Groceries are one of the biggest expenses that families have today, other than their mortgage. And, as good as coupons are, they just don’t cut down the food expense enough. So how can you save money and still eat well? There are several ways to combat this problem, but let’s start with what you put on that grocery list. Planning your menu is a real money saver and one that will make a difference right away. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A pen and paper are all your need, however, some people like to take a blank monthly calendar and fill in the foods for the day.
Making a Menu
For years I never made a grocery list and a lot of things ended up in my shopping basket I didn’t really need. Menu planning saves money at the grocery store and also saves a lot of time. If you are a busy career person, or even a stay at home mom or dad, you probably wonder each day what you will eat for dinner. Once I started making a weekly menu and then making the shopping list from that menu, things went much smoother. No longer was I buying things I didn’t really need plus I was relieved to know exactly what we were going to eat that night. Making a shopping list also keeps you from running short of cooking ingredients!
My best advice is if you really want to save money you must make a menu. You can make them for the week, two weeks, or even a month, depending on how often you buy groceries. You will find that menu planning will become one of your favorite things to do.
When I make a menu it’s usually just the meat entrée because I know what vegetables I have on hand, but feel free to write down every dish. Knowing what your main course is going to be every night makes dinner time so much easier. It’s really simple and takes less than 15 minutes, so let’s get started.
Take pen and paper and write down meals you would like to cook for the week. Some meat entrees can be used for more than one meal, so take that into consideration. For example, if you have roast one night you can make BBQ sandwiches with the leftovers. Once you have the meals listed, you can begin making your grocery list. It is important to make your list of meals, first, and then use that list to make the grocery list.
Here is how I went about making the menu. If I had a pot roast on the menu I would think about what I needed to complete that recipe and add it to the grocery list if I didn’t have it on hand. Did I need carrots or potatoes? One quick check and I knew if it needed to be added to the list.
Be sure you have all the condiments and seasonings that go with your meals too. If you have not been making a grocery list, you are throwing money away! Does this mean you can’t buy something that’s not on the list? No, of course not, but it makes sure you are getting the items you need to complete your week without spending extra money.
Take the menu you have planned for the week and post it on the refrigerator or wherever you keep your daily notes. This makes it easy for you to see what you are going to be cooking each day, without any confusion. Plus, you know you have all the ingredients because you wrote them on the grocery list.
Menu planning will make your life stress free, at least as far as the kitchen goes, and you can enjoy life after dinner. You will find that once you have an exact list to shop from you won’t be adding things to the bill you don’t need.
Since we are talking about making sure you have the right ingredients I would like to share some baking substitutions you can use, should you run out of a needed item. Many times you can substitute a different ingredient and it will save you time because you don’t need to make an extra trip to the store that uses fuel and money.
- One tablespoon of cornstarch can be substituted with two tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
- One teaspoon of baking powder can be substituted with one-half teaspoon of cream of tartar and one-fourth teaspoon of baking soda.
- One cup of brown sugar can be substituted with one cup of white sugar and two tablespoons of molasses.
- One cup of sour cream can be substituted with one cup of yogurt.
- One cup of buttermilk can be substituted with one cup of room temperature milk and one tablespoon of vinegar.
- One clove of garlic can be substituted with one-half teaspoon of garlic powder.
- You will find it convenient if you will write out this information and keep it between the pages of one of your favorite cookbooks for future reference.
Freezer Storage Do’s and Don’ts
As the months went by I realized that I was practically throwing money away by not utilizing my freezer correctly. Storing food in the freezer may not be something you have given much thought to, however, knowing how to do it properly will save you money on your grocery bill.
When freezing food you need to think about how long it will be before you may eat it, or if you are going to cook it first before freezing. You want to use your freezer to save money, but you also want your food to be safe to eat, and not have freezer burn. Without an inventory of our freezer, it is very easy to let foods stay in there too long, get freezer burn, and you end up throwing food away. Picture yourself throwing $5 bills in the trash because that’s what it amounts too.
My mom was an avid gardener and taught me the proper way to store foods in the freezer. Almost any type of food can be frozen except things like lettuce, mayonnaise, and some cream type sauces. Stop and think about all the types of foods you have seen in TV dinners, and other frozen foods at the store and this will give you a good idea of what you can freeze.
