In my new life, the one where I live in the woods and my better half is in school (ie we are broke) I find myself cooking more at home than ever before in my life. I cook as much as possible to avoid buying things, as in I make granola so we don’t have to buy cereal. Not only is this cheaper, and usually tastier, but it also lets me control what is going into our food. My granola has organic oats, dried cranberries, nuts, organic flax seeds, honey, and coconut oil – that’s it, no weird preservative or packing gas or additives.
I have taken to this lifestyle quite quickly, probably on account of my cheffing background – the idea of making something from scratch that will last for a while (in quantity and quality) is not foreign to me. I want to share with you the tricks I have picked up over the last several months of my domestication.
I buy lots of milk on sale (which is usually close to it’s expiration date) then I turn it into kefir or yogurt after a few days of using it. Doing this extends the life of the milk and you can still use it for pretty much everything you can use milk for (the yogurt you make will undoubtably be the thin “drinkable” kind). I use it in place of any milk product for baking (great in scones, biscuits, cornbread), eat it on my morning granola (sometimes with a slash of milk to lighten the tartness of it), or add it to smoothies. The great news is, these homemade delights have the same nutritional value as milk, with the addition of probiotics (great for immune health and easier digestion), B vitamins, and phosphorus.
I buy all our beans dried. Canned beans are not only packed with salt and weird preservatives and other CRAP, but they usually have such a miserable texture, too. You don’t have to soak your beans if you don’t want to, just set them to boil and cook them until done – better yet, get acquainted with a pressure cooker. I like to cook lots of beans at one time and then freeze what I don’t use in small ziplock bags, that way I can just pull out a bag of chickpeas whenever I want to make hummus or a bag of kidney beans when I want to make red beans and rice.
Making granola instead of buying cereal. Holy smokes cereal is SO expensive. Granola is easy and relatively cheap to make – and much better for you than most of the cereals out there. (I am working on a granola/granola bar blog post.)
Don’t buy things in boxes: make your own crackers (they last for a really long time!), make your own cookies (it literally take 15 minutes to put the dough together), make your own granola bars!, make your own mac’n’cheese, make your own stock, and definitely don’t say to yourself “It’s too expensive/time-consuming/hard” because if it is nominally more expensive, it is MUCH better for you and your family – if it takes a little longer, then think about how this can become family bonding time (you can even still watch your favorite shows while you do it) – and everything is hard the first time, the more you do it the easier it becomes and the faster you get at it.
Think before you shop and cook. Plan at least some (if not all) of your meals ahead, to stop yourself from buying frivolous or unnecessary foods. I usually plan my meals for the week around the protein or a theme, like : Thursday we have that pork roast, so I’ll need sides for that & Friday I want to make Mexican, how about cheese enchiladas & etc. Think of how your ingredients can work from one meal to another – you have a lot of rice leftover from Mexican night, then make chicken and rice soup with that chicken stock you have in the freezer. Planning is really the key to saving money and your mind! Get everyone involved, have fun with it. (Check out my meal planning post!)
Make food you can enjoy all week long. On sundays I like to make one soup and one salad (like potato salad, quinoa salad, pasta salad), this way when someone gets peckish there is always something to grab in the fridge. And it’s even hearty enough to serve as the “I don’t feel like cooking tonight” dinner.
Freeze. Freeze. FREEZE! The freezer is your best friend when it comes to saving time and money. Making soup, stock, bread, beans, pastries (like empanadas or samosas), and sauces in bulk and freezing them gives you something made and ready to heat up for a quick and cheap dinner – or – buy big pieces of meat or meat/fish/chicken on sale and freezing it can save you lots of money.
You don’t need years of culinary training or tons of money to make great meals for you and your family – just a sense of planing and a few great recipes under your belt. Let me know if you want any simple recipes to get your foundation started – I suggest a soup or two, a great pasta dish, a great bean dish, a braised meat dish, and (of course) granola!