Cutting Your Grocery Bill and Items to Keep On-Hand
Everyone has their own tastes when it comes to food. Our tastes tend to change when food prices keep creeping up and you’re on a limited budget. I am going to do a little grouping of foods to have on hand, and what you can do with them. Keep in mind, we are not talking about supre healthly foods, the ideal meals, and so forth in this particular article. These are more survival staples if you get into a jam, natural disasters, really tight month for whatever reason, and so forth. These are items you want to try and have in your pantry at all times. I will be doing articles later that deal more with eating healthy cheap.
MEATS vs More Vegetarian Style
Most of us grew up on meals made of a meat, vegetable, and maybe a fruit. Meat is rising in price dramatically and will only keep going up. That becomes really hard for struggling families trying to buy as much food for their money as possible. For those that are more health conscious and worried about the antibiotics/ drugs they are putting into the animals, going more meatless might be your motivation. Either way here are some ideas to lower the amount of meat you are using:
Use half the amount of meat called for recipes. For example, I would usually make a huge pot of chili (big family) and use about 2 lbs of hamburger. Now I use more beans and only about a ½ lb of hamburger meat for flavor and a little texture.
Shredding/ breaking up the meat. If you have 4 chicken breasts and feeding 6 people it would be better to break up the chicken breasts into small 1-2” pieces and cook it that way (chicken nuggets, baked, broiled, etc). It will make it seem like more and it tricks us into thinking we are actually eating more than just a ½ breast.
Seafood. This generally tends to be cheaper per lb than your usual meats and you get a lot more. Canned Salmon is great for salmon patties (can be dressed like hamburgers if you want), in salads, combining with other fish for flavor and higher amount of food, and in soups. Tilapia and similar types of fish tend to be a lot cheaper than fresh salmon or catfish and taste very similar. They can be used in all recipes that call for fish. Imitation crab meat is great for flavor, super cheap for the amount you get, and can be used in a variety of ways like with pasta and butter, cold pasta salad, salads, and even sandwiches. Shrimp usually tends to be on the pricy side but sometimes you can find a really good deal on them. If you or someone in your family fishes that is even better and virtually free seafood.
Non Meat Proteins
Beans. I will tell you right now, I am not really a bean person at all. Someone says beans and I picture old fashioned beans and cornbread lol! There is a lot you can do with beans though and they are a great protein source. Traditional beans, baked beans, black bean burgers (though I like pinto instead of black beans and find if you had pickle juice it’s really good), pasta and beans, bean burritos, and so on. The wonderful thing about beans is they are super cheap, especially if you buy dry beans. They can really help you stretch your money!
Peanut Butter. Peanut butter is a really handy protein to have around and is fairly cheap especially if you can get it in bulk/ larger containers. You can use it for sandwiches, on crackers, with fruit slices (such as apples) or vegetables (like celery). Younger kids and more picky eaters generally like peanut butter as well. There are alternatives if you’re allergic but then tend to get pricy.
Soy and tofu. Yes I know what you’re thinking “bland” “tastes funny””funny looking food”. The truth is neither of these really have a flavor on their own. It’s the spices and what you cook them in that really infuses a flavor into them. With that in mind, use them in ways to get the flavors you desire. Both are extremely versatile in how you can use them when making meals, still not as pricy as meat if you shop around, and packed with protein.
Nuts. Nuts have quite a bit of protein in them and can be eaten dried, baked/ cooked into foods. Nuts tend to get very pricey though, especially for ones such as walnuts. Buying in bulk tends to help but still this may just be an occasional or small amount food for a lot of families. If you happen to know someone who has a nut tree, you do, or you live near the woods and find some, even though it is a lot of work, gathering and preppy them yourself is a really good option.
Milk and Alternatives
Milk in places is starting to get a little pricer, and then you have those that can’t do dairy. You can pretty much substitute milk in any recipe with water. If you want it to be a little thicker add a little flour and mix it in well. Most milk substitutes like Soy Milk, Almond Milk, and Coconut Milk tends to be even pricier than cows milk, so if it is a budget concern, you may want to stay clear of these. For budget concerns but you don’t want to give up milk, you can either just buy it regular or buy the large boxes of dry milk. More up front cost but stretches a lot further. I used to use it in all my baked goods until I went to straight substitutions with water for most of my recipes.
