You know how we were talking about bulk buying and shopper savvy? To make the most of smart shopping and food frugality, you’re going to have to be prepared in the kitchen.
In the war to reduce your grocery bill and save yourself some time, your best comrade in arms is going to be a chest freezer.
Maybe even two of them, depending on your family size. I can’t stress this strongly enough. Freezing is the easiest means at anyone’s disposal for long-term preservation, and you can freeze just about anything. In short, it’s a huge weapon in your arsenal and a natural extension of your pantry. If you can find room for it, even if you have to stick it in the basement or garage, it can pay for itself in less than six months.
Without a chest freezer, cowpooling with a friend on a half of that lovely organic grass-fed heritage beef will never be an option, much less taking advantage of buying a few chickens when they’re on sale at the grocery store. You will be unable to store the 16 quarts of stock you made out of Thanksgiving’s turkey, make frozen dinners ahead in store for lazy days, or stockpile your garden peas and strawberries for later in the year. Without freezer space, you will be at the mercy of price swings and seasonal availability, and you will have to pay a premium for fresh over frozen on things that you really don’t have to.
Consider a dehydrator.
After the freezer, the dehydrator is either the second most useful tool for saving money, or it’s not. While that sounds strange and contradictory, what it boils down to is your family’s habits.
- Like using dried fruits or vegetables in cooking or snacks? (muesli, trail mix, soup, sundried tomatoes in pasta, etc.)
- Have an herb garden and like using dried herbs and spices for cooking and making tea?
- Frequently buy dried fruit or fruit rollups for nibbles?
- Go camping and like using dehydrated meals?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then it may be cost advantageous for you to buy one. Right now, I have a Open Country Dehydrator. It does decently, and for $50, was a good investment to see how much use I would get out of it, especially after I started using it and discovered that my husband and son aren’t big fans of most dried fruit. I do lust over an Excalibur Dehydrator, but the reality is that unless I either up my gardening and pantry ante, or start packing away tons of jerky and dried soup fixings (also something my husband and son aren’t big fans of), the Cadillac of dehydrators may never may be in the cards for me.
To can, or not to can? That is the question.
Is it worth sinking money into a canning kit? If your goal is to save money, then there’s only one question I have to ask: do you have to buy food to have enough to can? If the answer is yes, then most likely the answer is no, it’s not worth doing it yourself. There are exceptions to this rule, but it involves having an in on a good source of cheap #2 fruits, likely tomatoes and strawberries or other jam-making fruits. If you garden, and produce enough to small batch can, then go for it.
What other tools do you need?
Not too much. Invest in some decent bakeware pieces (pyrex has a longer lifespan), some butcher paper, plastic wrap, and large tupperware tubs. You may have to buy a few bakeware items you don’t have, such as pie plates, loaf pans or a rolling pin (although a weighted wine bottle will do!).
Other wishlist items might include a food processor with a few useful attachments and blades, although I’ve never been able to get the slicer blade on any food processor to work worth a darn. I use the food processor for blending and mixing only. A mandolin slicer, which is a good time-saving investment if you’re dehydrating a lot of fruit and veg, is a lot more reliable for slicing thin and regular pieces and takes up less counter space. Just watch your fingers.
Everything else you should already have on hand, like your knives, pots and cutting boards.
This seems almost too simple, right? Well there are a couple other things we can do to divert funds and maximize your grocery bill, next up: make your own.