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Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Eating Well Without Spending a Fortune
A friend of mine is on a mission to get her financial house in order. I am totally on board with this plan, and I think that while it's somewhat painful in terms of cutting back now, it's the right move for her future. It got me to thinking about food budgeting and how to eat well without spending a ton of money, so I figured I'd share my ideas here and then you can chime in with yours. mmmkay?
I've talked about eating seasonally before in terms of eating the best tasting fruits and vegetables, but it's also usually the most economical way to eat as well. Happy coincidence, no? When you stop and think, it makes perfect sense that in January, a 6 ounce clamshell of raspberries can cost $5, while in the height of summer it's often more like $2. In January, raspberries are shipped halfway around the world before appearing on the shelves, but in August, not only are they coming from the next town or county over, but the plants are producing gazillions of fragile, perishable fruit that the farmers need to sell, like, now. Have a summer fruit craving in February that you just can't ignore? Visit your grocer's freezer section, and use frozen berries, mangoes, or pineapple to make a smoothie. Frozen fruit is reliably affordable.
Use Your Freezer
Your freezer is your friend. It's one of the best tools you have to reduce food waste and save your money. Here at Chez Sweets, we don't normally go through bread very quickly, so I keep a sliced loaf in the freezer and just pull a few slices out at a time as needed. Cakes, cookies, waffles, muffins all freeze well. I also took advantage of it last year to save some of summer's bounty. This checklist and these blanching guidelines allowed me to put up fresh corn, zucchini, jalapenos, and bell peppers. I got a box of overripe tomatoes at the farmer's market, made tomato paste and sauce, and froze them in portions. In addition, I made basil pesto, pea pesto, and parsley pesto and froze them. Those bursts of spring and summer flavor were (and still are!) welcome during the winter months. Furthermore, I use the freezer throughout the year to save produce I have from going bad before we can eat it. For example, if I buy too many strawberries one week, I know that I can hull and freeze them before they actually get moldy or too mushy. I can use them later in smoothies or oatmeal. The same is true of lots of other fruits and vegetables. Chili, risotto, pot pies, sauces, and stews don't care if you use frozen vegetables. Juicing citrus? First zest the fruit and use it or save it in the freezer. You can also freeze cooked rice and other whole grains to save them or to save time later.
Have an Exit Program
An exit program is what we call using day-old product at the bakery. In some cases, your freezer is your exit program. But consider making new things as well. For example, day old or stale bread can be turned into garlic bread, bread crumbs, stuffing, croutons, or bread pudding (either sweet or savory). Roasted vegetables can go into risotto. Marinade can (in some cases) be reused or turned into sauce. Obviously, if you marinate raw meat, you can't reuse that. Overripe fruit can go in smoothies or cakes. Always think before you toss and try to figure out a new use.
Pack a Lunch
This is a no-brainer, but I have to include it. Packing your lunch (or breakfast or dinner) will save you lots and lots of moolah. Say you work 5 days a week. If you buy lunch each of those days, for an average of $7/day, you're spending $35/week or $140/month or $1680/year. And I think $7 is low balling it. It's cheaper to wrap up leftovers, make a sandwich, or start some oatmeal the night before. Try these links from The Kitchn for some inspiration. If you regularly go to lunch with friends during the week, those lunches are probably pretty important to your social life/mental well-being, so maybe try a compromise and only eat out 2 or 3 days/week. Or convince your friends to brown bag it with you and sit together somewhere (ideally with a pretty view or even outside).
Buying in Bulk is Not Always Better
The allure of warehouse club stores like Costco is that you can get Such A Deal. Even at regular grocery stores, the more you buy, the less per unit you pay. Sometimes, that's perfect. Especially if you have a kids, I imagine that buying large quantities of food is helpful both in terms of economics and in taking fewer trips to the store. But if it's just you, or just you and your person, buying perishables in large quantities may not be Such A Deal if you end up having to toss half the container of baby spinach because it got slimy before you could eat it all. So pick and choose what you buy in large quanities. If you won't eat it before it goes bad, it's a lot less of a good deal. Non-perishables, however, are a pretty safe bet (as long as you have storage space!).
The Bulk Aisle is Your Friend
Wait, what? Didn't I just say the opposite? Not quite. Many grocery stores have a bulk aisle comprised of bins. In these bins you can find everything from granola to coffee beans to dried fruit to flour to nuts to seeds to dry beans (the list goes on). The reason these bins are your friends is because they allow you to buy as much or as little as you need. This is especially helpful for expensive items like pine nuts because you only have to pay for the 1/4 cup you'll use for your recipe. Sometimes, the ingredients in the bins cost less per pound than the packaged version a few aisles over. I always buy the rolled oats for my morning oatmeal from the bulk aisle, and I stock up when they go on sale.
Now it's your turn. What strategies do you use to eat well without spending a lot?
Labels: tips n tricks