Thursday, April 29, 2010

Budget Savers

Anyone want to know the real reason I can cook?
No? Fine, be that way.
Okay, okay, I'll tell you anyway.
I'm cheap. Broke too, but mostly cheap.
Here's the scoop with that. About three years ago, my husband and I went from DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) to single income parents. The bills went up; the means to pay them went down. Sound familiar, America? After a few weeks of eating store brand mac n' cheese, it occurred to me that some real person makes the delicious pizzas, pasta sauces, and desserts I missed. Someone in a factory, making minimum wage or worse, cranks out frozen things in a factory. Someone putting himself through college peels potatoes and debones fish in the back of a restaurant. And before that, some poor peasant woman in Europe, Asia, South America, wherever, with no supermarket or food processor, INVENTED the dish being copied by the factory worker and the cook, making do with what resources she had to feed her family. It then came to my mind that I am just as smart and capable as the peasant. Since then, it has become a fun game for me to see what yummy things I can come up with on a very small budget. It seems that convenience has replaced skill in the kitchen, and our collective waistlines, wallets, and tastebuds are suffering. Here are a few tips for keeping your family's meals delicious and inexpensive:
1. Do it yourself. Someone knows how to do it. Why can't that someone be you? Example: storebought pita bread is usually about $4 for six, and somewhat stale even straight from the package. It costs about 40 cents to make twice that many, and they are fresh and wonderful.
2. Cut back on meat. If you learn your way around a produce section, you won't miss it and your body will thank you. Example: Veal parmesan and eggplant parmesan both get their distinctive flavor from tomatoes, basil, and parmesan cheese. Veal is generally $4-6 per pound, and the quality is kind of a crapshoot if you get it from the supermarket. Eggplant is less than $1.50 a pound, and quality is fairly consistent.
3. Make the cheese you choose count. Good asiago and feta are pricier than the store-brand taco blend, but they last a heck of a lot longer. A little bit of a strong hard cheese will flavor a whole dish. Plus, those types of cheeses tend to last longer in the fridge without going moldy.
4. Go to farmer's markets in the afternoon. Things might be a bit picked over, but the vendors are ready to go home and will practically give you farm-fresh fruit, veggies, honey, etc. You can negotiate them down to almost nothing. Farmers markets are open in most communities April-November.
5. The internet is your friend. If something sounds good, but you don't know how to make it, look it up. It's usually easier to make than you think. A good place to start is, because they have user reviews of recipes. You can find out if a recipe is any good and what ways to tweak it before you even start. Plus, most chain grocery stores have their weekly ads and coupons on the internet. You can plan your menu on sale items very conveniently.

Anyone else have budget foodie tips? I'd love to hear them! Post them in the comments section.


Aaron said...

Thats my Girl!

Colleen said...

Great post! You are a smart cookie....I am learning myself fresh with lots of flavor is better than box with not so much.

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