Top 10 Frugal Food Tips

Effective meal planning and shopping strategies

1.       Know what you already have & incorporate any perishables into your meal plan. Before going to the grocery store or even making a list, do a weekly survey of your fridge and pantry to find out what you already have on hand and if anything is close to or recently past its prime or best-by-date. Put any ‘must use’ foods in full view. Not only will this save you money, but you’ll likely feel a real sense of pride when you rescue previously purchased ingredients by using them up in next week’s meals.

2.       Before shopping, have a plan for the week that’s simple but complete. Pick a time each week (or perhaps every two weeks, depending on your lifestyle) when you have a few relaxed minutes and imagine what you would like to eat the following week(s), keeping in mind what you already have on hand and also what’s likely to be in season. Adapt recipes freely to make use of ingredients you already have (see the section on substitutions ***).  Feel free to experiment, by try to limit entirely new recipes to just 1-2 meals to avoid getting overwhelmed. My favorite approach is to plan on making copious quantities (perhaps enough even to freeze) of just a handful of main dishes each week and then letting leftovers provide an effortless lunch/breakfast and/or another diner later in the week. I really can’t say enough good things about cooking in bulk, but the trick to great leftovers is flavorful recipes and making enough so that there can be a second or third complete meal for everyone and not just a scrap of this or that left. Try the weekly meal plans and shopping lists in this book to get you started. It’s actually amazing how much time and stress it will save you during the week when you don’t have to worry about “what’s for dinner”. Plus if you already know what you’ll be making that week you’ll be that much less likely to get a ready-made option or eat out.

3.       Bring a shopping list and stick to it; get only as much fresh produce as you can eat the same week. A list based on a meal plan, containing only the necessary missing ingredients is your best defense against impulsive/poorly planned buying or having to make multiple trips to the store. Opportunistically buying a few favorite canned/bulk/frozen items on can be good for households that cook a lot, but with perishables (especially fresh produce!) it’s best not to bring home more than you know you can easily eat or process the same week (two at most), even if it’s on sale. Frozen fruits, berries and vegetables can be a good solution if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to use up fresh foods before they go bad, plus they are more affordable than out-of-season fresh produce. For sauces, some canned options are both tasty (because they’re canned ripe and in season) and economical: canned tomatoes, mangoes or pineapple.

4.       Minimize temptation while at the store. In addition to having a solid shopping list, avoid going to the store hungry, thirsty or really tired. If it’s really hard to say no to kids or spouses at the store, delegate shopping to the most patient and least easily tempted person in your family.

5.       Be aware of marketing tactics.  Buy based on per-unit rather than total prices, and shop mostly from the perimeter (fresh produce, bakery, dairy and bulk sections are usually located on the perimeter), avoiding the processed and expensive stuff from the center isles. Don’t be sucked in by green-washing (all-natural/organic/etc.) and health-claim (superfood/antioxidant/raw/vitamins/etc.) slogans on pricey packaged foods. Get a store member card to take advantage of weekly deals on staples and produce, but don’t waste time on coupons which are almost always for more processed, higher profit margin items. Ask if your grocery store or farmer’s market has any heavily discounted (50-80% off) produce or day-old bakery bins. Not only does getting discounted fruit help your wallet and the environment, but they are often more tasty than the full price ones because they are fully ripe.

6.       Know your options by comparing per-unit prices across stores and brands. Some things like spices, rice, beans, nuts and specialty sauces and ingredients are usually more affordable and in wider selection at Asian supermarkets or bulk bins, depending on where you live. For spices and specialty ethnic ingredients that last long while, it’s especially worth looking outside the mainstream supermarket to get these for a fraction of the cost. If you can handle industrial-size packages  or grain, beans, flour, pasta, grated cheese or tomato sauce then warehouse clubs can offer good deals (although you’ll need to see if the savings of shopping there just a handful of times/year is worth the membership fee). Simply being aware of unit prices will help you find the best places to shop over time.

7.        Extend food life by proper storage.  Make sure all your non-produce and non-canned items are in airtight containers to prevent loss of flavor and oxidation. Jars or buckets with tight fitting lids are great for shelf-stable foods (plastic or paper bags are messy and vulnerable to moisture, odors, and pests). If you have room in the freezer keep nuts, seeds, spices and infrequently used whole grains there.
Tomatoes and tropical fruits (citrus, mangoes), unless they are about to go bad, retain the most flavor if you store them on the countertop or in a cool room. If soft fruit is so overripe that it needs to be dealt with immediately but you don’t have time – just chop it up and freeze; it’ll be great in smoothies, desserts and sauces. Lettuces and herbs keep really well in a salad spinner, or inside a plastic bag wrapped in a paper/cloth towel to absorb excess moisture, with air gently squeezed out of the bag. Some really fresh and undamaged greens can be kept like a plant on the countertop with root ball in jar of water. Root veggies (onions, garlic, ginger, yams, potatoes – in a paper bag in a cool area of the kitchen or cellar) and a few other hardy veggies (apples, celery, green cabbage, carrots, turnips, daikon – in plastic bags, to prevent dehydration, in the fridge or in crates in the cellar) will keep up to a month if stored properly, but other fresh produce really needs to be prepared in 3-10 days.

8.       Freeze it if you have to. For energy use reasons I’m not an advocate of relying on a huge freezer to store things for months, but since virtually all of us already have some kind of freezer operating 24/7, why not make use of it to simplify your life and avoid waste? Almost any cooked food, bread, cheese, yogurt, tofu, soft fruit, grapes and other berries, non-starchy vegetables like carrots, green beans, Brussels sprouts, etc. can be happily frozen, sealed to avoid freezer burn. Some things like fresh herbs, lemon juice and zest that are sometimes sold in batches too big to use up in a week will stay fresh and ready to use if frozen spread out in a thin layer in Ziploc bags. Frozen veggies have been unfairly maligned by the foodies movement as less nutritious, but often they are quite good (and more affordable too). A few raw things that I would not freeze are salads veggies (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, celery, cabbage, zucchini), onions, garlic, whole apples, starchy potatoes, fresh sage, and green bell peppers.

9.       Grow it!  Not only is having your own or community garden a rewarding and virtually free way of getting organic veggies, but you won’t have to worry as much about storage of certain highly perishable things like herbs and leafy greens. For more on this see the ‘Grow it’ section in the Shopping chapter.

10.   Save money by eating. Many of the preceding points suggest various angles from which the problem of food waste could be addressed (better planning and storage, keeping track of your food inventory). But it’s just such an obvious, ubiquitous and almost universally underestimated source of unnecessary expense (an average family in the US throws away over $1600 worth of the food they buy every year), that I was compelled to mention it again. Composting is better than landfill sludge, but it’s still very costly for you and the environment. The best use of food once it’s grown is to eat it, period.


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The goal of this blog is to celebrate delicious food that's also practical. Contrary to certain foodie trends, we believe there is no reason for amazing food to be expensive or complicated or time consuming.

Our hope is to bridge the ethos of the slow and simplicity movements (cooking delectable traditional foods from scratch, connecting with others, minimizing waste and clutter) with the everyday needs and constraints of “the 99%”.

Check out the recipe section for easy, healthy, authentic recipes from the world’s vegetarian traditions that ANYONE can make.