If soaring food prices are getting you down, help is on the way! Here are some basic saving strategies, practical solutions and novel ideas to stretch your food budget and make your life easier.
Granted, one of these strategies on its own is not likely to make a huge difference in your bottom line. But lots of small strategies working together — that’s the way to see huge results.
Grate savings. You pay a lot to have someone else grate your cheese for you. It’s at least twice the price of buying cheese by the block. Currently, at my supermarket, cheese in blocks runs from about $2 to $2.50 a pound for the store brand to about $5 a pound or more for name brands. The very same cheeses pregrated run almost exactly double across the board, $4 to $10 a pound. Here’s the tip: Grate it yourself. It will stay fresher, and you’ll save money, too.
Breakfast for dinner. Once a week or so, consider having breakfast for dinner. Kids love this, and so will your food budget. A meal of eggs, pancakes or waffles, and juice is nutritious, meatless and super cheap. Get creative with leftovers, and watch how far you can stretch your food dollars. Those leftover baked potatoes from last night’s dinner will make fabulous hash browns or fried potatoes to go with scrambled eggs.
Eat the sales. Plan your meals around what’s on sale, and you’ll chop your food costs by up to 50% or more. And when you can, load up on super sale items to last until the next time they go on sale. Nearly every grocery store or supermarket publishes their weekly sales online. What a handy way to help with meal planning.
Veggie bouquet. Store asparagus in the fridge in a glass of water (like cut flowers in a vase). It will stay fresh for a couple of weeks. This trick works with celery, too. Discover every possible way you can stop throwing away precious food dollars in the form of rotten produce.
Longer-lasting tomatoes. Store tomatoes stem-side down to keep them from spoiling as quickly. This prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar where the tomato was once attached to the vine. Storing them at room temperature rather than in the fridge also makes tomatoes last longer.
Beef in bulk. Buying the “family size” package of ground beef will chop the cost per pound significantly! But if you use it up faster just because you have more, there go the savings. When you get home, you need a reliable way to divide the meat into usable portions.
Do-it-yourself buttermilk. To make buttermilk when there’s none of the real stuff in the fridge, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk. The mixture won’t get as thick and creamy as buttermilk, but it will help create fluffy pancakes and quick bread just the same. Your recipe will turn out great, and you’ll have saved yourself a potentially expensive trip to the market.
Bye, bugs. To protect dry staples such as flour, meal, grits, pasta and rice from contamination, pop a dry bay leaf or two into the container. This won’t affect the taste, but it will prevent pesky bugs from ruining these products.
Weigh bagged produce. Use the handy scale in the produce department to weigh preweighed bags. For example, if you’re buying a 5-pound bag of potatoes, weigh several bags. The bags will vary, and you’re sure to find one that’s 5-1/2 pounds or heavier for the same price!
Leftover buffet. Take the remains of the week’s meals, and serve them for dinner, buffet style. Need to pad the offerings? Raid the fridge for veggies and dip; make a green salad; toast some crusty bread. Keep this idea handy. You just might decide to make Leftover Night a weekly occurrence!
Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of www.EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living. Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.