Home Cooking: Tips to save money and time at the grocery store
I find grocery shopping relaxing. I can happily spend hours wandering up and down the aisles. However, what is not relaxing is reaching the checkout counter after two hours of grocery store grazing and encountering a $350 bill.
Over time, I have developed habits that help me to save money while eating more interesting meals. Here are a few of my tips:
Shop once a week: I save time and money by limiting my trips to the grocery store. It is inevitable that every time I run in for “just one thing,” I end up with 10 items I “had to have.”
Make a list of meals: The night before I do my weekly shopping, I sit at my desk with a slim 8-by-5-inch notebook that goes with me to the grocery store.
On the top half of the page, I write four or five dinners I’d like to make in the coming week, and on the bottom half of the page, I create a grocery list based on what I don’t already have in my pantry and need to buy.
For breakfast, I keep yogurt, granola, eggs and bread on hand. For lunch, I love soups, salads and sandwiches. I make one soup a week and then shop for ingredients for salads and sandwiches.
Download your grocery store’s app: While making my grocery list, I use my grocery store app to see what’s on sale, and I download digital coupons before I head to the store. Let sales on meats and produce inspire your meal ideas.
When a meat, poultry or fish I use frequently goes on sale, I buy two extra packages and freeze them. (But remember to use them before they get freezer burn!)
Subscribe to a favorite food site: There are many paid meal plan apps that allow you to choose from a variety of curated meals. Then the app provides the recipe and a grocery list. It’s very convenient and a great option for busy families.
These websites can expand your culinary horizons and encourage you to cook seasonally, which is another way to save money at the grocery store.
Keep a pantry of staples: A pantry is essential to preparing meals on the fly. In my case, it’s two shelves of canned beans, tomatoes, tuna, coconut milk, pumpkin, almond milk and chicken stock in shelf-stable containers.
I also have rice, dried lentils, couscous and pastas in addition to a variety of vinegars and oils, and nuts and seeds.
In the fridge, I always keep butter, eggs and half-and-half or buttermilk on hand, plus my favorite condiments, including soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, teriyaki marinade, capers, mayonnaise, mustard, tahini and white miso paste.
For baking, my pantry holds all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, white sugar, brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips.
If you don’t already have a well-stocked pantry, you don’t need to buy everything at once. Build up your pantry over time by buying a few extra ingredients each week.
Let ingredients do double duty: You’ll save money by using common ingredients in two or more meals.
The other day, I bought a butternut squash, cut it in half, cleaned out the seeds, rubbed it with a neutral oil (grapeseed), sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and roasted it, cut side down, on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven until the flesh was easily pierced with a sharp knife (about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the squash).
Next, I filled half of the squash with a mixture of crumbled sausage, four ounces of sliced mushrooms, half a diced onion and a quarter-cup dried cranberries, all of which I had quickly sauteed in a pan while the squash cooked. I sprinkled the stuffed squash with Swiss cheese and put it under the broiler for two minutes until the cheese melted.
After dinner, I removed the flesh of the other (now cooled) squash half, placed it in a medium Dutch oven with the other half of the diced onion, one medium diced apple and 4-5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. I cooked it until the onion and apple were softened, seasoned with a pinch of fresh nutmeg (or cinnamon or curry powder), then blended the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. I seasoned with salt and pepper, and served it with a dollop of plain yogurt.
Stick with your list: It’s always challenging as I roll by the cookies or chips on sale. Stick to your shopping list, but also build in wiggle room for a special treat. In my case, that means dark chocolate always finds a place in my shopping cart.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Home Cooking” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson taught herself to cook after college when she discovered dinner parties were a cure for loneliness. Her latest cookbook is “A Year in the Mountains Cookbook.” She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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