I have been wanting to make a post about this subject for quite some time, and it seems that there is no better time than now. Most of us living in the U.S. are feeling the affects of this economic crisis, one way or the other, and if you are lucky enough not to be affected directly (meaning, you still have your job, house and money in the bank), this is a good time to take a moment to reflect on how and where your money and energy are going to and what really matters.
Some may think because I have a food blog and like to cook a lot, that I probably spend a lot of money on groceries. Well, one couldn't be more wrong. I love cooking, alright, but I am extremely budget conscious about all my spending, groceries included. The fact that I grew up in a middle-class Brazilian home has a lot to do with it. Many of the so called "food trends" of today are what I grew up with.
Now, I quickly realized that food here in the U.S is much more expensive than in Brazil, where fresh produce is abundant, diverse and cheap. But I still find ways to cook delicious meals with nutritional value without braking the bank. And that's what I wanted to share with you today. Here are a few of my money saving tips when it comes to grocery shopping and cooking.
- Plan it.Every weekend I make a meal plan for the week ahead. This is really important, if you don't believe me, make the test. Plan one week of meals (about 4-5 meals) and shop accordingly. Then compare how much you spend the following week when you do not plan it.
- Check around your kitchen: When planning a week's meals, I first take a look in my kitchen to see what I have around. I start with the fridge where most perishables items are. There is always something left over. For example, if I have some green onions left from the previous week, I know I'll probably make some sort of Asian dish, maybe a fried rice. Next I take a look in the freezer which I keep stocked with meats bought on sale plus a bag of healthy turkey meatballs that are super handy. In my pantry (which is a 3 shelf cupboard) I take a look at my dried goods, normally there is enough canned tomatoes to make a quick tomato sauce for pastas, plus dried beans, mushrooms, pasta, rice and other types of grains. Check out my individual free form lasagna for a typical example of using pantry left overs.
- Buy what is on sale: Once I see what I have at home, I read my supermarket's weekly add. They can be at your mail box or you can find it online at the store's web site. Now I start picking dishes and recipes to make. Whatever vegetable is on sale will be the vegetable of the week. Asparagus are used in quiches, side dishes and soups. And that goes for pretty much any produce.
- Be flexible when making a recipe. If I want to make a muffin recipe that calls for dried apricots but my budget is short, I will still make them but using golden raisins instead which is half of the price of the apricots. Another example is when using cheeses. Many recipes call for expensive ones. Sure your French onion soup will taste better with melted Gruyere, but if I have mozzarella already in my fridge......Now that's up to you when it's OK to make substitutions and when it's not.
- Plan to make full use of ingredients. If cauliflower is the sale vegetable of the week and you know you will only use half of it on a pasta dish, plan another dish with it, like this salad. If you are buying fresh bread, plan a panini meal for the following day or make garlic toasts.
- Buy both fresh and frozen. Cooking seasonally sure is great, but how much pumpkin can you have during the fall months? I buy seasonal produce fresh, but also frozen vegetables and fruits they are not in season to have more variety.
I think most dishes here at Pink Bites are pretty affordable and easy to make any day of the week, but I made a list of the ones that I believe will give the most bang for your buck. And it's not all rice and beans, there is even a few choices for party snacks. A souffle comes together with basic staples such as eggs and flour; Caldo Verde is super healthy and it uses very cheap ingredients like onions, potatoes and collards; a poached egg transforms a salad into a hearty meal and a pot of chilli will feed a crowd for relatively little money.
I hope this will show that great food doesn't have to be expensive. And there is nothing richer than having a home cooked meal with your friends and family.
Happy cooking everyone!
Grilled Eggplant with Crispy Topping
Lebanese Rice and Lentils
Soups and Salads: