Food is probably the biggest expense for most families. All those weekly trips to the grocery to ensure that the pantry and fridge are well-stocked can certainly add up. But hey, we all need food to live, right?
That’s certainly true, but so is the fact that food costs have steadily risen. Thanks to global warming, there’s also the threat of a food crisis looming on the horizon. When you factor in how the average household throws away about 15% of all food purchased, the need to drastically cut down on overconsumption becomes a lot more pressing.
But you know what? You don’t need to grow an entire vegetable or herb garden to get started. The following are just a few of the small but significant changes you can make to reduce your family’s food expenses:
1. Get creative with leftovers.
Rotisserie chicken from the grocery, for instance, can be used to make several different individual meals. You can flake the meat for sandwich spread, slice it into chunks and add to a hearty soup with some pasta, or chop it up as protein for a salad with a simple lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette.
The Filipino classic adobo also lends itself well to reinvention. The vinegar in the dish helps keep it well-preserved, as does keeping it chilled between servings, but if you happen to have finicky toddlers or spouses to feed, a bit of creativity can help you get a lot of mileage out of one pot. The sauce and the meat can be sauteed with rice and garlic to make adobo fried rice, or you can add a bit of cream and some chopped vegetables to the mixture to create a pasta sauce.
Working with leftovers ensures you’ll throw away less food and reduces the workload in the kitchen as well. And speaking of not disposing of produce too quickly…
2. Eat your garbage.
Don’t throw away your vegetable scraps and poultry carcasses just yet. Instead, put them in a pot and add enough water to cover them. Keep the lot simmering over low heat for a couple of hours to make your own chicken and vegetable stock. Freeze the resulting broth in an ice cube tray so you can defrost as little or as many of it as you might need to make gravy, cook rice, or prepare soup.
Not only is this practically effortless and removes the need to buy those bouillon cubes at the supermarket, but it’s also healthier for you since you can control the amount of sodium that goes into your stock.
3. Use a slow-cooker.
Using a crockpot is practically a walk-away form of cookery: you put the meat and vegetables in, add your flavorful liquid of choice (such as your homemade stock from the previous item and/or some tomato paste), and walk away.
Several hours later, the combination of low, steady heat and extended cooking time will render even the toughest (and cheapest) cuts of meat into flavorful, meltingly tender chunks.
So, once you get the hang of things, you’ll rarely feel the need to splurge on the pricier cuts. As a bonus, slow-cooker stews last longer than pan-fried or oven-roasted meat as the cooking liquid prevents the protein from drying out.
4. Learn how to pickle vegetables and/or make jam.
Buying fruits and vegetables in bulk can save you money, yes, but not if they spoil before you can consume them all. Let’s be honest, can you really finish a bushel of cabbages or strawberries in one sitting?
Fortunately, there are a myriad of ways to preserve fresh produce. Two of the easiest and most popular are either to pickle them in an acidic solution, or to cook them down with lemon juice and sugar to make jam.
Either method will greatly extend a fruit or vegetable’s shelf life, and will help you cut costs on your jam or pickle supply to boot.
5. Use extenders.
Did you know that you can make hamburger patties or meatballs with less ground beef AND sneak in vegetables to your family’s diet at the same time?
Textured vegetables like soybeans or legumes can be added to ground meat to increase its meatball or hamburger patty yield, giving you more protein bang for your buck at a much lower cost. Alternatively, you can also add chopped carrots and celery to a bolognese sauce to get your child to eat more vegetables AND use less ground beef.
Lastly, we could simply eat less food. The Japanese saying “ Hara hachi bun me” roughly translates into “eat until you are 80 percent full.” Before you go in for another burger or another slice of pizza, pause and ask yourself if you really do want or need it, or if going ahead will just make you feel bloated and overstuffed afterwards.
Our bodies simply weren’t designed to handle copious amounts of food on a daily basis. You don’t need to look no further than the harmful effects of obesity to figure that out, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that less consumption also equals less expenses and less waste.
That makes for a win-win situation, don’t you think?