Sunday, March 24, 2013

The nuts and bolts of it.

I usually post the basics around the first of the month. Since its a holiday weekend next weekend, I thought I would do it a little yearly. I feed us on 1/2 the stats for thrifty cooking per the USDA. that's what they base food stamps on. we eat a well rounded normal diet. That is to say, It is not organic, fat, salt and gluten free. I try for the middle of the road on salt and fat.

So, here are the basics.

1/2 price meals takes a three pronged approach.
1) plan and organize
2) shop wisely, I want 1/2 price
3) cook from scratch

1) plan and organize

Like any project you encounter, planning is essential. First, develop a recipe file of main dishes that use inexpensive sources of protein. Tuna, pork, chicken, beans and rice,cheese, hamburger and some cuts of beef. Beef is getting harder since I am seeing double the price since last summer.

Now , identify a list of staple pantry items that you use often. For us it would be cheese, beans, refried beans, pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, some canned veggies, black olives, mashed potatoes, some canned soups.

Start a price book or spread sheet. Label the food, the size of the package, and then track the date, price, and store you got it from. Pretty soon you will have a good idea what the lowest, rock bottom price is.

Plan your meals when you get home from the stores. Nothing too time consuming, just the main dish will do. Plan any easy meal for the days you know are going to be busy.

2) Shop wisely

you want to pay 1/2 price or less. When the target foods are at rock bottom, buy :
A) as many as you can afford
B) as many as the store allows or
C) as many as you need to replenish your stock.

this is not about hoarding. if I use something once a week, I keep 24. if I use it once a month, I keep six.
Besides not paying top dollar for your food, you have a stock to back you up if an emergency arises. there is a sense of security knowing you always have food in the house.

When the ads come out for your local chain stores, take a piece of computer paper ( or a piece from the recycle bin) divide it into four. List the store on top of your quarter sheet. Now write down anything that is on your target list, and anything that is in the fruit and veggie or meat list that is cheap. now cross off anything you don't need or anything that is higher priced elsewhere. Pick the TWO lowest priced stores. plan your trip, get in and get out of the store. the more time you spend in a store, the more money you will spend. I can hit two stores and maybe the dollar store in a little more than an hour.

Never just hit the chain stores. there are some food items at the dollar store, Big Lots, Grocery Outlet, . n other words, the overstock stores are a good resource. Just always check the pull dates. that is a good bet for any store. one time, every item on the baby food shelf was outdated at a grocery chain store. OOPS!

if you can save a dollar a can on your target items, that adds up fast.

the bread outlet store is a great resource. Ours is two towns away, so we go once every six weeks or so. Also, WinCo is a good staple store, it too is a fair ways away so we go every six to eight weeks. I still made the trip in an hour. One trick is to leave the kids at home. They are a distraction and something's just jump in the cart!LOL.

if you don't have storage on the kitchen for canned goods, improvise. I have known people that store them on flat boxes under the bed. I used to store them in a rattan ottoman in the family room when I had a small apartment.

one of my catch phrases is " if you spend more time on the front end of the get a meal on the table train, and less time on the back end, you will be better off. " you get paid for shopping, not for cooking. it is an abstract that some people can't see. if you spend 75 dollars a week less on food and you spend an additional hour shopping, you have just made 75 dollars an hour. And you have to earn 90 to spend that 75.00.

3) Cooking from scratch

there is no room for mixes and ready made food in the 1/2 price budget.
that being said, there are a few things that are either cheaper, or they take such a long time to make that ready Made items are worth it. Refried beans, taco shells, mashed potatoes are some that come to mind. I buyncannedbeans and rinse them well to reduce the sodium. Beans and rice have a very short fridge life. it's not to practical for me to make scratch.

it doesn't have to take a lot of time to make scratch foods. there are tricks. I cook ground meats soon after they are purchased. I can take the time to cook and defat the hamburger when I'm not rushed. I usually buy it when it is buy one get one for 7 percent hamburger. if I can't find 1/2 price hamburger with low fat, I make my own from a roast or London broil that is on sale for less than hamburger. If you defat a hamburger, it has less fat than a boneless skinless chicken breast. I cook a meatloaf, meatballs,hamburger crumbles for pasta sauce or pizza and taco

I roast a chicken on the weekend and separate it into four bags. Two breasts, the leg portions and the leftover bones for soup. You NEVER want to buy a chicken less than three pounds. The ratio of bone to meat is too great.
deli chicken is usually two or three pounds. At five or six dollars, you are paying 1.66 to 2.00 a pound. I have been getting northwest grown chicken for .88 a pound. that's half price plus if you get a five pound chicken, you are Getting more meat because of the meat to bone ratio. it takes me ten minutes to put a chicken in to roast.
Do the math. 6 pounds of deli chicken is a minimum of 10.00. Six pounds of .88 is 5.44. Almost 1/2 price. if it takes you ten minutes to get it ready to roast, that is 1/6 of an hour. 4.56 savings times six is about 27.00 an hour.

I make a roast of pork loin or beef . Have the roast one night, and slice the rest in meal sized portions for sandwiches. Either bbQ pork or a jus.

Taco seasoning packets are expensive. Taco seasoning mix recipe is on a previous blog as well as almost free pizza, a easy pizza crust recipe in the food processor .

The slow cooker and food processor are youngest friends in the kitchen along with a good sharp knife.
Cooking meat ahead of time makes meal prep on weeknights faster.
The slow cooker is a real life saver when time is short.

Not having a plan is the easiest way to derail your budget. it's too easy to answer the what's for dinner question with order pizza when you have had a long hard day. if dinner is waiting for you, or you can have tacos and refried beans on the table in 15 minutes it makes life so much easier. remember, you can delegate some of dinner. a husband or older child can help a lot. Set the table? Open the can of refried beans. we have a bunny can opener that unseals the can rather than cutting it and leaving sharp edges.

Bread crumbs are easy to make. Dry the heals of your bread loaves in the oven. The oven doesn't have to be turned on. Just put them on the broiler pan to dry. When you have enough, whirl them in the food processor. Even a older child can do that if you deal with the blades. why pay big money for someone else's dry bread? Ditto stuffing mix and croutons.Same with grated cheese, however, I have been finding grated cheese cheaper than the bricks lately.

Check out no brainer pasta on an earlier blog. I dissected a hamburger meal box . The results are remarkable!


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