From the small restauranteur saving a dollar per case of shallots, to the largest car manufacturers getting a half-cent off each gallon of paint, all businesses benefit from cost-cutting. Getting just a little bit more bang for your buck is in your best personal interest, too–ever pass by a gas station because the one down the street sells gas for three hundredths of a penny less?
Being frugal does not mean you have to sacrifice every little thing that helps you get through the day. It just means using your creativity to maintain your lifestyle as best you can through any economic turmoil. Even if there’s no turmoil, what does it hurt to have a little extra money lying around?
When it comes to keep your food habits, you can absolutely get imaginative without sacrificing quality. With the exception of having an unnatural daily craving for caviar, you can follow these three dollar-stretching steps to eat just as you always have, even if your pocket’s running on empty.
Learn Culinary Basics
This is far less intimidating than it sounds. Just like Michael Jordan or Larry Bird had to master the free throw and jump shot, the culinary elite got where they are by mastering the basics of cooking. That means they can make a mirepoix, prepare fresh pasta from scratch, and whisk up the most delicious salad dressing with their eyes closed.
Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Fret not–we’re here to help.
Mirepoix is the standby combination of aromatics that go into making sauces, soups, roasts, and stocks. All it takes is three simple (and inexpensive) ingredients: onion, carrot, and celery. To make it, cut the vegetables based on how long they’ll be cooking (the longer the cooking time, the bigger the cut), and use the following ratio:
2 parts onion : 1 part carrot : 1 part celery
That’s it. Nothing too terrible, right? Neither are the following ratios for the stuff you think is “out of your league.”
3 parts flour : 2 parts egg (by weight)
Keep a tablespoon or two of water to drizzle in little by little, and there you have it.
And that salad dressing you love?
3 parts olive (or canola) oil : 1 part acid (vinegar)
Here’s the best part: once you learn and develop these ratios to your liking, you will be creating restaurant-style dishes in your own kitchen for quite literally pennies on the dollar.
Buy Fresh and Buy in Bulk
With rare exception, fresh ingredients cost less than prepared foods. Take salad mixes, for instance: they fall into the three-dollar-per-bag range, and typically include several lettuces and a salad dressing. But can you get a head of Romaine and loads of tasty vegetables for well under three dollars? Probably not.
What about that vinaigrette above? Costs about eight cents.
Also, as a price-conscious society, grocery stores everywhere are making bulk purchases readily accessible, and that’s something that can benefit you greatly. You can get coffee beans, loose-lead teas, flour, quinoa…just about anything you can imagine, all without paying for the expensive packaging and labeling brand names must include in their costs.
Buying in bulk means less processing, and that brings us to…
Process Your Own Foods
Don’t buy pre-chopped vegetables or pre-minced garlic when shopping. For every hand that touches your product, labor must be paid…and covered. Plus, the minute vegetables are cut, they begin dehydrating and losing their nutritional value–you pay more for significantly less product.
Same goes for meats: buy large hunks (which typically freeze well), and portion it yourself. Bake a whole six-dollar chicken, and use it for two or three meals with recipes like chicken soup, chicken primavera, or even chicken tacos. Try cubing a large roast, and throw it into an electric meat grinder for burger night–talk about quality food!
From baking your own brioche to chopping vegetables for a cheap Italian recipe like Pasta Primavera, when you process your own foods, the sky’s the limit!
So as you can see, you can easily cut food costs without sacrificing your food habits or personal integrity. In fact, mastering the steps above could actually give you bragging rights!
Photo by NourishLife
2 thoughts on “3 Ways to Cut Food Costs and Get Back to Basics”
What a wonderful post, Liz. I have been having problems trying to cut my food costs because aside from the way I eat, I think that I buy way too much than I should. Thanks to this post though, I’ll get to try some of your methods and I’ll see if it can improve my cost cutting.
Excellent article! I really liked your basic salad dressing recipe. Homemade salad dressings always seemed to elude me so I love your ratio. Also I like what you said that every hand that touches your food has to be paid. I am a HUGE fan of buying directly from farmers at farmers’ markets. I feel that I get the best and freshest foods at the most competitive prices and I am supporting local growers.