If you’ve been finding yourself short of change lately and don’t know where your next meal is coming from, then perhaps you should look no farther than your own kitchen. By learning some simple shopping skills, you can bring home bagfuls of healthy, delicious food that can be parlayed into money-saving gourmet meals. No longer is home cooking throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave!
Here are 12 money-saving tips to get you started on your home cooking spree.
• Buy in bulk. Join a warehouse club such as Sam’s or Costco and buy food items in bulk. This can be very cost-effective, as long as you can use everything before it spoils. Consider splitting the membership cost with friends or family and sharing the food for considerable savings.
• Cook in bulk. Cook double the amount of food that you need and freeze the rest in smaller portions for future meals. Although this may initially take a little longer, it saves money, eliminates leftovers and saves cooking time later. You’ll also save money by reducing the amount of energy you use. Consider swapping meals with friends to include more variety in your diet.
• Buy generic. Buy generic or store brand items instead of national brands. Most supermarket chains contract with national manufacturers to produce their own brands. All they do is change the label. When you buy generic, you are essentially getting an identical product.
• Read labels. Get in the habit of reading labels for nutritional content, calorie count and ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so be certain when you buy a product, the listed ingredient is that product, and no filler, additive or water.
• Study sales. Plan your meals around what’s on sale. Scour your weekly supermarket ads for bargains and stock up on items that are real deals. For example, if you see boneless, skinless chicken breasts on special for $1.99 a pound, grab as many as you can to freeze for later use.
• Use coupons. Clip coupons for products that you know you’ll use and match them up with the weekly sales fliers. Take advantage of promotions, such as “double or triple coupons” to maximize savings. This is one case when buying a national brand may make sense, if there is a high-value coupon is available.
• Buy seasonal produce. Take advantage of produce when it is at its peak. Buy asparagus in early spring when it’s abundant and inexpensive. Stock up on zucchini in early summer. Plan your menu around fresh tomatoes later in the season. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also be getting the freshest and most nutritious produce.
• Patronize farmer’s markets. Buy local produce when you can. You’ll know that it’s fresh and you won’t be paying for exorbitant shipping costs. Plus, you’ll be helping keep your money in the local economy.
• Use frozen, canned, dried or dehydrated. Although fresh is always best, it’s not always possible to have fresh ingredients for every recipe. Frozen, canned dried and dehydrated items are equally good substitutes. Most produce is processed at the peak of ripeness with little flavor or nutrient loss.
• Think protein power. Substitute beans, eggs, cheese, tofu, legumes and nuts for the more expensive cuts of meat and fish. Try to incorporate a vegetarian meal into your schedule once or twice a week. Mixing your proteins with healthy grains and whole wheat pasta will open up an entirely new taste sensation, in addition to saving money.
• Plant a garden. If you have the space, consider planting a small garden, even if it’s just a few herbs on a windowsill or a container of cherry tomatoes on your fire escape or balcony. The benefits of growing your own vegetables go beyond saving money.
• Love your leftovers. Today’s delicious dinner can be tomorrow’s luscious lunch. Leftovers are a perfect way to stretch your budget. In today’s economy, eating in is “in.”
Armed with some of these tips, you can turn your kitchen into a cooking paradise and save up to 40% or more on your weekly food budget, giving you a little extra money to spend on one of our favorite activities … eating out!