In a nod to the recession, the July issue of Cooking Light has an article titled "How I stretch my food budget." Since I've been doing that for about a year now since my freelancing adventure began, I was especially keen to see if I could learn anything new.
So, here are the author's tips:
Eat more meatless meals -- actually, this would be a good idea, and we do that to some extent. Although we are unrepentant carnivores, and we like to have meat or fish at dinner. I just stretch it with more vegetables these days.
Make a meal plan -- This is one rule that I heartily endorse. Really cuts down on impulse buying and waste. You buy what you need for the week, making a list and sticking to it. I always base my menus on the specials for the week at my favorite grocery store. The cereal that's on sale, that's what I buy.
Do it yourself -- This is another rule that I try to follow. I buy fresh vegetables that I have to cut up and peel myself. (After all, now I have the time, with about a 15-second commute from my home office to the kitchen.) The article suggests buying whole chickens instead of pieces ... which is a good idea sometimes. Just keep in mind that you're going to have a lot of waste with a whole chicken -- bones, skin and fat -- that you are paying for. If your store has a good special on boneless skinless chicken breast, go for it; you'll have very little waste. Also, I'm trying to avoid using the oven in the summer at any cost, so I won't be roasting any whole chickens any time soon. In the fall, I'll sometimes roast two whole chickens; we'll have most of one for dinner the first night and I'll use much of the second breast for casserole the second night. The rest is great for evening snacks.
Learn to stretch meat, poultry and fish -- we do this too. Casseroles in the fall; stir-fries and other stove-top one-dish meals in the summer. I've gotten our household hooked on Spanish rice, and there's always pasta dishes. Soups are great for this too -- I have a cod chowder and a beef barley soup in the menu rotation right now.
Eat in season -- we sort of do this, especially in the summer with strawberries, blueberries, melons, peaches, etc. There is some difference of opinion whether buying in season is less expensive. But it is the best way to get produce at the peak of flavor. The best way to eat in season, of course, is to grow your own. It's still early for our garden, but we've had a few cherry tomatoes and small radishes. I just harvested a tidy little batch of black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. I grew up with that variety, which my mom would turn into wilted lettuce. To a bowl of washed lettuce and maybe some thinly sliced onion, she'd add a warm dressing of bacon, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. I would have eaten the entire bowl if she would've let me.