First, what is freezer burn? When food loses moisture, resulting in grayish or white patches, it has freezer burn. Depending on how bad it is, you can salvage the food many times. If you don’t wrap things really tight the ice crystal molecules are able to escape. This condition can also happen when food is left in the freezer past a safe time. Many times you can cut the discolored part off the meat and cook the rest. This is perfectly safe to do and will keep you from throwing perfectly good food out. There are several ways to store food using foil, plastic containers, vacuum sealers, or butcher paper.
Plastic containers are a great way to store leftovers in the freezer but you need to be sure you leave a little space at the top to allow for expansion. These sturdy containers are great for liquids, but will also hold vegetables and meats. They also stack up easily which helps to save room. Be sure and label all your foods!
Plastic freezer bags are great as long as you get most of the air out of them before freezing. If you have a vacuum sealer you don’t have to worry about air, but if not, you have to get the excess air out. You can do this by placing a straw in the corner of the bag and sucking the air out. Once done, quickly seal the bag. This is not completely airtight, but it helps the food stay good in the freezer for a lot longer time.
Freezer paper, or butcher paper as it is sometimes called, is great for wrapping meat or large bulky items for freezing. This type of paper is much thicker and one side is coated with a layer of plastic. When freezing your foods, place the food on the side of the paper that is slick with the plastic coating.
Wrap everything tightly, getting all the air out you can. You can label the dull outside layer of paper with a permanent marker. When you label the package be sure and put the date on the paper as well.
Aluminum foil is great to use because it protects against freezer burn by keeping any molecules or moisture from escaping. If you are wrapping anything acidic, be sure and wrap in plastic before putting the foil around it, to avoid giving the food a tin taste.
Pyrex dishes can also be used because this special glass is made to go right from the freezer to the oven, and then to the table. If you don’t want big clunky pieces of glassware in your freezer you can pop the frozen food out of the glass dishes, after it’s completely frozen, by running a little water over the bottom of the dish. Once the frozen food pops out you can store in something that takes up less room.
Once you know how to store food in the freezer the correct way you can use this knowledge to save money at the grocery store. When you buy bulk packages of meat you get a discount on the price per pound. Cook the large portions then freeze in one of the methods above or freeze up portions of uncooked meat. Either way, you should label everything and use the oldest foods in the freezer first. Never again will you have a problem because now you know how to store food properly.
Save Money With Leftovers
Would you love to have a choice of what you wanted to eat every night, without having to cook every night as well? Kind of like a TV dinner, only better. Furthermore, would it seem impossible to you for everyone in the family to have something different? Well, I have the answer for you, and it is saving you money at the same time.
There is a way that everyone can come home and search through the freezer for the exact meal they want. Then it’s just a matter of placing the frozen items in the oven, or a microwavable dish and heating them up.
TV dinners have been around for a long time and the market for convenience foods is still on the rise. Both mom and dad in most cases work and this leaves little time for fixing great meals every night. This is why many people spend a big part of their budget eating out or cooking prepackaged foods!
Even if you are now a mom that stays at home you can use this system to save on the grocery bill. And, if you are too tired to cook one night, no worries, you have food ready to go.
I learned this TV dinner type system from my mother who was an expert when it came to saving money. She would cook in bulk, but store in individual servings in the freezer. If she had one piece of chicken or one serving of mashed potatoes left over after dinner she would freeze those up individually as well.
When my mom cooked, she cooked. For example, when she cooked a pot of beans she would put them up into serving size glass bowls and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, she would use the technique we discussed earlier and run warm water over the bottom until the frozen beans would pop out. Once all the frozen hunks of beans were out she would store as many as would fit into a gallon freezer bag. Anytime she wanted a bowl of beans she just reached in the freezer, took out one serving, and heated the beans in the microwave.
Mom and dad always had a huge garden on a corner lot that was extremely large. Because mom froze up many things in individual servings, she and dad could come in from a hard day of working outside in the garden and select their favorite things to eat. This will come in handy if you decide to start a home business.
The moral to this part of the story is don’t throw anything away that could be a serving, or be used in a soup, and store some of your foods individually for times you don’t want to cook.
TV dinners don’t have to taste bad, and having great meals has never been easier. Save time and money by shopping, cooking, and freezing in bulk.
I hope these three tips help you start saving money right away. They should have put more money back in my pocket! Be sure and sign up to our newsletter for more tips, plus get your free ebook on how to cook and freeze in bulk.