Another good and cheap substitute is homemade coconut milk. Buying a whole coconut is fairly cheap and there are all kinds of youtubes to explain how to make it. It does take time but it’s worth it. You can also use the coconut to replace your conditioner for your hair and it works a lot better. One coconut can give you a variety of uses and helps cut your overall costs.
If you’re anything like me, you have one, extremely picky eater in your household who shuns anything that doesn’t look like a hot dog, hamburger, or a piece of fruit, lol! I am still working on this one and as I find more solutions I will share them in the blog. One thing I have come to understand about Haley (she’s mine) is that a lot of it has to do with what the food looks like. Visual appeal. If it looks odd or bad to her, she won’t even taste it. She will just get up and not even try it. For these kids I suggest you get creative. Find ways to arrange the food on a plate so that it looks fun (funny faces/ cute designs). Incorporate something you know they do like to get them started. If all else fails, try food coloring for a new twist. Everyone always tells me “When she gets hungry enough she’ll eat” but they obviously have never met Haley. She is extremely stubborn and will hold out. She does love fruit and some vegetables so I do try to incorporate some of those things.
I find most of my recipes in cookbooks and online (mostly online). When I find ones I like I’ll write them down and keep track of them. The absolute best cookbook IMO is the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It gives you basic recipes on up in every area. In the front it also goes through everything you ever wanted to know about cooking, spices to use for what, and all kinds of tips. If you own no other cookbook I highly encourage you to own this one!
The other cookbook I have grown to love this summer and has tons of fun ideas for cooking for kids is The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. My kids love the dishes in here. I also read Harry Potter every night to them at bedtime so they get super excited to eat the foods they hear about in the books.
Just keep in mind that you can alter recipes in order to work for your family and what you have on hand. Be creative, and try things out. Think of recipes as a guide, not instructions that must be followed to the letter.
Each category will be broken into three sections. Base and Spice Cabinet are the bare minimum items to have. Extras will allow you a lot more versatility and more items to make with just a few more items.
The first grouping is your Bare Minimum Survival Staples. All other categories will be based on the assumption you have the items in the BASE and SPICE CABINET columns:
Base: Spice Cabinet: Extras:
Flour Cinnamon Apples
Sugar Vanilla extract Spaghetti sauce
Baking soda Salt Alfredo sauce
Oil (vegetable) Pepper Powdered sugar
Butter/ Shortening Pumpkin spice
Dry Beans (I highly suggest pinto if nothing else)
Dry pasta (if you don’t want to make your own)
This combination will allow you to make: breads, flour tortillas, pasta, sugar cookies/ snickerdoodles, cinnamon rolls, soft pretzels, crackers, bagels, funnel cakes, biscuits, cakes, bean soups, bean burritos, apple breads/ pies and many others. You will note that the list is very little and omits a lot of things. These are just items you want to try to have on hand all the time just in case, and staples to help lower your grocery bill.
Notes: Shortening can substitute for butter in recipes or you can split it half butter/ half shortening to get a more buttery flavor but saving money. Play with recipes. If you don’t have yeast, substitute baking powder. Don’t have milk, substitute water (for cakes like apple or pineapple substitute apple juice or the juice in the canned pineapple).
Soups/ Vegetables / Salads
Base: Spice Cabinet: Extras:
Green Beans Dill Weed Fish (any kind)
Corn Lemons or lemon juice Meat (chicken, beef, pork)
Potatoes Chili spice
(Salad Dressing opt)
The vegetables can be fresh, frozen, canned, or a combination of these.
With this combination you can a whole host of different soups such as potato, vegetable soup, fish soup, chili, chili over spaghetti, cabbage soup, cabbage casserole, and more. You can also do a lot of standard dishes with vegetables, salads, baked or fried fish, baked potatoes, and so forth.
Note: We have been getting more and more away from meats due to increasing prices and poor quality. This does not mean we are meat free! We just have very little of it besides seafood (fish, crab, and shrimp). We were huge meat eaters prior to making food changes for ourselves. For example we still have a ½-1lb of hamburger is our chili. You have to decide what works for you.
Fruit Pies (Mince), Fruit Dishes, Snacks, Breakfast
Base: Spice Cabinet: Extras:
Apples All Spice or Pumpkin Spices Oranges
Oatmeal (old fashioned) Blueberries
With this combination you can make a variety of fruit snacks/ salads, granola bars, mince pies, apple pies, oatmeal (with fruit or not), banana ice cream (topped with fruit or mashed fruit), oatmeal cookies/ bars, and so forth.