Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Saving Money on Food

I have been asked several times how I prepare meals and save money on food items.  Below are some of my tried and true techniques. 
Get a deep freezer
There's nothing worse than being able to get 30 packs of free Kraft shredded cheese or .89/lb chicken breasts with no where to put it.
What can you freeze?  Just about anything.....cheese, sour cream, milk (leave room for expansion), all meats/poultry, veggies, fruit, breads, yogurt, butter.  If you can put it in your fridge, you can most likely freeze it.  There are several websites out there dedicated to this topic so let me know if you want more information about it.
If something is free or goes on a mega sale, buy a lot of it.  Many items have a very long shelf life and can generally be used past their "suggested use by" date.  If you end up with 10 bottles of salad dressing that are going to expire in a few months....donate it to the food pantry, church, friends, etc. 
If it's free, you can always donate it...if it isn't free, I would suggest thinking about what you could use it for and deciding how much you realistically need.  I have 20 bottles of BBQ sauce because they were free.  Now, I hardly ever use BBQ sauce, but I am finding new recipes to use it in. Don't just stick with the same ole stuff....invent, be creative, live a little!
You need to have some room for a stockpile...a shed, a closet, a basement, etc.  Utilize the space you have and think beyond what you have now.  Put a couple of clear shoe tote boxes on top of your fridge filled with various small items like spices, chapsticks, etc, etc.  Put a shelf in your laundry room or bedroom closet up high where you can store some boxed items or other items in small totes.  If you need to get to them, use a step stool.  You don't need easy or daily access to stockpile items, so be creative.
Go Back to the Basics
Sure, you may like steak every night, but if you're serious about trying to save money, you need to sacrifice a little.  People in this country survived on the land and what they could grow for hundreds of years.  They didn't have quick, highly processed meals....they made everything by hand.
Rice and beans - these are staples and should be included in many of your recipes.  They are cheap and can be bought in bulk.  Buy dried beans and use them in soups, chili's, as a side dish, etc in place of some of the meat and in place of canned beans.  Don't like the time it takes to cook beans...you want something for dinner now?  Try cooking a big pot of beans in the crock pot and then freezing them in freezer bags by meal-sized portions.  I love to use the ham or pork chop bones that I remove before cooking in my beans to flavor them.
Make your own bread.  A loaf of bread can cost $2-3 when you buy it from the store.  You really don't know where it was made, whose hands were on it, how fresh it is, etc.  Homemade bread is a fraction of the cost of store bought bread and it healthier too.  You can knead it and cook it yourself or you can purchase an inexpensive bread maker.  Mine has a delay-timer on it so I can throw the ingredients in before work and set it to be done when I get home.  One bag of flour costs about $2-3 and it'll make several loafs!
Grow your own garden.  Even if you live in the city, you can plant a pot of bush beans, cucumbers, or tomatoes.  You don't have to have anything elaborate, but something is better than nothing.  If you don't grow it, buy it at a farmer's market.  This not only helps support local farmers, but is fresher and probably healthier.
The important thing here is to change your habits.  Just because you like steak or a certain cut of pork doesn't mean that you have to stick with that.  If it's important enough for you to change, you need to make some sacrifices.
Buy on Clearance
That should go without saying, but a lot of people don't do it.  Find out when your store marks certain items down for the day or week.  For instance, one of the Kroger's in Salem marks their packaged produce down on Friday's at noon.  I try to get there for salad mixes, cauliflower, etc at this time.  This same Kroger also marks dairy down on Monday's at 5.  I try to get milk, yogurt, and creamers there at this time.  I never buy meat at full price, and hardly ever at regular sale price; I buy it on mark down and then freeze it.  We also drink a lot of milk, so I know it'll be gone well before the date it should be.  If the yogurt doesn't get eaten by the suggested date, we freeze it for smoothies or a frozen treat in place of ice cream.
Contact your local stores and see when each department (produce, meat, and dairy) mark their items down for clearance.  Get in good with the section managers and they'll take care of you.  You may even get someone who is willing to set certain items aside if they know you want them and will be coming by. 
Go Hunting
Some people may be repulsed by this....but unless you're a vegan, you're already eating an animal.  Hunting is a time-honored tradition of providing for your family.  If you (or someone else) process the animal correctly, it won't taste "gamey" and will be healthier for you than anything you buy in the store that was raised on some meat production institutional "farm".  The meat is free and learning how to process it isn't hard.
Use Leftovers
Broth: when cooking your chicken, reserve the juices for broth. I generally strain off the fat, add some water and then put it in freezer bags.  I freeze them flat and then store in the deep freezer for future use.  You pay over $1 per can otherwise and it's full of sodium.
Meats: use leftover meat and poultry in a soup or pasta dish.  Freeze even small portions of cooked meat for a single serve lunch portion or a small dinner night.
Don't let leftover meals go to waste.  Make a leftover night every week where the fridge MUST be cleaned out before another dinner is made.  Pack leftovers for lunch instead of going out to eat.  Vacuum seal and freeze leftovers in a small take-along dish for a homemade frozen dinner.
What are your money-saving ideas for food??

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