5 Ways To Eat Frugally
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Food can get to be an expensive part of our lives, especially if we choose to eat out a lot or if we only buy high-quality things. But lots of delicious, nutritious meals can be made without breaking the bank. All it takes is a little ingenuity and forethought to make your dollar stretch, while at the same time giving you plenty of amazing meals that will get you through the week.
Making Large Portions And Freezing Them
A great way of both stretching your dollar and having food ready to heat up quickly is to make a large amount of something, separate it into small containers, and freeze them. Meals that are contained inside of a single vessel (like soup or chili, for instance) work best for this, although there's no reason why you can't package several things together and freeze them as a single meal (like mashed potatoes with peas and corn).
Making meals that contain as many food groups as possible is also beneficial. That way you get a more complete meal with less effort than you would usually. Chili with ground beef and/or beans in it is great, or a stew made with lentils or chickpeas. When you thaw out the food, cook up some rice or quinoa at the same time, and that will stretch the meal out even further.
When you're freezing your portions, remember that you can't re-freeze something once it's thawed. This kills some of the cells in the food, a phenomenon called freezer burn, and actually makes the food less nutritious, not to mention that it affects the taste. I tend to use old yogurt containers, since those usually have enough in them for at least a few meals. Be sure to wait until your food has cooled down before transferring it to the containers, though, otherwise the plastic could melt. And if you're using glass containers, don't fill them so much that the food won't have room to expand. It will do that when it freezes, and if there isn't space for it then it will crack the glass.
One note is that there are some foods that freeze better than others. This is just another way of saying that they retain their consistency and flavor much better than others do after being thawed. Some potatoes, for instance, become mealy after being frozen, and celery (or other vegetables with very high water content) expands and becomes malformed when it's frozen, which leaves a soggy mess when it's thawed out. But most things freeze very well: corn, peas, ground meat, beans, fruit pieces, leafy greens, etc.
Buying cheap cuts of meat
Things like steak and chicken breast are delicious, but they're much more costly than other, cheaper cuts of meat. Instead, try getting things like bone-in chicken thighs (which are cheaper than boneless) or pork roasts. Also, check to see if your grocery store has a section of meat that expires that day. They're typically sold at a discount, and you can take it home and freeze it if you're not going to use it right away.
For large things like roasts, you can slice it up into chops and freeze them individually, which is a great way of providing meat enough for one meal while helping to stretch it out. Or, if you don't want to do that, you can slow-cook the meat to break down the tissues and make it more tender. Simply put the meat in a roasting pan, crock pot, or slow cooker with some vegetables and a bit of liquid, then cook it at a low temperature (say, 200-250F) for a few hours. Cut into it to make sure it's done before you eat it. The meat will be more tender than if you cooked it at a higher temperature, even if it's tough to begin with.
Using Up Old Milk
People usually throw away milk because it's a few days past its expiry date, but milk can be used for many things besides just drinking or putting on cereal. A lot of baking recipes call for either buttermilk or soured milk, which you can achieve by taking some milk and squeezing a little lemon juice into it, then leaving it to sit and curdle. Buttermilk pancakes or banana bran muffins are perfect examples of ways to use up milk that's gone a bit off.
If you have a lot of milk though (say it was on sale, or you're simply not getting through it quickly enough) you can freeze it instead. Freezing milk will separate out the fat globules, so that when it thaws there will be little blobs of white goo around the outside, or possibly floating in the milk. This is perfectly normal. You can use the milk all the same, and if you heat it up it should melt the fat back into the milk. But freezing is a great way of keeping something that will otherwise go bad fairly quickly.
Keep in mind to use your nose and your body's own reactions when you're dealing with things that might have become spoiled. If you taste some milk and your body immediately reacts to it (like you gag, for instance) then don't use it. There's no sense in saving money if it means you're going to be sick. Your body is the best indicator for whether or not something will work well for you.
Buying Produce That Is Starting To Go Off
Sometimes in grocery stores you can get produce that's at a reduced price because it's about to go bad. Check out these deals, because in a lot of the cases you can salvage the fruits and vegetables by either using them immediately in a soup or stew, pureeing them, or freezing them.
Lots of fruits freeze very well, too. For berries, simply give them a rinse, pick out any bad ones, and put into a zippered plastic bag with the air squeezed out. Freeze them on a plate or cookie sheet to keep them separated (otherwise they'll just freeze into a massive block) and when they're frozen break them all up and you're ready to go!
Frozen bananas are perfect for smoothies, or thawed out and used in baking or in oatmeal. Before you freeze them, though, be sure to remove the peel. Peeling a frozen banana is a very difficult task, and I don't recommend it.
If you have other fruit then you can dice it up and freeze it like you would berries. Vegetables can be chopped up and blanched before being frozen. Blanching means dipping your produce into boiling water for 2 minutes, which kills off any bacteria that would affect the quality of it while it's frozen. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then put in your vegetables and bring the water back up to a rolling boil again before you start timing. Let it go for 2 minutes, then scoop everything out and put it into ice water to stop it from cooking. Once it's cooled, squeeze out any excess water and freeze it.
Using Beans Instead of Meat
Dried beans are a cheap, non-perishable source of protein and fiber, and can be used in a lot of meals in place of meat. Although canned beans are more convenient, they are more costly and the liquid they're packed in can be full of salt.
To use dried beans, you first need to soak them. Measure some out and pour them into a pot with a lid. Pour water over them until they're covered by 2 inches. Then cover with the lid and let them sit overnight. The beans will expand when they soak, which is why you need so much water. I've found sometimes that they will crowd each other and make for a very tight environment in the pot. I usually pile them a little to one side when I pour the water in so as to offset that.
Once the beans are soaked, drain them and give them a rinse. Then pour water into the pot (just enough to cover — they won't be expanding any more) and put them on the stove on high with the lid off. Wait until they boil, then knock the heat down to low and put the lid on. Things may foam up a bit at first. If that's the case, take the lid off and blow on the bubbles to make them go away. Or you can put a little oil or butter in, and the fat floating on the surface should help keep the bubbles at bay.
Some beans take longer than others to cook, so cook different beans separately. Usually it's a couple of hours before they're done, but test them by taking a few out, leaving them to cool, and biting into them. See how done they are for your liking. Lentils are a bit different in that you don't need to soak them, and they only take 30-45 minutes to cook, sometimes less.
Once the beans are cooked, drain off the cooking liquid, but save it as it's full of protein and fiber and carbohydrates. You can use it as a base for soup or stew, which provides a nice thickness to the dish. It freezes well too, if you're not going to use it right away.
Now the beans you have can be used in casseroles, stir-frys, soups, cooked up with eggs, fillings for tacos, anything. You can fry up some onion and spices, add the beans with a bit of water, heat it all up and smash it down with a potato masher to make refried beans. And if you're not going to use them right away, you can keep them in a covered container in the fridge for a few days.