Here’s a back-to-basics list of ways to lower your grocery bill. I hope you find something useful in this list of things I’ve learned over the years.
1. Throwing out food is like throwing money down the drain.
Check your fridge every day to see what needs to be used. To use up ingredients, do an ingredient search on allrecipes.com or use recipematcher.com to get recipes that use ingredients that might have gone to waste.
2. Try substituting cheaper ingredients for more expensive ones listed in a recipe. You can try using less meat in a casserole or other recipe with several ingredients.
3. “Un-make a recipe” for a casserole or dish with several ingredients. I do this a lot. For example, if a recipe calls for pasta, chicken, broccoli, and carrots, serve those ingredients separately for a meal, but make extra of each item.
That’s dinner #1. Then use the leftovers to make the original casserole recipe. That’s meal #2. Any leftovers can be frozen to make a homemade soup or be added to canned soup for meal #3. Most of the time we finish the food with meal #2. You will learn to adjust amounts after you do this a few times so that you don’t get leftovers. Some recipes work better than others for this. Rice freezes better than pasta as pasta gets too soggy after freezing.
4. Freeze all leftovers (except raw veggies) as you clean up after a meal. Let them cool enough before you put them in the freezer. Usually by the time you are finished cleaning the kitchen they are cool enough. That way you don’t forget leftovers in the refrigerator.
5. When you freeze foods, put a layer of plastic wrap between the lid and the food. That will keep any frost/condensation on the inside of the wrap rather than on the food. This keeps the freezer taste off of the food. Fold the excess wrap up over the top of the lid & write the contents and date on the wrap with a Sharpie type permanent market. You won’t have to mark up the lid of the container that way.
6. If you freeze leftovers in single size portions it is quicker to thaw/heat in the microwave no matter how many you are heating.
Frozen single portions allow you to have a quick meal when you don’t feel like cooking. Each person can even have their choice of meal.
7. Explore vegetarian options and aim for at least one meatless meal a week. Learn how to combine “incomplete” proteins to get complete proteins. That way you get the high quality protein like you find in meat from vegetarian ingredients. Click on the label “combine proteins” below this post to see how easy this is to do. Not all ethnic foods are vegetarian, but many are. Ethnic foods in general are less expensive because they have come down the generations as comfort food in good times and bad. You can learn about other cultures as you try new ethnic dishes. It’s an adventure!
8. When you have bits of leftovers that are not big enough for a single portion you can put them in “the soup bank,” a container that will go into homemade soup when there is enough in it. You can also have a separate one for leftover spaghetti sauce or chili that you add to until there is enough to have a meal. Then just boil up some pasta for a quick spaghetti meal. Leftover chili works well as a topping for a baked potato or on a chili dog if you don’t want to have it as plain chili.
9. Snack foods can be pricy, but there are plenty of tricks to keep the snack budget in line. Keep cut-up washed raw veggies available in the fridge for easy snacking or to add to lunches. Kids (and adults) will often eat raw veggies if they can dip them in “dip” (salad dressing). We use low-fat Ranch, but any dressing will work. Keep peeled, boiled eggs in fridge for snacks/lunches. They can be sliced & added to salads too. Cheap & nutritious. Popcorn (not microwave popcorn) is a very cheap snack. You also get fiber. Buy a cheap popper & enjoy. More snacks: graham crackers with peanut butter, cheese cubes with pretzels sticks as handles, cinnamon toast strips, hot or cold chocolate milk, smoothies made with milk & fruit, and leftover pancakes/French toast.
10. In ground meat recipes (like spaghetti meat sauce, chili, etc.) use only part of the ground beef called for. Replace it with ground chicken or ground turkey. We love ground chicken and it’s available in most stores now.
11. When making homemade soups add some chicken or beef bouillon (powder, paste or cubes) to taste and some salt & pepper to taste. I like some hot red pepper flakes too. Serve with hot homemade corn bread or homemade bread to make it more special. That usually increases the overall protein in a meal because you are combining proteins. Click on the “combine proteins” label below this post for more about that. It’s an inexpensive way to eat well.
12. Buy a used bread machine at a garage sale or resale/thrift store. Use it to kneed the dough and time the risings. Then take the dough out & put it in your own bread pan or shape your own way. Cover with a dish towel and let it rise again for the final rising. Then bake it in your oven to get the crust & shape you want.
13. If you are baking a lot buy flour in bulk at Sam’s Club or Costco, etc. Repackage it from the paper bag into 2 large food safe plastic containers. I use the clear plastic jars that pretzels come in at Sam’s. Put the plastic containers of flour in the freezer for a couple of days to kill any bug eggs that might be in it. After that you can store the flour in a cool place. It will last about a year and will get no bugs.
14. Serve “breakfast for dinner” one night a week with brunch type items including pancakes, eggs, bacon, etc. We like pancakes topped by sweetened yogurt topped by fruit. We serve scrambled eggs on the side.
15. Quick, healthy, cheap breakfast idea: on the weekend make a big batch of french toast. Freeze leftovers in large plastic ziploc bag. During the week, you can zap a piece in the microwave or toaster for a quick breakfast that you can even eat out of hand if you add no toppings. We like them for healthy snacks & even bring them in the cooler on trips for snacks.
16. Try to buy fresh fruit and vegetables in season when their prices are lowest, but don’t buy more than you can use before they go bad. (Again, check the fridge every day to see what needs to be used.) You can also freeze any fresh fruit that looks like it won’t get eaten in time.
We like frozen vegetables more than canned & keep some on hand for quick meals and quick stir-fry meals. Stir-fry is generally an inexpensive meal that is also very healthy.
Click on any of the tags below this post for more tips and recipes to save money while eating well!