How to Save Money on Groceries - Part Two

Many thanks to all who are encouraging this series, especially the readers forwarding thoughtful tips. From some, I hear worry, "I already use so many of the basic ways to save money on groceries. What if they're not enough?" For that, I wish I had an answer. I do know that by writing this series, I am more and more aware of my own habits. Last week I reached for a second bottle of corn syrup, priced two for $something. It was a good deal, yes, but how much corn syrup can one use?

To start at the beginning of this series about How to Save Money on Groceries, see the Introduction and Part One: Frugal Eating Starts in Our Heads

Part Two

FRUGAL FOOD SHOPPING REQUIRES A PLAN


We're still not ready to hit the grocery store. The trick is not to save a few pennies on hamburger or find a bargain on chicken breasts. (Anyone looking for ways to save money on potato chips and boxed pizza at all? You aren't going to find it here.) This is because there is just no question: to save money on groceries, we must rethink what we eat and who's going to cook it. No surprise to regular readers, I think that we cut out prepared food and instead cook real food, ourselves.

COOK. COOK. COOK. COOK. COOK. COOK. COOK.

Cook something every day, every single day. Make soup one day, cook a roast on the weekend. Put together a grain-based salad that will last several days. Every single day, make something. The objective is to never be faced with cooking an entire meal from scratch, too overwhelming to contemplate at the end of a long workday.

If not every day, find your own rhythm, but do cook on a regular schedule. For some years, my sister had good luck feeding her family by investing much of one weekend day cooking for the entire week. Whatever the rhythm that works in particular circumstances, it's done to avoid the vicious cycle of the drive-through and the convenience of carry-out and delivery. The less we cook at home, the more we pay someone else in order to eat. The more we cook at home, the more we save.

Focus on healthful dishes for meals. For those of us who love to bake, well, we could pop cakes and cookies our of our ovens every day. But to eat both healthfully and frugally, we should first take care of our core nutritional needs for breakfasts, lunches and suppers. Then, once we reach a point where the fridge is stocked with a few days of food, celebrate by cooking something special, brownies or muffins, say.

Recycle & repurpose. That soup? You made enough for lunches during the week and some for the freezer, right? That roast, there's enough for sandwiches and a casserole later in the week, yes? Is it the end of the week and all that's left are bits and pieces of more leftovers? Make Saturday Soup. Waste not, want not.

Extract all the value. When we splurge on bacon, save the fat in a jar in the fridge: it adds great flavor to stews and eggs. When we buy leeks, save the heavy green parts to make No-Waste Leek Stock and use this for making soup or braising meat. When we roast a chicken, after supper throw the carcass into a pot with sliced onion, chopped celery and a bay leaf to make chicken stock. If there's not time after supper, place the carcass in a freezer bag and freeze for cooking on the weekend.

Work toward a handful of recipes that feed the family 'on air'. Call these recipes 'ramen for grown-ups'. Cooked pasta tossed with cooked onion and frozen peas. A quick tomato sauce. Learn how to cook eggs, say French eggs or Ratatouille Omelettes.

Egg Night In fact, set aside one night a week for eggs for supper. While eggs are way up in price, they're still a great value. Plan "egg night" once a week and trade off making omelettes, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, frittatas, more. Then never allow your kitchen to be without one or more of these to be on hand. In fact, let's collect some basic egg recipes from my own sites and my fellow food bloggers.

For the complete collection of egg recipes, see Easy Egg Recipes

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Keep a running list. When running low or finish the last of a staple, add it to a running grocery list that's handy. Mine is on the fridge and is actually five lists - one for the grocery store, one for my favorite international store, another for Wal-Mart, another for Trader Joe's and during the summer, the farmers market.

Food only! List food items separately from paper and cleaning supplies, personal items like shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant. This is a visual reminder that we buy groceries at the grocery store, we buy supplies elsewhere, where they're far cheaper.

Eat for free. Get one more meal from what's on hand. It might well be an odd meal, it might even not be that tasty. But it's 'free' because if we shop and refill the fridge before all those odd bits are gone, chances are, they'll go to waste.

Shop your fridge, freezer & pantry first. Before shopping for groceries, what meals can be put on the table without spending a dime? Use up that soup you made two weeks ago. Do turn that roast pork and leftover cheese into tortillas. My brother-in-law and nephew visited a few weeks ago, arriving a few hours early, leaving me with no time for a planned visit to the grocery store. Only by 'shopping the pantry and freezer', I fed the three of us for a couple of days. One thing I could do better: tracking what's in the freezer, especially since my town is prone to power outages, which is why I now leave the chest freezer in the basement unplugged except at Christmas.

Save the circulars. In the Monday or Tuesday mail, the "junk mail" includes the week's grocery circulars that show what's on sale for the week. Good news, most of the circular can be ignored, pay attention only to the 'real food', which meat, dairy, produce and pantry staples are on sale for the week. Ignore everything with a brand name.

Write a meal plan, a menu, then make a grocery list. At the top of the plan, list what's in the fridge, freezer and pantry, also good values from the circulars. Start with those items to build the week's menu. Be realistic, don't expect to cook a four-course meal every night. Especially if you're starting from scratch, set the goal of cooking one thing (plus, maybe, something easy like cooking a vegetable or making a salad) every day but make enough so there's leftovers. Within a couple of days, you'll set up a continuously feeding system. Every few days, you'll be able to take a day off, just to clean up what's leftover.

