Thursday, October 16, 2008

Plan to Save Money

While cooking is the key to cheap food, planning and shopping are the foundation of the whole program. Spending 2 hours planning a monthly menu can save hundreds of dollars a month on the average food budget. Planning allows a family to buy larger quantities and then use them before they spoil. Pay attention to sales papers and plan around them. If pork is cheap, plan a month of pork meals. When chicken goes on sale, switch to chicken. Let the market be your guide rather than, "I feel like a pizza today." Also be aware that rock bottom dining doesn't allow for the luxury of a daily balanced diet. Try instead, for a weekly balanced diet by eating a variety of side vegetables and fruit that are in season.

Vary what you plan by what is on sale.
Most meals can start with just a few cheap ingredients:

ProteinStarchVeggie or Fruit
BeefPastaGreen Beans
Meat ReplacementCrustCarrots

Vary the way you cook.
There are many ways to cook any type of food and using variations is a great way to save money. For example, cheap pork steaks can be breaded and fried, breaded and baked, cubed, breaded and deep fried, cut into strips and sauteed with veggies, cubed and sauteed-followed by simmering with veggies and noodles, ground and mixed with spices for homemade sausage, baked with BBQ sauce for sandwiches and many other ways. Same cheap cut of meat, but at least 7 very different meals.

Pork 6 Ways
Pork Shoulder Steaks are on sale this week at Safeway for $2.29 per pound and comes in a 3 pound package for $6.87. That is enough for 7 meals for 2 people (or 2 people with a child). Split the package up at home like this:
Bone each steak, cut the steaks along the major division lines. Save the largest 4 pieces for steaks(save an extra, cut in half, for a child) Make 2 packages. Reserve bones and most fat. Cube the rest of the meat. Divide into 3 parts--Large cubes, small cubes, smaller bits.

Monday: Pork gravy over biscuits, & green beans
Tuesday: Pork Steaks, lettuce wedges, chopped tomato, baked potato
Wednesday: Pork Kabobs with carrots, potato and onion, couscous
Thursday: Leftover couscous or rice stir fried with small bits of pork with candy carrots
Friday: Sweet & Sour Pork with veggies, rice.
Saturday: Pork Pot Pie
Sunday: Meat Free Day-Homemade Pizza, Soup or veggie chili.

A word about vegetables: Frozen veggies are a tremendous value if you know what to buy. My current favorite is California Mix(Broccoli, carrots, yellow squash, & green beans) in a 4 pound bag for $3.58 that I get at Cash & Carry(a restaurant supply store). When you buy mixed veggies, you do not have to use them mixed. You can pick out just broccoli or just squash so that meals look more varied than your supplies are.

4 Way Chicken
Take 1 small whole chicken(about $3.00 on sale) dust it with your favorite herbs and spices and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until done. Split the chicken into 4 meals for two people: Breast meat, thigh meat, legs & wings, soup bones.

Soup bones doesn't mean you have to make soup from them. Boil the meat off and make chicken pot pie instead, YUM!

A few words about beef.
Beef has gotten dramatically more expensive this last year. Hamburger is $2.50 or more per pound so it is very hard to make it fit into a Dollar Dining menu. But, keep in mind that a serving of ground beef should be about 3-4 ounces. By controlling serving size, the cost per serving is 50-65 cents and well within the guidelines. Ground beef can also be mixed with cheaper foods to extend it and cut costs. Some examples of this would be mixing ground beef with an equal amount of grated carrots or finely chopped onions. These mixtures work well for fried burgers and they stay nice and moist. Or, mix ground beef with 2 parts of cooked rice and bake up some meatballs.

Rediscover Eggs
Even with recent price increases, eggs are still a great deal. At 20 cents or less per egg, you can whip up a super omelet for next to nothing and eggs and hashbrowns are a good meal any time of the day. Stock up when eggs are on sale, they will keep in the fridge for at least 3 months.

Fish & Seafood
Low cost meal ideas coming soon!

The "Other" Meats
Liver, tongue, balony, & spam...more info soon!

Friday, October 10, 2008

What is Dining on a Dollar?

Food prices are up and will continue to increase, but food costs are still the number one area to save money on a household budget. Unfortunately, many people have used convenience foods for so long that they have forgotten how to cook good cheap food. This blog is about reviving forgotten recipes and techniques to greatly reduce the cost of everyday food.

Most Fast Food Restaurants offer "Dollar Menus" and have an assortment of things to buy for a buck or less, but they still make a profit! They make money on every purchase because the "Dollar" items actually cost around 15-25 cents to make. You can save a lot by simply preparing the same items at home, and that is just the beginning.

In coming posts, I will introduce cheap foods, cheap places to buy food, and cheap ways to use more expensive foods. The goal is to prepare meals that cost less than $1.00 per serving. The servings will be generous enough for adult men, yet lower in fat, cholesterol, and sodium than similar fare found elsewhere.

Real food is still really cheap, but many of us are so dependent on highly processed foods that our budgets have spun out of control. Planning menus and shopping lists can help a lot to lower food costs. If that hasn't worked for you in the past, then the ultimate way to plan is to use grocery delivery if it is available in your area. Another way to cut impulse spending is to shop at a different kind of store such as a restaurant supply that offers large packages of a limited number of products. There are less brand names to confuse you so you will tend to spend less overall on the products you do buy.