The last (and final!) installment of how to not go broke while making healthy choices. Check out part 1 and part 2, if you haven't done so already. Today's post is going to look a little like your junk drawer or that last box you pack when you move, with the dreaded label "miscellaneous".
Find Your Inner Bobby Flay
Or Martha Stewart or Giada or Tyler Florence or Ellie Krieger or Jamie Oliver. Basically, anyone who can cook. A significant barrier for many people is just knowing some basic kitchen skills.
So do something about it!
Once a week, try a new recipe, style of cooking, featured ingredient, etc. Borrow a cookbook from a friend, check one out of the library, scour the ends of the internet. Make it fun. Get input from your "guinea pigs". You might find your new favorite cheap meal.
Speaking of trying new things, consider adopting Meatless Monday into your weekly routine. Many vegetarian meals are cheaper than traditional meat-based meals. Don't freak out, the carbs won't kill you. In fact, whole grains, legumes and lentils are all great parts of vegetarian diets that may lower your risk for chronic disease. Here's just one article (of the many) discussing that research.
I know so many people who don't "do leftovers". Gosh, these people would never survive at my house. I use leftovers for lunch the next day, or sometimes I plan on having the same meal twice in one week (sometimes it's repurposed, sometimes it's exactly the same thing).
For some people, it's all about semantics. They don't mind "cooking ahead" for the week and reheating at a later time. Hey, whatever works for your brain. So cook large batches - double or triple the recipe - and then freeze smaller portions. Plans change? Busy night? Heat up something you already made and avoid take-out. This also prevents you from “enjoying” the same meal for a week straight if you’re cooking for one!
If you just can't muster up the ability to eat leftovers, then you must cook in small batches. Otherwise you are literally throwing money away.
Ever find yourself trying a new recipe that has an ingredient that you've never heard of? Or are likely to never use again? Google substitutes to see what else might work (preferably something that you have on hand or will use).
One of my favorite substitutes is for buttermilk. I find that I never need the entire carton for whatever I'm making. So instead of letting it go bad in the fridge, I put 1 Tbs lemon juice in a measuring cup and fill the rest of the way with milk. Let is sit for a few minutes - you'll notice it starts to separate. Boom! An easy 1 cup of buttermilk.
That said, don't be afraid to try new flavors. You might find something that is part of your regular repertoire!
A few times a month, we have "pantry surprise" for dinner. I haven't made it to the store. It feels like there's "nothing to eat" in the house. But I open the pantry, I open the fridge, I open the freezer - they aren't empty. Not every night needs to be gourmet.
Also, consider repurposing leftovers, as I mentioned above. Extra veggies? Make a salad, throw them in a stir-fry. Extra chicken? Pull it apart and add to a sandwich or soup. Enjoying leftovers doesn't have to mean you are eating the same thing.
Sometimes, Time = Money (But Not Always!)
Convenience items are a big money sucker. Those pre-cut veggies, 100 calorie snack packs, instant grains and frozen dinners will cost you. It's actually pretty easy to do that stuff on your own. You can even give the kids a measuring cup and storage bags or containers to portion out cereal, chips, or berries. Chop up your produce at the beginning of the week so that when you go to cook, it's all right there.
However, sometimes those convenience items are worth it. This goes back to prioritizing, and knowing how YOU operate. If the pre-chopped onions are the difference between you cooking, and you ordering pizza (again!), then that is a worthwhile cost. Know what you're willing to pay for, and what you can easily do on your own. But maybe consider expanding your ideas of what you can actually do!
Phew. We've hit on a lot.
Did I leave anything out? Any tricks of the trade that you've taken advantage of to save money?