Be flexible. If "Tuesday night is always chicken night" you're setting yourself up for extra challenge, price-wise. Be prepared to move with the sale prices, what's in season, what fits with what's already on hand.

Plan the trips. With the price of gas what it is, frequent shopping trips create our own food-related transporation costs. Make the most of the stops. My running lists remind me when I'm nearly out of olive oil (and frozen peas and ...) so it's easy to add a bottle to the cart the next time passing by Trader Joe's.

Wait. What about walking? Is it possible to walk to a grocery? Americans tend to 'walk for exercise' instead of 'walking to get somewhere'. (Admittedly, this is different in dense, inner cities with public transporation where people get around just fine entirely without cars.) I've taken to walking to the farmers market on Saturday mornings: it's cool and the dog loves it. I carry a backpack which limits my purchases.

Keep a copy of standby recipes in the car. But we're all human, plans some times go awry. Let's say you're on your way home, you know you're even out of eggs, you're tired and everyone's hungry. Drive-through night? Carry-out night? Wrong and wrong. Instead, keep a handful of recipes, ones that can made up quick (once you're home), right there in the car. I keep a Word document with these standby recipes written in shorthand form so a single page hold 20 or 30 recipes in small type, two columns.


HOMEWORK

Feeling motivated? Good! Here are some ways to get started, now, by arming yourself with information and tools.

  • What's in your freezer now? your pantry? Make it a running list, adding and subtracting.
  • Create a grocery list, one that can be printed and reused. Separate non-food items like paper and cleaning supplies. If you shop at multiple stores, separate by store too.
  • Collect three standby recipes in a form that's easy to update and can be accessed from anywhere.


YOUR TWO CENTS = TWO DOLLARS = TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS = TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS = TWO MILLLION DOLLARS Collectively, Kitchen Parade readers have thousands of their own money-saving tips. Please: do share them, either in a comment or via e-mail. I'll collect reader tips for a special post to close this series. Your two cents, multiplied by thousands of readers, can really add up.

BLOGGERS You know you want to chime in! Write your own post about how you save money on food and groceries, then link to the introduction post of How to Save Money on Groceries. I'll collect your posts to share with readers at the end of the series. Together, we can make a difference!


HOW to SAVE MONEY on GROCERIES

The Introduction
Part One - Frugal Eating Starts in Our Heads
Part Two - Frugal Food Shopping Requires a Plan (you're here)
Part Three - Finally, How to Shop Wisely for Groceries (yes, we're finally going to shop for groceries)

Part Four - Investing in the Future (coming soon)
Part Five - Reader Tips & More Resources (coming soon)

To follow this series of posts over the next few weeks (plus Kitchen Parade's usual recipes), sign up for a free e-mail subscription.

If you think a friend might appreciate this series (plus the usual recipes), forward this post!


"How to Save Money on Groceries" is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg, author of the recipe column Kitchen Parade and 'veggie evangelist' at the food blog about vegetables, A Veggie Venture.




I'm manic about not wasting food, and we eat some odd things :)

I keep a blog about it at Reactive Cooking.
 
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the egg links Alanna!
 
Great tips, Alanna!

I think the craziest thing I've ever "repurposed" was rinsing the slaw dressing off some cabbage to add to yakisoba stir fry, but hey, the kids ate it.

Another leftover tip-fruit that is nearly overripe gets frozen and turned into smoothies. As you mentioned, leftover veggies become soup, and leftover fruit becomes a smoothie. Any fruit blended with a little vanilla yogurt and ice cubes works.

I am lucky in that my family loves leftovers. They take them to school/work, preferring last night's spaghetti to a sandwich.

Most weeks our leftovers are just eaten without fanfare, but every once in a while we have Restaurant Night. I make invitations and write up a menu of the various leftovers in the fridge. We all dress up, and the parents "serve" the kids and then we switch places and the kids "serve" the parents.
Candlelight, cloth napkins, the whole deal.

It's a fun change of pace and gets the leftovers used up!
 
I hate wasting fresh veggies, I always check my shoppers companion email from food lion so I only buy in bulk when they are on sale. It really makes me aware when I have more and I'll eat them before they go bad! I think everyone should sign up for their grocer's sale email. Here is food lions!

http://foodlion.com/myfoodlion/shoppers_companion.asp

Enjoy!
 
Excellent series! I keep the freezer list using spreadsheet software so I can update it periodically, then keep a printout on the freezer door. Since we're in the hurricane zone we aim to have a nearly empty and completely meatless freezer by August and don't add much until November. For the same reason we also keep a pantry heavy in canned goods, which I'm much less conscientious about tracking and using up - often they go to the church homeless pantry just before expiration. Shopping the pantry is such a good focus!
 
"keep a handful of recipes, ones that can made up quick (once you're home)"

Naw - you are kidding right. Who is going home to cook and do the dishes. This is eat out now night. Keep a kite, some utensils including a decent small knife etc in a canvas tool roll behind the seat or in the trunk. The supermarket you pass on the way to the park is the pantry tonight.

NOT the deli, the whole market. That spendy loaf of bread (an artisan kalmatera olive loaf is my choice), some cheese and/or lunch meat, fresh fruit. For 1/2 the cost of McD's we eat better food, have extra to take home, AND we have a night out with entertainment.

Did I forget the entertainment? I know the parks with ducks or geese. Where the high school sports teams practice. Which parks have baseball events. All free. Then there is that kite.
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna