Whether it’s called a Recession or a Depression, the economic conditions around the world are depressing and quite frightening. Since this summer, my hard-earned retirement accounts have lost over 30% of their value while continuing to dive lower. While I try not to stress over it, I am looking for ways to tighten spending around the house.
Tough economic times typically force people to explore cooking as it becomes increasingly difficult to eat out very often. New cooks (and some of us experienced ones) are often uncertain how to cut costs when grocery shopping. Here are a few tips on how to maximize your cooking during hard economic times:
Buy bulk goods: say goodbye to pretty packaging
Look for a store offering common pantry goods in bulk. I don’t mean Costco where you buy goods in quantity, but instead a store like Whole Foods which allows you to buy bulk goods in any quantity. You can find all sorts of flours, cereals, beans, dried fruits and nuts in the bulk section. Bulk spices are a great cost saver and buying in bulk typically lowers the price since you aren’t paying for the cost of packaging. The best part is, you can buy just the amount you need.
Cook in bulk: one-pot meals are your friend
It’s often just as easy to make a pot of chili that feeds 4 people as it is to make a pot of chili that feeds 12 people. Maximize your time and ingredients by cooking one-pot meals which can be easily scaled to make a larger quantity. Soups and stews also lend themselves well to using inexpensive cuts of meat, so they can save you money at the meat counter. Make a big batch and store your leftovers in serving-size freezer containers so you can reheat for lunch or a quick dinner.
Be an opportunist: take advantage of sales
Just last week I found whole chickens on sale. I bought two 4-5lb chickens for a little under $7 total. I rubbed them with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary then roasted for 2-3 hours at 350F. Once the chickens cooled, I pulled skinned them and pulled off all the meat. I packaged the meat into six portions and froze for future use. I placed all of the bones and carcass into a stockpot with a chopped large onion, 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery stalks, a teaspoon of peppercorns, and 2 bay leaves. I filled the pot with water and cooked for 2 hours. The resulting chicken stock is amazing and takes advantage of the wonderfully roasted chicken bones. Allow the stock to cool, then strain. I made nearly six quarts of stock and froze for future use. Between the roasted chicken and stock, I have made the most of my $7 investment!
Freeze & preserve: prepare for your future
Well, it’s clear from my the preceding tips that I’m an advocate of freezing meals and other foods for future use. Look for ways that you can take advantage of foods of sale, especially end of season fruits/vegetables or seasonal goods which are at their peak of production. Preserve the bounty by canning vegetables, making jams or marmalades, drying fruits, herbs or meats.
Flour-power: make your own breads
Many meals are accompanied by some sort of carb-laden bread. Bread can be expensive and is inexpensive to make, albeit a little extra work. But, if you eat it more than a few times a week, it will be cost-effective to spend time learning how to make your own bread. I would also suggest exploring the world of bread as it encompasses so many types, some only taking a half hour to make: cornbread, yeast breads, biscuits, naan, etc.
Rediscover the past: make old-fashioned snacks & drinks
Do you remember snacks and drinks before everything came pre-packaged? Life before juice boxes? There are a host of reasons why you should say no to bags of chips (aka crisps), high prices are a good a reason as any. For a fraction of the cost, you can buy a bag of popping corn which I think is a superior snack anyhow. Get creative and dress up your popped corn to give it a 21st century flavor. Or, freeze some grapes or try roasting chickpeas or microwaving your own potato chips!. Wash it all down with a big glass of water or try making your own freshly squeezed juices. Or, make a spicy syrup of fresh ginger, sugar and water. Add a few tablespoons to a glass of ice water for a delicious ginger drink.
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