Thursday, April 2, 2009

Saving Money on food

With the economy like it is, we are all trying to do more to save money. And there are as many ways to do that as there are grains of sand at the beach. Not every tip will work for all families but a few are just common sense. Don't buy it if you don't need it, shop around for the best deals, don't buy disposable anything if you don't have to, etc.

Since I have two teens, one of which will be headed for college in the fall, we have to save wherever we can. Our biggest way is to cook at home instead of eating out. In the last year or so, we have cut back on the number of times we eat out every month, and have started being more careful of what we buy at the grocery store. I have even found better ways to use up leftovers (so they don't look like leftovers).

My absolute favorite way is to cook big once or maybe twice a week, and eat leftovers the rest of the time. I use my smoker a lot that way. Smoke a pork roast or fresh picnic roast. The same time you are smoking the pork, you can smoke some whole chickens for later in the week. Chop up what meat isn't eaten and put that into meal sized freezer bags and throw it in the freezer. The leftover pork roast can be heated with BBQ sauce for sandwiches the next night, and the bones and meat tidbits left (not the BBQ ones) can be thrown into a pot of beans for yet another meal. And the leftover beans can be used to make bean burritos the next night or for lunch. The chicken can be sliced onto a salad, sauteed into a stir-fry, made onto sandwiches, chopped into soup or dumplings, or make chicken salad. Not only are you stretching your food costs by only cooking once or twice a week, you give yourself some very easy, super fast meals for hectic weeknight dinners.

Another way to save money on food is to do it yourself. Shredding your own cheese can save dollars per pound on the cost of cheese. And is will not have all of the anti-clumping additives that are just not really healthy for you. Buy a big chunk and shred it all at once. This is why Ziplock bags were invented. And as an added tip, use the finest shred you can. Your cheese will go farther. It is all in the psychology of it. It looks like you are using more, but by weight, it is actually less. And sharp cheddar will go farther than mild. More flavor, and all of that.

Not everyone has the time to make it all yourself, and sometimes it is just cheaper not to. Take bread for instance. It is cheaper for us to buy our sandwich bread from the bakery thrift store than it is for me to make it. That is partially because of the price of ingredients and the electricity to run the oven, but more because we can buy a loaf of 100% whole grain, Name Brand bread at the thrift store for 80 cents, and the store is only a couple of miles from the house. And we drive by it fairly often. I still make things like flat breads, baguettes and dinner rolls, but hamburger and hot dog buns and sandwich bread we get from the thrift store. This won't work for everyone, but there ya have it. Bread does freeze well, so if you stock up by buying a month's worth at a time, it could be worth a special trip to the store.

Use your freezer. It is more than a place to store ice cream sandwiches. Any time meat goes on sale, or veggies, or most fruits, you can stock up and freeze what you will not up fresh. Just remember to get as much air out of the freezer bags as possible to prevent freezer burn. And date everything so you will remember to use the oldest first. I have even frozen leftover veggie side-dishes (like corn or green beans) into 1 large bag and when the bag gets full, make soup. Soup is an excellent way to use up leftovers before they go bad.

We also have what we call a freezer night. Once a month or so, I go through the freezer and pull out partial bags of french fries, a few pizza rolls, whatever I can find in there that needs to be eaten. I usually will have several things that don't really match what you would consider a "normal" meal. A couple of burritos, some fish sticks, some mixed fries and tater tots, that bag of frozen brussel sprouts that you got on sale and never cooked, you know, that sort of thing. Cook it all. Everyone can get a bit of everything or one person can get all of the fish sticks while some one else gets the burritos. However you want to do it. This is a great way to not only clean out the freezer to make room, but also you are not wasting food that you would normally have to throw out because you forgot it is there. And my kids think it is a fun way to have dinner since it isn't so formal. I will usually bake everything that I can (like fries, fish sticks, and burritos) on the same baking sheet to avoid making a mess frying every thing. And it is just faster too. Microwaves are good for doing the veggies. So I can generally have dinner ready in less than 30 minutes without a lot of fuss or a lot of clean up.

But anyway, saving money is all in the mindset to think outside the box. Find ways that your family can live with. Look back at some of my other posts for other ideas on how WE save money.

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