Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cheap Eats

Chances are, you or someone you know has had to cut back on their grocery budget because of the economy. I'm not a financial expert, but I do know what works for my family, so I thought I would post some of my favorite shopping tips and inexpensive meal ideas.

The easiest way for us to save money on groceries is to buy most of our food at Sam's Club. No one is paying me for the endorsement (I wish they would), but we save a lot of money shopping there. There is a $35 yearly fee, but we more than make it worthwhile in a few shopping trips. I did some comparison shopping last summer and found that we spent approximately 50% less by shopping at Sam's. I don't know how much the prices vary by city or state, but here's a list of my favorite budget friendly purchases in our area:
  • Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs - $4.57 for a 3 pound package. There are 30 hot dogs in each box, separated into 6 resealable packs. That comes to about 15 cents per dog.
  • Aunt Millie's Hot Dog Buns - $1.89 for a 16 count package. That comes to about 11 cents per bun.
  • Shredded Mozzarella Cheese - $4.62. I have the receipt in front of me, but the cheese is gone so I'm not sure how big the package is but I think it's 3 pounds.
  • Kraft American Cheese Singles - $7.62 for a 48 oz. package which contains 72 slices. About 10 cents per slice.
  • Jif Peanut Butter - $7.88 for a twin pack, each jar contains 40 oz. About 11 cents per sandwich.
  • Smucker's Strawberry Jam - $5.42 for a twin pack of 32 oz. jars. About 6 cents per sandwich.
  • Aunt Millie's Sliced Bread - $3.08 for a twin pack of 24 oz. loaves. About 7 cents per slice, or 14 cents per sandwich.
  • Pace Medium Salsa - $5.42 for 64 oz. About 10 cents per serving.
  • Tortilla Chips - $5.46 for two 3 pound bags. About 6 cents per serving.
  • Spaghetti Noodles - $5.64 for 6 pounds. About 12 cents per serving.
  • Prego Pasta Sauce - $7.38 for a twin pack of 67 oz. jars. About 7 cents per serving.
  • Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast - $1.89 per pound.
  • Fresh Ground Chuck - $2.20 per pound.
  • Large Eggs - $1.38 for an 18 count carton. About 7 cents per egg.
  • Milk - $2.62 for one gallon.
  • Fresh Garlic Heads - $1.88 for 2 pounds.
  • Garlic Powder - $3.87 for 21 oz.
  • Onion Powder - $3.88 for 21 oz.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil - $14.87 for 68 oz.
  • Red Seedless Grapes - $1.89 per pound, sold in 3 pound packages.
  • Gala Apples - $5.88 for a 5 pound bag.
  • Russet Baking Potatoes - $2.88 for a 10 pound bag.
  • Green Giant Red Skin Potatoes - $5.86 for a 10 pound bag.
  • Gas - 10 cent per gallon discount for members at the Sam's Club gas station.
These are just some of the things I buy on a regular basis. I also buy coffee and baking supplies like flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips and cocoa. Cleaning supplies, paper goods and toiletries are usually good deals, too. Some items, like the garlic powder, onion powder and olive oil last for a long time, so I don't have to buy them often. I still go to the grocery store for items that aren't available at Sam's Club, or that I don't want to buy in large quantities. Some produce, for example, is a little tricky for me to buy in bulk. We can't always finish a huge container of salad or tomatoes before they spoil. I freeze whatever meat we aren't going to use right away and defrost it in the microwave when I need it.
My favorite tips at the grocery store are to shop by what's on sale, try store brands if they're cheaper, and pay attention to the unit price on the shelf tags because it makes sizes easier to compare (biggest isn't always cheapest). Also, the meat department at my local store marks down meat that is close to the expiration date every evening. If I'm going to use the meat that night or the next day, I might find a bargain. Shopping after 7:00 p.m. can pay off.
From the list above, you could easily make a handful of inexpensive meals. Hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken, spaghetti, and hamburgers would all be good choices. Or you could use the chicken with some of the mozzarella and pasta sauce to make something like chicken parmesan. How about using the ground chuck to make meatballs served with a little teriyaki sauce, rice and steamed vegetables? I'm sure you could come up with a dozen other ideas.
For the boneless chicken breasts, I like to cut them horizontally into two thinner pieces. Not only do they cook much faster, but you feel like you're getting twice as much chicken for the same price. Buying chicken thighs and legs are a good way to buy chicken inexpensively. A family size pack is usually under $5.00 and might be enough for two meals. You can also buy and break down whole chickens to save money. It takes a little practice, but you can watch how-to videos online that give you step by step instructions. This is a delicious and inexpensive recipe for bone-in chicken pieces. I have a great recipe for roasting whole chickens here if you don't want to cut them up.
