Reader Aanna from Texas writes, “I’m trying to simplify my cooking and cut back on spending. Do you have any advice, articles or sources that you’d recommend to me?”
Thanks for the question, Aanna. Your two goals of simplifying cooking and cutting back on spending are two goals of mine that I seem to be continually defining. Unfortunately, saving money often seems to complicate cooking and becomes more time consuming as you work on making ingredients and dishes from scratch. Here are some helps I’ve discovered. Today’s experiment: Simplify Your Cooking, Part 1.
Reduce your Meat Consumption
Have you ever noticed that every meal in America centers around meat? Watch a commercial for a restaurant and you’ll see that only meat is highlighted. It turns out that meat and products that come from animals (like butter, cheese, yogurt) are the most expensive out there.
Each week when I sit down to write out our week’s meal plan, I choose one meat that I will buy that week and plan to have three or four dishes with that same meat. The other dishes will center around vegetables or beans, which are by far much easier and cheaper to cook than meat. I try to make sure that animal products will not cost more than a fourth of my food budget.
How do I get the meat to stretch that long? Dietary recommendations are that you eat a portion of meat that is about the size of a deck of cards. We make sure on our plate that the vegetables outweigh the meat instead of the other way around.
You can also save money by stretching ground meat in a slightly sneaky but nutritious way. For half of the ground meat you are going to use in a recipe, use the same amount of coarsely ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Simply pulse the beans a couple of times in a food processor or blender. I swear that no one will be able to tell the difference within the food dish.
Buy Off-Brand Items
You will save tons of money if you buy the knock-off store brand items, even more money than you can using coupons. In most cases, the store brand doesn’t have a difference in quality or flavor from brand new label items. I try to do most of my shopping at Aldi, which is a store of store brand items, and stick mainly to the produce section. (By the way, Aldi reduces their produce prices dramatically for fruits and veggies that are about to spoil or of which they have a surplus. I got a box of strawberries for $1 this week!)
Limit your New Recipes
Just ask my husband. I love to try out new recipes. However, new recipes often mean that I have to buy a special ingredient or spice, one that I’m probably not going to find at Aldi and may not even find at Wal-Mart. I realized that new recipes were draining my food budget money at a quicker rate than I liked. Now, I limit myself to one new recipe each week. The rest of the week, we eat good old standbys that I know I can whip together quickly and cheaply.
This is just some quick advice. Look for Part 2 for some recipe ideas and links to other sources for simple yet satisfying recipes.
How do you keep your cooking simple, yet nutritious and delicious? How do you save time and money in the kitchen without sacrificing flavor and nutrition?