Chicago Tribune photo
February 14, 2002
Don't be tempted by restaurant meals or take-out at dinner time. With a little strategy, you can spend less money cooking for yourself.
First, plan your meals and snacks. Buy groceries in one trip to minimize impulse purchases. Use supermarket circulars for inspiration rather than gourmet cooking magazines calling for expensive ingredients.
Web sites such as allrecipes.com let you search for recipes with the ingredients you have or what is on sale. Don't have a lot of cash or appliances? The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a recipe database searchable by cost per serving or by cooking equipment.
Plan some meals around low-cost protein such as beans or eggs. Breakfast for dinner, anyone?
Stretch your grocery dollar by cutting waste. Don't let produce or dairy products spoil. Don't toss leftovers, either - embrace extra servings as lunches or freeze them for quick meals on busy days.
Also, consider the cost difference of making some ingredients. Rather than buying premade versions, freeze scraps such as vegetable tops and bones to make stock. Substitute reconstituted powdered milk for evaporated milk.
Re-evaluate the premium you pay for convenience foods such as shredded cheese. For cooked vegetables, try frozen instead of fresh as an inexpensive prewashed and chopped alternative, especially in winter.
Why buy prepackaged microwave popcorn when you could make it on the stove top or zap it in your own paper bag? And instant oatmeal may cost less than buying a bagel on your way to work, but you could make your own hot cereal for much less. Just grind up some oatmeal in the blender to get that instant texture.
--Liz F. Kay