For chicken thighs, we love this recipe I got from my friend A.Z. at Allrecipes.
A.Z.'s Lemon Pepper Chicken
  • Chicken thighs
  • Lemon pepper
  • butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place all thighs in the pan skin side up and sprinkle with lemon pepper to taste then put a small pat of butter on each one. Bake for about 30 minutes uncovered, this gets the skins pretty crunchy. Then flip, bake til done (about 15-20 more minutes) The last 5 min or so flip them back over to skin side up again to get the edges crispy.
How about pasta? This is my favorite budget friendly pasta recipe. It's light and delicious. Serve it as a main dish or side dish.
Tuscan Pasta
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 15 oz. can stewed tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup Italian salad dressing
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 8 oz. uncooked pasta
Cook pasta according to pkg. directions. Heat a few drops of olive oil or vegetable oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they are translucent. Stir in tomatoes, dressing and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cooked, drained pasta. Toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Pizza can be inexpensive if you make it yourself. It's fun to try different combinations, and a great way to use leftover shrimp, grilled chicken, hamburger, sausage, bacon, and/or vegetables. For a simple sauce, mix pre-made pasta sauce with tomato paste until you reach the consistency you like. You can add some herbs, fresh or dried, too. Leftover alfredo sauce is excellent, also. For the crust, I like this recipe. It's for pizza on the grill (which is really fun, a favorite summertime meal in our house), but you could bake it if you don't want to try grilling.
Now how about some side dishes? Garlic bread is simple and inexpensive.
Garlic Bread
  • 8 - 10 slices Italian bread
  • 1 stick butter
  • garlic powder, to taste
  • Italian Seasoning, to taste
Soften butter in a small bowl on countertop or by microwaving at 20% power for 50 - 55 seconds. Sprinkle garlic powder and Italian seasoning over butter and mix well. Spread on bread slices and place them on a cookie sheet. Broil in preheated broiler until lightly browned, serve immediately.
You can also use split hot dog buns instead of bread to make garlic sticks. A great way to use buns that have gotten a little dry.
Baked French Fries are popular with my kids. They're easy to make, delicious and healthier than the frozen bagged fries. Cheaper, too. You can find the recipe here. I double or triple it. Be sure to watch them closely so they don't burn. Mine are usually done is less time than the recipe calls for. Also, salt them immediately after taking them out of the oven for an authentic french fry flavor.
Last but not least is dessert. One of the easiest, least expensive desserts I can think of is pudding. A little milk, sugar, cornstarch and cocoa and you're in business! I like to make pudding when our milk is close to the expiration date. I'd rather put it to good use than throw it away. The Argo Cornstarch website has some good recipes for different kinds of easy to make puddings.
Fruit crisps and cobblers are a good way to make dessert with inexpensive canned fruit or fruit that's past it's prime.
I hope I've given you a tip or recipe that you can use. If you've got any you'd like to share with me, feel free to put them in my comment section.


Purple Flowers said...

I'm hungry!

Lissaloo said...

Great tips & recipes! We don't have a sam's club, we do have a costco though. & there I can get 2 gallons of milk for less than the price of one in the grocery store! There are quite a few things that we only buy there. Can't wait to try the chicken recipe it sounds wonderful! :)

Heidi said...

Thanks for all the great tips and recipes! Unfortunately for me going to Sam's club isn't an option. Our nearest sam's is over an hour away. You are lucky to live close to one because they have some great bargins... I'm jealous :)

Denise said...

What great tips and recipes. Thanks for sharing, these days we can all use all the help we can get

abby jenkins said...

I'm hungry too! For pudding! Thanks for the great tips.

I always check out the unit price, surprising how deceiving the packaging can be. Like a "one lb" bag of coffee that is now actually a 12oz bag.

That being said the 2lb bags of coffee at Costco are so inexpensive and the beans are roasted by Starbucks. Go figure, 2 pounds of coffee for the price of a couple lattes!

Bon Appetito!