer section has a variety of meals you can purchase at a low cost per portion. The aforementioned lasagna is a good example. I found a tray of lasagna at a store on sale for $4.99 and served 6 portions. That’s .86 cents per person. Staying away from convenience items is also important. They are overpriced and frequently full of sodium, fats, and preservatives. I shiver with dread when I see premade sandwiches in the deli for an astounding price, when I could make 8 sandwiches at home for the same amount of cash. In conclusion, have fun, shop smart and you will figure out ways to save money and enjoy some good home cooked meals. Here are a couple of recipes:
Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots (Cooking time 6 hours) Prep time 30 minutes
Serves 4 with leftovers
2# Chuck Roast
1package onion soup mix
1 can diced tomatoes
3 large potatoes cubed
2 ribs of celery
2 carrots peeled and sliced
1 clove of garlic minced
1 TBL chicken or beef base
Place chuck roast into crock pot on high setting
Pour on onion soup mix and 1 cup of water
Cut potatoes into cubes add to crock pot
Cut up celery, carrots and onion into bite size pieces and add to crock pot
Pour canned tomatoes- juice and all into crock pot.
Make sure the pot has enough liquid to just cover all ingredients. Cook for 3 hours covered. Check after 4 hours to see if meat is breaking up, if so turn crock pot to low setting and add garlic, and blend in beef or chicken base. Once meat is falling apart add more water if desired to make soup or you can serve as a stew.
Ground Beef and Pasta Casserole (Cooking time 45 minutes) prep time 20 minutes
Serves 4 with leftovers
2 # ground beef
1 bag mixed vegetables
1 # favorite pasta
2 cups favorite shredded cheese
1 can cream of mushroom
1 can cream of celery
Cook off ground beef in a sauce pan, drain off fat. As ground beef is browning, cook the pasta, drain and set aside. When ground beef is ready and drained, add pasta, cheese, vegetables and soup -into large bowl and mix well. Add milk as needed, but not too thin, the pasta will absorb some of the liquid.
Place in a casserole dish and bake in 350 degree oven until cheese bubbles in the center.