When most people think of cooking on a budget, they think of using coupons or eating Top Ramen :) Being a coupon centric family, sometimes I forget to share the non-clipping ways that everyone should also be incorporating into their cooking routines to help reduce costs and still provide healthy meals for their families.
Here are some tips – if you have any to add, please let us know!
Preparing Meals on a Budget
When preparing meals:
- Research substitute ingredients. Don’t dash to the store (or worse, a convenience store), if you find you’re missing an ingredient to complete a recipe. Log on instead. The web abounds with information and suggestions for ingredient substitutes – everything from eggs to buttermilk. Here are a couple of my favorites to get you started.
- Lighten up. Not all meals have to consist of 3 or 4 offerings, plus dessert. Consider lighter fare, with only one main item and one side or dessert such as this tasty Meatless Gyro or this Skinny Orange Chicken rice dish. It benefits the waistline to boot.
- Stage a challenge. One night a week, stage a pantry, freezer and fridge challenge. Have fun making meals from whatever is leftover or needs to be used soon. Don’t be afraid to eat an odd assortment – just tell the family your serving dinner tapas style!
- Put inexpensive tenderizers to work. Pound, then marinate less expensive cuts of meat in vinegar, apple juice or tomato juice to tenderize them. This will make them enjoyable while saving money on fresh meat. You can also try adding onion powder or soda (Coke or 7-up work great) to your marinade!
- Use Budget Friendly Recipes. Recipes rich in fresh vegetables, low in sauces and lean in proteins often contain cheaper ingredients and are more budget friendly.
When shopping for ingredients:
- Comb mark-downs racks first. Stores mark down their overabundance of bakery goods, and any produce that needs consumption soon, and sometimes regular dry goods. Check these before selecting from regular areas. These can usually be found in the back of the store – sometimes almost hidden. Check by the restrooms – thats where they always seem to be!
- Think ‘non-food’. Every week, coupons and store incentives combine for free or nearly free health, beauty and household supplies. Leverage this on a regular basis to free up money for food, while covering other needs too.
- Look high, look low. If an ingredient you need is not on a good sale, shop the top and bottom grocery racks. Often store or lesser-known brands will be shelved there, as name brands pay a premium for eye-level shelf locations.
- Fill a prescription. Many stores (such as Meijer, Kroger and Safeway) offer coupons, worth money off a shopping trip, for using their pharmacy and starting a new prescription, transferring one, and sometimes even simply filling one.
- Watch the ounces. Bigger is not always cheaper. Check the price per ounce on everything you buy. And get the best value that matches your needs (and, hopefully, your coupons).
- Be prepared! Prepare your shopping lists before heading out to the store. Be prepared and try to buy only what is on your list! Keep an eye out each week for “stock up” items that are either FREE or 80% off or more.
If you’re new to couponing and the lingo, be sure to read the getting started post here.