Perhaps I’m getting old, but I’m starting to feel a “pocket book” (don’t you love that word) pinch when I do my weekly grocery shopping. Last Thursday, during said trip, I reached for a jar of roasted tomato salsa that’s one of my favorites. I promptly put the jar back on the shelf when I read the price on the shelf tag. Sure, I’d pay $4.99 a jar for salsa made locally and sold at a farmer’s market, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $4.99 for a jar of commercial salsa at Kroger that one year ago cost $2.99. While I realize everyone from the producer, to the distributor, to the grocer is trying to make their profit, I decided to make another choice. I spent two dollars on avocados and made guacamole instead.
According to the USDA, a family of four spends approximately $80.00 more each month on groceries than 2 years ago. For most families, this increase in grocery cost does not coincide with an increase in family income. It’s also quite possible this cost increase has occurred on the heels of no growth in income, a decrease in income, or even job-downsizing. I know I can’t personally control food prices, but what I can control is our family’s food costs – how much we spend on food. Here are some menu ideas for saving money without sacrificing nutrition:
1. Eat meatless more often. Meat can be the most costly item on our menus. Skillet red beans, curried chick peas, lentil soup, quick vegetarian vegetable soup, or smoky black beans appear quite a bit around here. On the nights we do eat meat, I serve a large salad, some vegetables, and bread and butter. This variety takes the focus off the expensive item and helps fill us up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
2. Cook breakfast for dinner AND cook from scratch for breakfast. Eggs, but not designer eggs, can be very inexpensive. Omelets, egg casseroles, or a fritattas make for a tasty, inexpensive meal. Made from scratch pancakes, French toast, or waffles can be very inexpensive as well. Boxed breakfast items are generally more expensive than their from-scratch counterparts and check out those ingredient lists on the boxes. Whoo-wee. I can’t even pronounce half the stuff, much less do I want to eat it. No time to cook on week-mornings? Cook and freeze French toast, pancakes, or waffles on the weekend and pop them in the toaster to warm and serve. Silver Dollar Corncakes with a drizzle of syrup make a tasty alternative to traditional pancakes.
3. Eat greens and beans . When fresh greens are not available, frozen turnip greens or frozen chopped spinach work well in most recipes. Dried beans or legumes (see #7) can be very inexpensive and quite filling.
4. Eat homemade soup. Serve with a loaf of hearty whole-grain bread and maybe some fruit or a salad. In warmer weather consider preparing a cold, homemade soup such as gazpacho.
5. Cook with a slow-cooker and prepare inexpensive cuts of beef such as a chuck roast. Slow-cooked pork shoulder makes tasty barbecue and leftover pork freezes beautifully for use in another meal.
6. Eat from the freezer. You’d be surprised at how many meals are buried in your freezer just waiting to be thrown together. Recently I used a half-bag of frozen shrimp, some frozen greens, and pasta (from the pantry – see #9) for a quick pasta and shrimp dish. It didn’t cost any additional money. I had everything I needed, even the box of pasta.
7. Buy dried beans and cook them yourself instead of buying canned beans. Instructions for how to cook the beans are usually on the bag, or if you buy the beans in bulk, the store probably has a little card or paper with cooking instructions. Incidentally, when I cook beans I employ the quick-soak method, otherwise, the beans do need to soak in water overnight before they are cooked. I know this is not a “quick-cooking” tip, but remember, we’re talking about saving money on your menus.
8. Make your own chicken broth from leftover roast chicken. Put the chicken carcass in a large pot along with a roughly chopped onion, 2 carrots, peeled and chopped, and a few ribs of celery chopped. Cover with cold water and simmer for about two hours. Strain and package in 1- to 2-cup containers. Date and freeze until needed, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.
9. Eat from your pantry. Even with menu planning on most weeks, I end up with extra food in the pantry, or maybe I went “off menu” one night and ended up not using the ingredients I purchased at the store. Use the ingredients before they expire, the cans swell, or the grain moths invade, and then you’re forced to throw the food stuff out anyway.
10. Bake brownies from scratch and make your own Chex snack mix. Ingredients such as flour, sugar, and cereal may seem like they cost more, but in the long run you’ll save money with baking from scratch because you don’t have to buy the flour, sugar, chocolate, or cereal every time. And trust me – everyone loves homemade brownies and Chex mix. And, guess what else – no strange ingredients on a mile-long ingredient list. It’s all good.