There is something to be said for frugality in the kitchen. A commitment to eating frugally, without compromising on nutrition and balance can be difficult. Fortunately, frugal home cooks are not alone in this challenge. Much like eating a gluten-free, vegan or organic, committing yourself to a frugal mindset can often open-up new culinary doors and fuel creativity. I mean, you practically need to be creative when you restrict your diet in any way! No one wants to eat the same thing over and over again.
I am a huge champion for eating well without compromising other things in your life to pad the grocery budget. Over the years I have formulated a few frugal ‘rules’ for myself when it comes to shopping, cooking and recipe development. Incorporate some (or all) of these rules and see your food budget shrink and your creative juices flowing.
Tips for a Frugal Kitchen
- Embrace the Fridge Dump. We have all been faced with a fridge full of little bits of veggies, cheeses, grains and meats. Don’t throw ‘em out! Now, I am not talking about busting-out your grandma’s Everything Pot and making a surprise stew. Instead, embrace the uncertainty and use the leftover bell peppers and onions to jazz-up your plain rice, buy some tortillas and have the family create their own wraps for dinner, boil some eggs and create your take on a niçoise salad or a Buddha bowl. Honestly, the options are endless if you approach the situation with a bit of confidence and get creative. Many filling, well-rounded and frugal dinners can be made without a recipe. Wait – as a food blogger am I allowed to say that?
- Eat Seasonally. This seems like a no brainer, but I am constantly surprised at people who munch on of bowls-upon-bowls of blueberries in January and make squash soups in June. The truth is that not only do produce prices rise and fall as much as Canadian temperatures, but there are other things to consider than cost of ingredients alone. Let’s say you have a hankering for a bowl of cheesy potato soup in the middle of summer. The ingredients for a potato soup are both cheap and readily available. But is this the frugal option? Are you not simmering a huge pot on the stove for an hour, heating up the kitchen and forcing your AC to run? Will you really want to eat a hot soup for the next few days when the temps soar to 35 and you are hitting the beach? There is a reason some dishes just suit the season. Think beyond the cost of ingredients and think of all the factors in a dish.
- Don’t be Afraid to Swap. There is a fine line between ruining a recipe with too many alterations and flexing a recipe to fit your needs. Don’t be the home cook that doubles the cream because you are not sure what else you will use if for. Instead, be the cook that is confident in their food knowledge and can sub similar ingredients or products for others. My favourite swap is to use half a pound of ground pork and half a pound of ground beef when a recipe calls for only ground beef. This swap will not change the flavor profile drastically but it WILL save a few bucks. Check-out my recipe for Meat Balls and Meaty Pasta Sauce to see this swap in action.
- Skip the Chain Store. Everybody and their dog knows that great deals can be found at local farmer markets but have you considered your other, non-traditional options? Groceries vary in prices from chain to chain but they vary even more so from type of supplier. For example, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great way to source local, fresh and cheap produce. Interested? Check-out my pal, Melissa, from Mango About Town and read about her journey with CSA here. Another great way to cut back on food costs is to purchase your meat from a true independent butcher and not a meat counter at Sobey’s or the like. Not only are you saving money, but you are provided with personalized service and commitment to quality that you may normally wouldn’t have.
What are your favourite cost-saving cooking and food shopping tips? Share below in the comment section!