Food is not some discretionary expense we can afford to cut out. But it is an area where most of us can afford to cut back, and it doesn't have to be in taste or flavor. Follow these 10 tips to start saving money in your kitchen:
Reorganize your fridge.
The fruit and vegetable drawers that come standard in most fridges seem like a great idea, but in reality, they are a black hole for food. Out of site, out of mind. Don't keep the food that spoils fastest hidden from view. I've spent too many evenings shuffling through my veggie drawer just to discover a soggy cucumber or dried-out citrus. Throwing away rotten produce is as close to throwing money in the trash as I've ever come, and I'm determined to make it stop.
I can't count the number of times I've come back from the grocery store with cartons of veggie broth just to find I already had a full stash at home. While I can make it work with pantry items and other non-perishables, milk and other perishables might not hold up as well.
Keep a list of what you use regularly and make a note when items start running low. Having and sticking to a list once you get to the grocery store will save you time and money.
Grow your own.
Depending on where you live, you may or may not have room for a full garden, but I guarantee you have room for one or two pots of fresh herbs. Grow your own basil, mint, oregano and your other favorite spices to add some instant freshness to your dishes while saving on the store-bought stuff.
Try creating a bean, quinoa or other vegetarian dish once or twice a week. Meat is the second largest part of the average American consumer's grocery budget after processed food (and please don't buy that either). Cut back on your meat consumption and you can reduce your grocery bill significantly while enjoying the health benefits of fibrous, anti-oxidant rich foods.
Practice portion control.
Not only will sticking to proper portion sizes help keep your waistline in check, but it will also make your food last longer. If you can cook once and eat twice (or more) for each of your meals, you'll also save on your total energy use.
Be an Iron Chef.
When you get down to the last few items in your fridge and they're nearing the end of their shelf life, rather than choosing one and tossing the others, try to implement a little Iron Chef creativity to fuse everything into one dish or meal. This could be a fun activity to do with a friend, too.
Skip the specialized appliances.
Browsing the aisles of the department store kitchen section is a lesson in avoiding temptation. The waffle irons and ice cream makers practically sparkle under the lighting, tempting even the most practical shopper with their novelty. But let's face it, there are only so many times you're going to make use of that cake pop or corn dog maker. Save the counter and cabinet space for the necessities to keep your sanity and your wallet in check.
Keep Tupperware organized.
I used to be terrible about packaging my leftovers. Not only would it cost me the extras of meals I had already made, but also several lunches on the go rather than bringing from home. Why did I consistently practice this bad habit? Because my Tupperware drawer was a nightmare. Every time I opened it, some mismatched top or half-destroyed Chinese food container would fall out. If I was in a rush, forget it. I'd have to spend ten minutes finding a complete, functional container.
I finally took the time to deal with it. I matched tops and bottoms and invested in some quality click-top Tupperware to prevent leaks. Ever since, I've been a food-to-go pro, which saves ample time and money.
Make good use of your sponges, rags and dishtowels. Instinctively reaching for napkins and paper towels for every minor spill or clean up is not only a habit that harms the environment, but one that can become quite costly over time. Conserve on water and energy use by only running your dishwasher when it's full and unplugging small appliances like toasters and coffeemakers when not in use.
So many kitchens go unused in favor of meals out or quick and easy delivery. Learn to love your kitchen, and your health, physical and financial, will benefit. Get excited about eating in by checking out recipes on Pinterest or combining cooking hour with happy hour. Pour a drink, put on a playlist and let the cooking begin!
Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.
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