Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Get Smart in the Kitchen

1. Crock pot Cooking and learn about cooking healthy cheap meals with it.  Crockpot cooking is cheaper because what you buy is a tougher piece of meat (usually cheaper because there is a lot of it on the animal and it is less desirable) that cooks at a low heat for a longer period of time, making it tender and moist.  Crock pots are also a really great way to make cheap, delicious breakfasts (if you make steel cut oats in the crockpot overnight, you’ll have a nice breakfast in the morning and breakfast for the rest of the week for pretty cheap.  Here's a recipe to consider:  http://www.theyummylife.com/Slow_Cooker_Apple_Cinnamon_Oatmeal 

  They also cook beans very cheap whether it is kidney beans for chili or pinto beans for bean burritos. 

2. Bean, Beans, the magical Fruit!  Beans are an awesome, awesome food.  They are a protein rich-super food and when bought in bags, incredibly cheap.  Read this article to see why beans are SO good for you, especially if you are working to lose weight:

You can prepare a large batch of beans and freeze them in individual packs for use in recipes, or put them in the crock pot for an easy dinner.  I like to use them to “beef up” meals with meat in them because beans make you feel fuller longer.   Here’s another article that breaks down the cost of using bagged beans versus canned beans:

3. Soup is good food.  Making even the most basic chili, chicken noodle or vegetable soup is cheap and depending on the recipe…very low calorie.  Many people have heard of the soup diet and variations of the soup diet.  If you look at the recipe for most soup diets, they contain a lot of fiber rich vegetables.   The appeal of the soup diet is that you have a basic soup recipe that you can change over the course of a week, adding different meats and seasonings, to make a different soup every day.  But just about any soup with a stock broth made with lots of vegetables is going to be very filling and low calorie.  Bouillon cubes run about 5-8 calories per cube and make a cup of broth, add low calorie vegetables, leftover chicken or meat (that you bought on sale!) and you have a low-calorie and fairly cheap meal. 
I'm not suggesting anyone start the soup diet!  I'm saying that....SOUP IS GOOD FOOD!  And here is one way you can make a giant batch of soup and make it into other soups fairly easily.  Think of this as a basic recipes for whatever you want.
4. Make your meat go further (No, this is not a promotion for penis pills).  I have a meat eater at home and before I started cooking smarter (and using portion control), a pound of hamburger would make one dinner of spaghetti and meatballs for 2, and lunch for him the next day.  Now, I don’t make meat sauce anymore.  But what I do is buy hamburger when it is on sale in the 3 lb. bulk packs.  I freeze half of the pack (and keep it for when we want beef and it isn't on sale).  Then I take the remaining pound and a half and to it I add a couple cloves of minced garlic, a diced onion, a cup of breadcrumbs (buy or make your own).  To hold it all together I add a couple of eggs or some chia seeds that have been soaked in warm water.  Now, a pound of burger turned into spaghetti and meatballs lasts 4-5 meals.   I’ve also heard of adding black beans to ground beef recipes (tacos).   White beans to turkey.   Ground oatmeal to hamburger for burgers.  Rice to taco meat.  Or search for recipes with things like rice already added to them, like porcupine meatballs (rice, meat, onion, garlic tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and seasoning. Serve on mashed potatoes or rice).  Google: “ How to make your meat go further” for recipes and ideas.

5. Fillers are necessary, and I'm not talking pink slime. Don’t just make your meat go further, learn to add cheaper ingredients or use cheaper substitutions in all of your meals to make them go further.   My family always made the most basic chili (meat, onions, celery, garlic, beans, tomato juice-I use vegetable juice) but I’ve had chili that was made with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables thrown in.  Adding “fillers” in the form of vegetables, grains or protein rich ingredients will help your meals go further by beefing them up in fiber and different types of protein.

6. Get chilly.  There is a lot of emphasizing on eating FRESH vegetables, but when they’re out of season frozen or canned veggies really aren’t the worst thing in the world.  While the nutrients might not be the same because of the canning/freezing process, eating frozen or canned because you can’t afford fresh beats not eating them at all. Learn to cook with frozen/canned veggies...add a handful of frozen veggies to just about any meal to make it healthier and bulk it up.  Add some veggies your ramen noodles-$2 could buy you a bag of frozen veggies and 8-10 packages of Ramen noodles.   I make an awesome veggie/brown rice pilaf that is cheap, easy, low calorie and filling with just bouillon cubes, rice, garlic, onion and frozen vegetables.

7. STOP!  I shouldn’t even have to say this, but… STOP EATING OUT.  Seriously.  Don’t do it.  Not only is fast/convenient food usually not very good for you, but it is incredibly expensive (especially if you’re buying a lot, which overweight people tend to need to do, or buying for a family).  Dollar Menus can be fantastic, but there isn’t much fiber or nutritional goodness.  Which means you’re eating a lot of calories that are doing anything for you nutritionally.  The $15-20 dollars or more you spend on fast food for one meal (including drinks) could buy 2-3 meals worth of groceries if spent well.

8. Eat less conveniently.  For example...Tuna helper is great. Everything is in one box and all you do is add tuna, butter, and milk. But for the same price as the Tuna Helper, butter, milk and tuna.... you could make a tuna helper-like meal that is healthier, and you'd get more for the same price, or at the very least....twice as much for just a little bit more.  You can also learn how to cook things like condensed cream of chicken (used in many recipes) that will save you money, sodium and calories. 

9. DIY Seasoning.   Stop buying those premixed seasonings in the little packets for things like chili, meatloaf and tacos  What you buy in those little packs is enough seasoning for one batch of whatever you’re making.  For example, one packet seasons one 1-1.5 lb batch of taco meat for $1.00.  This recipe I found online is similar to the recipe my mother gave me http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Homemade-Taco-Seasoning-Mix/Detail.aspx?prop24=RD_RelatedReci pes&scale=40&ismetric=0  I don’t remember exactly how much comes in a tall spice container, but I do know that one large container of each spice would contain enough to make at least one 40 serving batch.  That being said, assuming you pay $1.50 for each large spice container, you would pay $15/40 servings instead of $40/40.  I realize that the price of premixed spices and spices varies and this is only based on my local store (and the fact that I buy generic spices)….but it is pretty hard not to find savings here. 

10.  Sometimes, saving money isn't just about what you spend...it's about reducing WASTE.  After paper products, food is the second biggest source of waste in the United States!  Why?  Because we tend to overestimate what we need when we are well-stocked at home.  Buying too much results in the excess not being used before the expiry date. The most common thing that goes to waste is vegetables.  In countries that are more developed, with more money, ect vegetables get tossed before consumers even have the chance to see them because they aren't "pretty" enough for retailers.  Pretty sad fact, isn't it?  We throw good food away for not being aesthestically pleasing while people in other parts of the world starve.  

So how do we fix this?  Before grocery shopping, make a list of what you absolutely need (I realize this sounds hypocritical because I've advised you to stock up on items that are on sale, please remember: you should only stock up on items that will keep such as canned/dry goods, and frozen foods you plan to use) or plan to process immediately-such as canning and freezing.  Invest in some good food storage....plastic bags, plastic wrap, tin foil,  and if you can afford it some decent Tupperware.  And...learn not to be afraid of leftovers.    Leftovers are a beautiful thing...I'll do a blog on that later.  But for now, consider taking them for lunch.  It beats eating out every day. 

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