Whether you want to save more money in your food budget because you recently lost your job or you're saving for something special or just looking for more ways to cut back, how you cook and what you buy plays a big role in that.
Over the years, how I cook and what I buy has changed drastically. I used to buy much more convenience type foods. Now, that is a rarity. I have learned how to make most of the things that we eat from scratch. Not only does it save money but it is healthier too.
Here are some "crash course" type tips on how to start cooking frugally when you hadn't been before.
Stop All Convenience Foods
We all think of frozen dinners as convenience foods. It goes much further than that. Canned soup, bagged cookies, bakery muffins, cake mixes, frozen chicken nuggets, etc. Those are all convenience foods. Stop buying those and make your own. We make all our own baked goods. From scratch. No boxed mixes. We no longer buy cream of mushroom soups but make a white sauce when we need to make a casserole or anything else that calls for cream of something soup. Not only is it cheaper and healthier to make your own convenience foods, it's simpler too. It may take a little more time but you don't have to store as much stuff.
Note: We do buy some canned soups as they make a good Sunday lunch combined with grilled cheese if we ran out of leftovers.
Love the Casserole
Not all casseroles have to be baked. I do a lot of things I call "stove top casserole." I will cook up the meat then add the pasta or rice and vegetables right to the pan and make my sauce. I often make my sauce in the pan with the meat. I then mix everything up and continue cooking for a couple minutes.
The best thing about casseroles that you can stretch the meat. The bulk of your casserole comes from the starch, not the meat. This is part of the reason meatloaf is a treat in this house. It is so much meat and no good way to stretch it. There are so many good casserole type meals you can try. Just start experimenting.
Leftovers Are Your Friend
I know a few people who think leftovers are disgusting. I don't understand this. What a waste of food to throw out anything not eaten at the meal. I purposely make a bit extra so that Matt can take leftovers in his lunch. We do leftover night once a week, usually a night we have Bible study or other plans that have us pressed for time. I also will sometimes freeze the leftovers in a lunch container. Then if we don't have any leftovers one night, Matt will still have lunch for the next day. It saves so much to not have Matt buy lunch or have to buy lunch meat for sandwiches.
Learn to Roast a Chicken/Turkey
We love roast chicken and turkey. Whole chickens are often on sale for $0.88 to $0.99 a pound. This makes it a cheap meat. We will cook up the chicken then freeze some of the leftover meat in freezer bags for future casseroles or chicken salad. Same with turkey. We buy 3-4 turkeys when they are only $0.47 a pound before Thanksgiving. There is so much meat on a turkey. You can't beat the bang for your buck. We'll eeat turkey all year long. In fact, I plan on cooking one this week. Just like with the whole chicken, we bag up the leftover meat and freeze it.
Buy In Season/ Mark Down
Our fresh produce comes from what is on sale and in season. I will sometimes buy grapes or other produce in small quantities out of season for Abby because she only likes certain fruits. But for us, only in season or on sale. Strawberries were recently $2.50 a pound. A little higher than I can pay come June/July but they were still cheaper than normal and nice to have some in the middle of winter. I'll even buy marked down apples to make applesauce or marked down potatoes as they will still store for awhile.
Same is true with meat. I only buy what is on sale or marked down. I often will go the morning after the sale has ended and buy the marked down meats from that sale. Even cheaper that way. I always check for the marked down meat when I go shopping. I buy and freeze all our meat.
So much of frugal cooking I don't even think about. It has just become part of my daily habits. These five tips will help get you started. Once you make them habits, you'll start finding other ways you can stretch your food budget. Of course, coupons are part of stretching that budget but not the major part. It needs to be a mindset change, not just a shopping change. Once you start thinking, "How can I make yummy, nutrious, and really cheap meals" you'll be amazed at the ideas you will have.
Do you have any frugal cooking tips that you love? Leave a comment! I'd love to hear them and so would the other readers!