Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Reducing Food Costs


There! See? Simple! Solves that whole pesky ‘I’m constantly battling my weight’ problem, too!


Oh well. It was just a thought.

Well, short of that, then…tell you what works around here.

Buy in bulk where practical

By which I mean, you like it, can use it before it would frighten away the undead, and have a place to keep it where you can get to it.

I buy meat in bulk from a local meat market. It comes flash-frozen, and frozen it goes into my BIG freezer. I get about six week’s worth at a time. I pay a little more to get the better package: well-trimmed pork chops, lean roasts, and the ‘better’ ground beef. See ‘constantly battling weight’ comment, above.

Whenever a good sale hits, I buy frozen vegetables in those HUGE bags you see at the supermarket, and they likewise go into the big freezer. I also get tons of the smaller bags. I like frozen vegetables, because when (not if, when) I don’t get around to whatever I thought I was going to use them for, they’re still there, as opposed to rotting in the bottom of my fridge (I swear to Dog, I once found the Swamp Creature swimming in what had previously been lettuce…).

This doesn’t mean I never buy fresh vegetables or that you’ll catch me whumping up something involving frozen asparagus any time soon…but if we’re talking peas and carrots for a casserole? Frozen baggie, here I come.

I also get Lean Cuisines when they’re on sale for $2.50 apiece or less. Because I like them, and occasionally I find myself “leftover challenged” around here at lunch time. Also…see ‘constantly battling weight’ comment, above. (I’m sensing a pattern here…) Stock up on sale, slowly whittle away until gone, wait for sale…lather, rinse, repeat.

Non-perishables have a floor-to-ceiling shelf in the garage. Everything from toilet paper to flour goes out there. Canned goods and all like that. More or less organized; there is the occasional bottle of cranberry juice nestled in with the canned tomatoes, but overall I can lay my hands on whatever I need as I need it.

Which brings me to…

Know what you already have

This may require some work at the beginning (or in the middle, when ‘somehow’ things have gotten back into a bad way in the pantry) (not that I’ve ever had this happen…and subsequently discovered that I’ve bought the twin-pack of ketchup at Costco three (3) times thinking I was out of the stuff) (*ahem*). This is the part where you take an inventory and discover just how many cans of cream of mushroom soup you’ve got loitering around.

It’s also, by the way, an excellent opportunity to toss out all those cans that expired back in 1979, or to donate the remaining five bottles of hot sauce you bought for that ex of yours who hasn’t been on the scene in six years.

Once the shelves are (reasonably) organized, you can move on to the next step…

Work with what you already have before you buy anything new

The idea is to make up your meals around what you already have. In other words, be aware that you’ve got fifty pounds of chicken breasts out in the freezer, and maybe plan to have a few meals that involve them instead of rushing out and buying a different meat for each night of the week.

I use a plain old legal pad. First, I make a simple list of what I’ve got in the freezer. Then, as I’m deciding how I’m going to poison feed my family this week, I’ll note what needs to come out of the freezer (don’t laugh, it sucks to discover the pot roast you meant to roast this very night needs to be chipped out of the permafrost first).

Down at the bottom of the page, I write down what I’m planning to make each night; when I’m really on the ball, I’ll even write down which cookbook or website it came from. When I’m just on fire, I’ll even put the page number down. YOW! Ssssssss! Jump back, baby, this girl’s ON FIE-YAR!

The bulk of the page is my shopping list. Let’s say I want to make…chicken pot pie. I’ve got cooked chicken left over. I’ve got frozen vegetables. I’ve got the milk and the chicken stock…but I’m desperate to torture the children but good put mushrooms in it. Under the ‘veggies’ section… “mushrooms”, plus my shorthand for how much I need.

That way, you’re not wandering through the produce aisle asking yourself if maybe you should do…an asparagus thing. Or…maybe…how about a turnip thing? Or there was that other thing, you know, the one with the potatoes? And the…white stuff?

Which in turns means you don’t get home and start cooking and then realize you forgot the chives, without which the potato thing with the white stuff just won’t work.

You don’t forget you needed a can of cream of asparagus soup or a jar of Bavarian basil sauce. Or come home with sixteen pounds of fava beans and then discover you meant lima beans…

Geesh. And whaddya get for all this hootenanny?!

I spend between $250 and $300 at Costco every six weeks. I spend a further $150 at the meat market every six weeks. And then between $40 and $60 a week at the supermarket for ‘this-n-that’; fresh fruits and veggies, the wee little bit of whatnot I needed for this one thing I’ve decided I will perish without this week, and so forth.

That’s between $105 and $135 a week to feed my family of six. And it includes stuff like toilet paper, dish soap, and {grimace – how I miss cloth!} diapers. (Which gave me a turn today, let-me-tell-you: Costco now carries Huggies in an even larger size, but instead of $29.99 they were $37.99? I almost dropped down dead of a heart attack right there in the store before I noticed that the cost per diaper had dropped from $0.22 to $0.19 in the process…) (Yes. I notice the ‘price per diaper’. Shut up. You’ll thank me for it, someday. “Thank goodness Tama notices things like the price per diaper!” you’ll say. “I’ve saved a four thousand dollars this week alone, based on her post about how she noticed that Campbells on sale was $0.00194 less an ounce than the store brand!!” Yes you will. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.)

In the interest of full disclosure I must once again point out that my kids are all small - I’m not feeding a Den full of teenagers. Yet {shudder}. I’d say my four kids eat about as much as two and a half earlier models. With occasional gusts to three. And if I’m counting on them eating that little? They eat enough for six teenage boys who just got home from football practice.

Still – worth a bit of fussing, huh?


Marianne said...

Keep an eye on for diapers - I usually stock up on Pampers when they go on sale. Every few months they run a "buy 100$ worth, get 30$ back." Last time I paid 35$ for 144 size 5 diapers, free shipping, with 30$ rebate for 3 boxes. So basically, 17.9 cents a diaper but shipped to my house for free.

Unknown said...

I'm considering getting an upright freezer, because between the two fridges we have, both freezers are packed. And there's nothing like a frozen rack of baby back ribs slipping out as you open the door and landing on your foot.

Moira said...

So the 14 year old came home from Football practice and ate what was left of the dinner... that I had made extra of so that I could have lunch the next day... sigh...

Anonymous said...

free shipping on orders over $25 at plus 20% off and 15% off with coupon code: STACK