Many of us are trying to stretch the grocery budget a little further — food prices are high, and families eat a lot! (At least mine does!)
There are a ton of posts out there about how to stretch the budget, or how to cut it down. Unfortunately, a lot of us frugal real foodies find them pretty unhelpful. They offer tips like “Eat out less often” or “Make coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks.” What about those of us who already don’t do those things?
Instead, I want to offer you some unique and fun ways to lower the grocery budget while making sure your family has plenty to eat. I promise these will work, even for those who are already very frugal!
Tip #1: Buy discarded chicken parts
Not literally discarded, as in, “in the trash can.” But parts most people don’t want. A lot of butchers or farmers will have bags of backs, necks, and feet around, leftover after they’ve cut off the breasts, thighs, and legs that people do want to buy. Some will offer these for free, others for $1 – $2/lb. They are super cheap! Take these home and throw them in a pot with some veggie scraps and make a bunch of stock. A 5-lb. bag of bones will make me 2 – 3 gallons of rich, nourishing stock.
Once you have this stock, you can use it to make sauces, soups, etc. which stretches other ingredients further and makes food more nourishing. Besides soups, one of our favorite frugal meals is scrambled hamburger with mashed potatoes. You can also add the stock to spaghetti sauce, which means you’ll need less meat (if you use it) and it will be more nourishing and more flavorful. It’s a great way to change up pasta night!
Tip #2: Save the scraps
I mentioned in the previous tip to use “veggie scraps.” Keep carrot peels, celery and onion ends, and any of these veggies that are getting rather soft or limp, that you wouldn’t want to serve alone anymore. I keep mine in a bag in the fridge and toss them in with my stock. It adds extra flavor without adding any extra cost. I almost never use whole veggies that are still in good shape unless there was a sale and I bought a bunch. I currently have about 6 lbs. of onions, so I do throw one in my stock this week!
Tip #3: Focus on spices
Spices make life better. Soups are more interesting when you toss in a little oregano and cumin (“Mexican” flavored), or some parsley and a bay leaf (really great with chicken). These are an easy and inexpensive way to add more flavor to food. when you use spices, people more likely to eat casseroles, soups, and other budget-friendly dishes, because they seem more gourmet than budget!
Tip #4: Use leftovers in a new way
Don’t throw out those leftovers! I know sometimes we get tired of them. The other week, I made a giant container of brown rice and another of carnitas, to have taco salads for lunch each day. After a couple of days, I got sick of it, and there was still a lot left. I chopped up an onion and a pepper that was on the verge of going bad, plus chicken stock and some leftover tomato sauce. Then I tossed in the carnitas, rice, and some cumin and oregano. This made a rich, yummy soup that most of the family loved, and it used up most of the ingredients. The last of the carnitas went into a similar pot of soup the next day. That 3-lb. pork roast gave us lunch for 3 days and dinner for 2 nights for the whole family…not bad!
I also mashed up overripe bananas and mixed in some cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, coconut flour, and butter, which made chocolate-banana muffins that my boys loved. Most of those ingredients were just sitting in my pantry and the bananas would have gotten thrown out.
When dinner’s over, if the kids’ plates aren’t empty, we save that food too. It often makes another meal for someone the next day.
Tip #5: Split stuff as soon as you get home
When you get home from the store, go through the groceries and split them up. For example, if you bought snacks, split them into portions for a day or a few days and put the rest away, so it doesn’t all get eaten overnight. If you bought meat in large packages, split it into meal-sized portions before freezing or refrigerating. Cut cheese into smaller blocks and put some away (good if your family doesn’t go through cheese fast, or goes through it too fast if they know it’s there!)
Tip #6: Decide ahead of time what is available for snacks
My kids eat a ton. They never seem to stop. There are many times they will finish their meals and immediately ask for something else to eat. Or in between meals, they’re hunting around.
Plan ahead for what the choices are. Don’t get caught off-guard and end up offering what’s expensive. My kids would go for cheese slices first almost all the time. Instead, I have carrots, apples, and bananas and those are the go-to snacks — they’re what I’ll suggest whenever they say “I’m hungry.” Some of these will be gone before my next trip to the store, so I’ll have to have another plan in place.
Other good ideas include celery and nut butter, broccoli and hummus (homemade is super frugal), smoothies or slushies, muffins or oat-based cookies. Make a big batch of bar cookies or granola bars using oats, nut butter, dried fruit, honey, and other frugal pantry items your family likes, and separate these into snack-size packages.
Leftovers from meals — pasta dishes, soups, etc. — can be excellent snacks, as well.
Tip #7: Make it work
Sometimes, we don’t have the ingredients we need for certain meals. I once made a pot of what my husband called “Time to go to the grocery store soup.” I tossed in whatever I had left. But we liked it, and we ate.
There’s something in your pantry that can fill in. Don’t have milk? Use butter and water (it works sometimes!). Or, try cooked, blended beans for a bit of creaminess in sauces or soups. Substitute canned fish or meat for fresh in casseroles. Make a totally different meal using similar ingredients if you have to!
I’m determined to NOT going shopping until it’s time again. If I don’t go, I can’t spend money. I’ll have to make do with what I have!
I have some other interesting and creative ideas using leftovers and scraps…but that will come later! (They’re more recipe-like!)