It’s no secret that everything seems more expensive right now. I am in a situation where I am lucky on several points. I work from home and recently ditched my car after moving to a more walkable city. In addition to escaping rising gas prices relatively unscathed, I haven’t had to worry about bonuses or formula shortages because I don’t have kids yet.
However, I still have to buy food, and I’ve seen my grocery bill total go up on my recent trips. I love the feeling of going to the market and shopping without plans, just guided by the vibes (i.e. whatever looks the best and freshest).
But this way of shopping is not sustainable at the moment. So a few weeks ago, I sat down and meticulously planned out — with old-fashioned pen and paper — five ways to lower my grocery bill.
And it worked: using a few simple steps, I was able to reduce my bill in the weeks that followed to between $20 and $35. It’s not a ton, but it definitely adds up!
Without further ado, here are several steps you can take today to reduce your home kitchen costs:
First, shop your pantry
Whether I’m trying to cut costs in the face of inflation or cut my kitchen bills while saving up for something special, the first two places I look inside are my own pantry and freezer. Again, this is a process that requires pen and paper (or the Notes app).
Take about 15 minutes before meal planning to make a list of items on hand that can be used to prepare next week’s meals. I noticed a few frozen bananas, a few tablespoons of almond butter, and oat milk cream accidentally included in an Instacart order. I knew these ingredients could be used to make smoothies for the week and I wouldn’t have to buy anything else for breakfast.
Related: Lentils, canned fish, and chickpeas — oh my! Expeditions from my large pantry
Did you panic buy shelf-stable items, such as beans, pasta and rice, at the start of the pandemic? Over the next few months, some of these ingredients were relegated to the back of my pantry and I repurchased staples that I didn’t actually need. If, while sorting through items, you find something that’s expired, spoiled, or needs to be thrown away, this is a great opportunity to clean out the pantry quickly. It also makes it easier to identify what you have on hand and what you actually need the next time you go shopping.
Make a list of trades you can make
When writing your shopping list, make a mental or physical note of profitable trades you can make. For example, rice wine vinegar costs about $1 or $2 less than white wine vinegar. Although it’s definitely a bit sweeter and milder, it’s a great substitute. Chicken thighs cost less than chicken breasts; bagged rice sinks less than instantaneously; and chopped green olives can replace capers. Frozen salmon and cod are less expensive than fresh, and they really shine in the right recipes (i.e. when cooked with coconut milk, scallion ends, and frozen peas and served over rice).
The trick here is to avoid buying something that requires extra work to the point where you won’t end up using the ingredient. Let’s say dried beans are cheaper than canned ones – which they usually are – but you know you won’t have time to soak them, season them and wait for them to cook completely for dinner. . This is a case where saving a few extra pennies isn’t worth it.
Meal plan, focusing on vegetarian and vegan meals
One of the fastest ways to cut my grocery budget is to focus on plant-based meals. Meat is expensive, especially good quality meat. Plant proteins like Impossible products and soyrizo can also be expensive.
Fortunately, we are in a season where there is an absolute abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables around which to plan your meals. The other day I picked up a full pound of strawberries for $2. Half was made into jam, while the other half was served with yogurt and homemade granola from more unfinished pantry items including nuggets, pecans, seeds flax and maple syrup.
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Because of its versatility, corn is a staple in my kitchen this time of year. One of my current favorite dishes is fresh corn cut on the cob simmered with coconut milk, a little chicken or vegetable broth and some peppers. I pour it over rice and garnish it with green onions and a squeeze of lime. It’s not only delicious, but also less than $1 per serving.
If you find yourself running out of plant-based meal ideas, visit the cookbook section of your local library. There is usually a small treasure trove of international cookbooks – some of which have achieved great popularity and some of which have not – with plant-based recipes that will have you excited to cook with produce.
Try Recipes That Elevate Cheaper Cuts of Meat
However, I completely understand if you don’t feel like going completely vegetarian or vegan overnight. If you want to incorporate meat into your meal plan, one way to save money is to focus on the least expensive cuts of meat. For example, the top round steak (also sometimes called the London grill) is a tough, yet versatile cut of beef. It requires slow, slow cooking to release its tenderness, so that’s where having a Dutch oven, Instant Pot, or slow cooker comes in handy.
Most people think of turkey as holiday protein, but frozen turkeys are pretty cheap this time of year. You can replace turkey with chicken in a range of meals, such as curries and soups.
Have a plan for using every part of your ingredients
Who among us has never bought a bunch of specialty ingredients for a particular meal, only to leave the remaining portions of said ingredients languishing unused in their pantry or crisper? While it’s sometimes the nature of “project cooking”, it’s ideal to have a plan for using leftover bibs and bibs from meal to meal when trying to keep costs down.
Reserve these chicken and turkey bones for stock. Whisk the remaining herbs with the dragees from your Greek yogurt to make a dip or pasta sauce like Sohla El-Waylly did here. Carrot tops make great pesto and leftover jam is a great cocktail starter.
Budgeting can seem like a disaster if you let it, but it can also be a very satisfying way to get creative in the kitchen. I wish you delicious (cheap!) eating in the weeks to come.
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