A couple of days ago, I was talking to a good friend about the challenges of feeding a family on a budget. She and her family having been eating in more, but that has created a new challenge - how do you make delicious, healthy, inexpensive meals for your family? Overall, I think it’s easy to hit two of those three attributes, but sometimes getting all three can be hard. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to feature some of the meals that I’ve been feeding our family.
There are a couple key elements in budget cooking -
1. Keep a full pantry, and stock it when things are on sale. Even if you have 2 boxes of chicken broth on hand, go ahead and stock up when it’s on sale. You usually can save a dollar or more when it’s on sale, and you won’t regret it later when you need it. You can spend a lot of time and energy running to the store.
2. Invest in a deep freezer if you can. They’re relatively inexpensive for an appliance (start around $100), and they allow you to buy meat in bulk. For example, I bought 15lbs of ground turkey for Cecilia’s birthday party burgers two months early because it was on sale for $1.99/lb. Regularly, it’s $2.99/lb. The same goes for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I only buy it when it’s on sale for $1.99/lb. I’m not sure what the regular price is, but it’s more than $2.99/lb.
3. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients. If a recipe calls for red onion and you only have white, use it. Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables can often be interchangeable. Recipe calls for walnuts, but you only have pecans? Fine! It might change the flavor slightly, but it’s a lot cheaper to use what you have.
4. Freeze your leftovers. That includes ingredients. Not going to use all the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce? Freeze them in tablespoons. Bananas turning brown before you can use them? Stick them in the freezer and make banana bread later. (Or make the banana bread now and stick it in the freezer.)
5. Don’t buy ingredients you won’t use again unless you’ll use it completely. A year ago, I bought star anise because I had a recipe I wanted to try that called for it. The only problem is that I can’t find that recipe. Now I have a bag of star anise sitting in my house (though it’s often found in various places because Cecilia loves toting it around). If you really want to try a new item, look up several recipes that you can use it in, even if you have to freeze it. (Interesting note - ginger root can be frozen.)
6. Flip through all your area grocery store ads - even Aldi’s. Don’t be afraid to stop at more than one store. Of course, don’t waste money by making an extra trip, but if you’re already going that way, stop on your way home. For example, pork loins are $1.99/lb at Kroger this week, and I’m going to stock up. Aldi has stoplight pepper packs on sale for $.99, and it’s next to our YMCA. Also, compare your coupons to the sales. You’ll be surprised how often you can get cereal and other staples for nearly nothing. And if there’s something you know you’re going to buy, regardless of the price, see if you can download a coupon. It only takes a second to do, and it can save you a lot of cash!
7. Go meatless one night a week. I know there are wives rolling their eyes right now. They just can’t see their husbands going without meat. I realize that your spouse may not be a tofu fan. (Mine is, and for $2.50 for a package of tofu, I’m glad.) However, there are other meat-free options. For example, make pancakes for brinner (breakfast for dinner). No dude would ever be disappointed with a big pile of flapjacks. Trust me.
8. Remember that cheaper isn’t always better. Lean meats are better for you than fatty meats, even if they cost a couple dollars more. Generic canned fruit sometimes has more syrup (just know your brands). Cheap coffee sucks and is a poor substitute for Starbucks. (However $10/lb bulk coffee from the bins is awesome, and it’s still quite a bit cheaper than Starbucks.) Budgets are about balancing. We budget so we can spend wisely.