Thursday, March 4, 2010

How to Save Money on Food (and still eat ridiculously well)

Day 63.

There are plenty of people who eat better than my family and me. However, I think we eat pretty well. We often have steaks. We always have fresh fruits and vegetables. We have dessert at least once a week, including decadent cheesecakes and decorated cookies. We eat fancy, restaurant-style breakfasts like Butter-Pecan Waffles, Banana Bread French Toast, and Orange-Pineapple Pancakes. Our dinner menus include such basic staples as Meatloaf and Soft Tacos, but we frequently dine on fancier meals, like Fettuccine with Toasted Walnut Cream Sauce and Pesto-Stuffed Chicken.

And we eat all of that for under $400 a month.

Let me repeat that. I cook all of our meals (save for the occasional treat when we go out to eat, maybe once a month) and snacks from scratch, using great, fresh ingredients, for under $400 a month. And I don't use coupons. And I don't shop multiple stores.

So how do I do it? Of course, your local economy is going to dictate what you spend, but here are a few hints:

  1. Make a plan. Don't go to the store without a plan.
  2. I shop monthly. I go back mid-month for a freshen-up trip for more milk, eggs, and a few veggies.
  3. Plan your meals around similar ingredients. Take green onions, for example. It's wasteful to buy a bunch of green onions and only use one or two of them. Instead, plan meals for the whole week that will use up those green onions.
  4. Buy cheese in blocks, not preshredded. Do you have a food processor? It takes me five minutes to turn 3 pounds of cheddar into about 12 cups of shredded cheese. I pay $4.99 for 3 pounds of cheddar. Twelve ounces of the preshredded stuff costs me $2.99. See the savings?
  5. Know a good deal when you see one. Learn your store's sale cycle and prices. Stock up when you see a good deal. For example, peanut butter goes on sale about 4 times per year. I try to buy enough to last my family until the next sale.
  6. Store leftovers properly and use them up. Eat them for lunch, or freeze them for another day. But if you don't eat your leftovers, if you throw away your leftovers, you're throwing away money. If you're going to do that, I will send you my address and you can mail me a check instead. ;)
  7. Buy seasonally. Pumpkin goes on sale in the fall. Strawberries go on sale in the summer. Corned beef is cheap in March. Hot dogs, hamburger buns, and watermelon are all great buys near Labor Day. Plan your menus accordingly.
There are many little money saving tips that I use. I'll write them as I think of them. All of my tips work together to lower my grocery bill substantially. It is my opinion that having a low grocery budget doesn't mean eating Hamburger Helper and drinking reconstituted powdered milk. I think that having a low grocery budget is fun and challenging, and it is possible to eat decadently and to be able to enjoy cooking on any budget. It's all in the planning.

Chicken Kiev (adapted from Alton Brown's recipe)
serves 4

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 stick salted sweet cream butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, beaten with a splash of milk or half & half
  • oil for frying
How it's Done:
  1. Using your mixer or food processor, combine butter with tarragon, parsley, 1 tsp sea salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper.
  2. Mold into a log and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place in freezer.
  3. Pound chicken breasts between 2 pieces of plastic to a thickness between 1/8" and 1/4".
  4. Cut four sheets of plastic wrap, one for each breast. Position breast in center of plastic.
  5. Divide butter log into 4 pieces. Place one piece on each flattened chicken breast. Place 1 tbsp panko bread crumbs on top of butter.
  6. Using the plastic wrap to assist, tightly roll chicken, tucking in ends, fully encasing butter and crumbs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  7. Set three pie plates on your counter. In the first, beat your eggs and milk. In the second, pour 2 cups of panko bread crumbs. In the last, pour your flour combined with garlic powder.
  8. Heat oil over medium heat. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9x11" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  9. Remove plastic wrap from chicken. One at a time, dip chicken first in egg, then in flour. Coat well, being sure to coat the cracks.
  10. Dip the chicken in the egg again. Next, coat with panko crumbs. Repeat until all breasts are dipped.
  11. Fry in hot oil 3 minutes per side. Don't crowd the pan.
  12. Remove chicken to prepared baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
  13. Let chicken stand 5 minutes before serving.


Jenn said...

Great tips Michelle! The chicken looks fantastic!

Andrea said...

I love your budget savvy :) Your tips are pretty much my tips too!! Especially knowing your stores sale patterns & stocking up. Keep this stuff comin' you know I love to read your shopping lists and menu plans, it helps me become a better economist as well :)

The chicken looks so good! I've wanted to try it since I saw Alton make it but I'm afraid my butter will run out (bad chicken cordon bleu experience LOL) - did you have any issues with it?

Michelle said...

No issues! That's why I altered Alton's recipe. I didn't trust my skills. I find that the extra egg and flour sealed the cracks very nicely and the butter stayed put. If I make it again, though, I will double the butter per breast.

Lisa said...

Turned out very nice, I haven't made that dish in years.

LanceandMandyBird said...

I love your tips! I only shop once a month with a refresher for milk, etc. too. Oh does it save money!

Sharlene T. said...

Love Chicken Kiev and haven't fixed it in years -- long before Panko become the new breadcrumbs... this is highly adaptable to solar cooking, which would save you some serious money... come visit when you can... found you through Tractor Mom...

Twitter: SolarChief

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