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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Break bread without breaking the bank!

The other day I was in my favorite grocery store picking up a few things for a recipe I wanted to try. "A few things." Ha! Maybe it's because I randomly run to the grocery store on a whim when I get it in my head to experiment with something new, but I rarely get out of the store for under $50. A few things. Right! Don't even get me started on how much a "normal" trip to the grocery store costs.

So anyway, I got in the checkout line behind a woman whose order was obviously not going to be quick...but I wasn't in a hurry and my curiosity got the best of me. She was meticulously separating a full cart of items into two orders. Then she handed the cashier a stack -- and I mean STACK -- of coupons. But they were on plain paper. Odd. Her first order, after the coupons, came to $3.98. Mouth agape, I kept watching. Her second order came to -$1.25. She got money BACK. What?! She got a month's worth of groceries for about $2.75. Good stuff, too! She turned around to apologize to me for taking so long, but I just congratulated the coupon-clipping genius, my mouth still agape.

And my little basket came to $17.50 for just "a few things." Wow, do I feel dumb! I asked the cashier what kind of coupons she was using. Turns out, she prints them online. Hmmm...I spend HOURS on the computer every day. Maybe this is something I should look into. So I did, and in my next trip to the store, I saved $30.

Lately, I've been looking for ways to save a few dollars. With the amount of cooking and experimenting I do -- and often with choice ingredients! -- every little bit helps. So it really burns me up when I open the produce drawer and find that all the things I had good intentions for are now starting to ripen beyond their prime. It's SO frustrating.

So now I re-purpose them. For example, pretty much any vegetable can be a great base for soup. Throw it all in a pot with some broth and seasonings and simmer away. Then freeze it and you've wasted nothing.

Alternatively, if you see that your bananas are getting a little spotty on the counter, slice them into a freezer bag and throw them in the ice box. They last for months and are great for smoothies -- and you don't need to water them down with a lot of ice, since the bananas themselves are frozen (Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie recipe coming next week!). Grapes and berries are fantastic in the freezer, too, and can be pulled out for baking or snacking.

For things like apples, pineapple, papaya, etc., consider investing in a small dehydrator. They aren't expensive at all and you can make the best dried fruit (or jerky if you have a spare London broil). My oven has a dehydrating feature, so check your manual -- yours might, too! If you have peaches or pears that are softening too quickly, simply slice them and grill them on a hot grill pan (with sides) until they release their juices and begin to caramelize. If you can resist eating them all on the spot (AMAZING dessert), then store them in the freezer as a topping for frozen yogurt or a light dessert on their own. Really fantastic.

Don't you hate it when you open a box of cereal and find that the bag you so carefully rolled down is now wide open? Or when you reach into a bag of snack food (healthy, I hope!) and find that it's stale? Talk about a waste -- and an expensive one, too. These days, we're hard-pressed to find a bag of snack food or box of cereal for under $3.00 -- so it really burns me up when they're wasted. And in my opinion, most plastic chip clips are worthless. They break, they don't open wide enough, and they're expensive. Instead, head to your local dollar store and pick up a package of wooden clothes pins. I got 50 for $1.00. They don't break, they don't crush your food like rubber bands do, and they are so inexpensive that I don't mind when the kids take a new one each time they have a snack (they seem to disappear in the couch cushions like socks disappear in the dryer). Using clothespins to keep bags closed is a trick I grew up with -- thanks Mom!

Let's face it, eating healthfully can get expensive. Fresh produce often costs more than the processed stuff, and it doesn't last more than a few days. Luckily, it's a little easier in the summer -- at least where I live! On Memorial Day, the kids and Keith and I headed out in the woods behind our house and foraged for blackberries. We had a blast, we bonded, and we didn't spend a dime. I have those berries in the freezer just waiting for a purpose. My alter ego, Dough Girl, is tempted to bake a blackberry pie. I'll try to sway her, but she's a tough cookie -- no pun intended!

What tips do you use to save money in the kitchen? Where's Heloise when we need her? After all, a penny saved means more groceries...and that means more recipes!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Where did you find the coupons?

The Svelte Gourmet said...

I've only just started searching online, but I always start with SouthernSavers.com. I live in Charleston, SC. They cover the weekly specials for all the major grocery stores down here and direct you to some of the coupon sites. I also like Coupons.com. It's so simple to select and print only the coupons you want. Check with your local stores to make sure they accept printed coupons (most of our stores do, but the one nearest my home doesn't). Anyone else have any suggestions for us?

Angie M said...

www.pocketyourdollars.com--- this is also a good website for coupons. The creator, Carrie, creates weekly shopping lists for several national chain stores (Target, CVS, Walgreens). She also has downloadable coupons and I think links to other coupon sites. She bases her lists off the coupons in the sunday paper.
Good luck! :)

Helena said...

To save money on high-quality ground beef I wait for a boneless cut of beef roast to go on sale (chuck and top round are great). I then ask the butcher to grind it for me. That works really well because then I know exactly what is in it.