Posted by Sheela Cooper
We could all use a few extra pennies, right? And even if you already have frugal habits, it’s always worth taking a few moments to discover if you have any money “leaks.” One of the biggest ways many of us lose money is through food waste, or by purchasing convenience food items.
How many times have you opened your refrigerator to discover produce that could double as a science experiment? Yeah, that’s never fun! And then you take that spoiled produce and throw it in the trash. But really, it’s the same as taking the $2 that you spent on those cucumbers and just throwing that directly into the trash can. Can you imagine willingly taking money from your wallet and putting in the trash can? It pains me to have this type of waste, so here are a few things that I do to minimize it.
Certain veggies seem to go bad often because I buy them for one dish and then forget about them. An example is celery. I might buy it to make a soup or chicken salad, so I’ll chop up a couple of stalks and the rest sits in the crisper, forgotten. A better plan? I wash and chop up the entire bunch of celery when I’m making the dish for which I originally bought it. Then, I freeze it in approximately one cup portions. To make this easy, I put each portion into some Press ‘n Seal wrap, then place the packets into a zip-top freezer bag. Then the next time I want to make a dish that requires celery, all I have to do is reach into the freezer and grab a pre-portioned packet of celery. Talk about a time-saver as well as a money-saver! Just note that the frozen chopped celery should only be used in dishes where the celery will be cooked.
You can apply the same idea to many veggies. Chop up extra green or red peppers or onions to freeze in individual portions. I even chop ginger (which tends to get moldy in the fridge when stored too long) and freeze it in about one tablespoon portions. It will become a clump in the freezer, but since it will be cooked, it ends up just fine. Sometimes, the time savings when it comes to cooking with those items may be even more valuable than the money saved! (Use some of your frozen celery and onions in this delicious soup recipe here.)
Another easy way to save money on food is skip the chicken broth and use water instead. Honestly, commercial chicken broth is not that flavorful and typically serves as an expensive way to salt a dish. If a recipe calls for chicken broth (in something like a casserole or soup), substitute water instead. You will then need to increase the salt you add to the dish – I usually add up to one teaspoon of kosher salt (table salt is too salty) to make up for the missing chicken broth, and no one misses the broth. If you are making a dish that calls for cooked chicken and chicken broth (such as chicken pot pie), but you’re starting from scratch with raw chicken, you can boil your chicken to cook it. That way, you end up with cooked chicken AND a broth to use in the recipe. If you want to get a more flavorful broth, you can add some carrot and onion and herbs to the water, but it’s not necessary. You’ll still need to increase the salt in your recipe if you use this homemade quick broth.
Finally, don’t stress about specialty ingredients. If you have a recipe that you would love to try but don’t want to invest in an expensive ingredient that you may only use once, try to find a substitute from your fridge or pantry. If a recipe calls for crème fraiche, substitute sour cream (and perhaps throw in a small bit of cream cheese for added texture and tang). If the ingredients include red wine vinegar but you only have white vinegar, use that instead. It may not have the exact flavor, but you’ll still get the acidity from the vinegar. Don’t have parsley but do have chives? Then feel free to use those. Sometimes you’ll find that the substitutions actually make the dish better, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Dried beans are much more economical (and healthier) than canned beans, but can be intimidating to cook. But by simply soaking your beans and then cooking them in the oven, on the stove, or in a pressure cooker, you can save lots of money and time. Once you cook a large batch of beans, you can portion them into freezer bags and freeze them. You can even season them as you cook them, so all you have to do when you are ready to eat them is pull the frozen beans out of the freezer and heat them up.
I could never begin to cover all of the ways to save money by changing some of your kitchen habits, but I hope you found something here that can help you. Please share any tips you have in the comments below – I would love to hear them!