Monday, November 11, 2013

NOT-vember 11th: Reduce Your Food Bills Now!

In response to requests for help from friends who need to reduce their supermarket bills, here are my suggestions for starting a store-cupboard and shopping from your pantry.

1. Take stock of what food you have. You don't actually have to make a list but you do have to know what you have available in the house. Sometimes tins or packets of dried foods get 'lost' behind new items continuously being shoved in front of them. It's worth clearing out your food cupboards to see what's at the back that you might have forgotten. Ditto for your freezer.

2. Make a list of all the dishes you could make using what you have and adding a minimal amount of protein or dairy to turn it into a nutritious meal. I have polenta, for example, that will sit in the cupboard for years if I don't make a conscious decision to use some of it each week. If you don't enjoy cooking with the e.g. polenta (or whatever it is that you bought once but don't seem to get to) you don't need to buy it again. You do need to use up your stock though.

3. If you have uncooked chicken or fish in your freezer, eggs and cheese in your fridge, make them go further in dishes where they are combined with food from your store cupboard. Remember that you don't need a portion of chicken as big as your foot for each person. Chicken risotto would use one of those portions and feed four people. (see the Rubber Chicken and The Rubber Turkey on Mortgage Free in Three). Instead of making omelets, make egg-fried rice. A fish pie (fish in a white sauce with chopped hard boiled eggs, and topped with mashed potato and a sprinkling of grated cheese) makes the fish go further than giving everyone a whole fish.

4. Freeze food in one-meal size portions so you only have to take out sufficient for one dish at a time.

5. "Use everything you have paid for." Elaine Colliar (Mortgage Free in Three). If you make a chicken soup, take the cooked meat and vegetables from the consomme and make a chicken pie, risotto, or pasta dish. If your child won't eat the crusts, cut them off and freeze them to make breadcrumbs.

6. Utilize your leftovers. When you have leftovers don't just leave them in the fridge to be returned to later that evening and polished off as a late night snack. Portion it out and decide when it will become your lunch, part of a packed lunch for someone, or part of another supper. You may have a smorgesbord supper once in a while, consisting of all your leftover portions from the freezer.

7. Soup. This is your secret weapon in the winter. Once a week make a big pot of vegetable soup with all your leftover vegetables from the previous week. You can supplement it with barley or potatoes for a satisfying broth. You can have soup and toast for lunch every day. Or, in the evening, a meal served with a soup starter will fill everyone up nicely for very little expense.

8. Make a meal plan for the week. Make it a personal challenge to use what you have and only buy the essential fresh items to round it out into proper meals. Part of the challenge is to see how little you actually need to buy each week.

9. Make a shopping list from your meal plan and only buy what is on the list.

10. Don't forget to add what you need for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and treats. You need to know what you will give the kids when they're hungry between meals or to keep them going until supper. One of our favourites in the summer is the cheapest children's yogurts frozen with a plastic spoon in each one for an 'ice-lolly' that is in fact a yogurt. In the winter I buy the cheapest bags of pretzels and whatever fruit is cheapest.

11. Take advantage of cheap offers to 1. replenish your store cupboard. Spend 10nis a week on e.g 3 packets of pasta for 10nis, or 1+1 on rice, or a pack of 6 tins of tuna for less, or a sale on chickens. Don't fill your whole store cupboard for the year in one week. Do it slowly as the offers appear. And 2. to make batches of e.g. apple sauce from cheap apples, vegetable soups from past-its-best produce, jams and fruit pies from any cheap fruit.

12. Cook from scratch as much as you can. One cake, and a batch of muffins or cookies each week should see you through. Some people make their own bread, crackers, mayonnaise, jam, etc... I don't although I do buy cheap apples when I find them (or help to harvest someone's tree) in order to stew them for apple sauce, and cheap fruit for pies. I also make my own pancake type fritters and vegetable burgers rather than buying the processed vegetarian shnitzels. We are currently working on perfecting our home made pizza.

13. Cook multiple batches and fill the freezer. Don't forget to eat from the freezer as well.

14. When Shabbat/dinner guests offer to bring something, don't refuse the offer and end up with another box of chocolates you don't need. Wine is always helpful but you can also ask for a salad or a dessert to contribute to the meal. Obviously find something the guest is comfortable bringing.

Let's make it a challenge to see how little we can spend. And please add in the comments any tips you have that I've not thought of.


  1. I don't 100% agree with your approach, because often I've ended up trying to use up something in my pantry and just ended up wasting the ingredients I added to do so, since no one wanted to eat the results. If this works for you, though, I agree it's a money saver. Have you seen the Cooking Manager site? She's great.

  2. It always works for me as I'm cooking only for me and 4yo. I know she's not going to like most of what I'm making so I just eat the leftovers myself.

  3. I do most of that, apart from the meal planning, which with the chaotic weeks we have here doesn't work!

    I think it's good to have a list of the basics you need to keep in stock so that you can always make meals that everyone will eat: For us it's items like milk, baked beans, white bread, potatoes, ketchup, tomatoes, onions, tinned tuna fish, pasta and stuff like that :)

  4. We have a similar child-friendly list. Tbh, I hardly ever stick to the meal plan. I intend to every week but then real life gets in the way. Last night DD had cheerios and milk for supper as the pizza took far longer to make than I'd anticipated (my first time making real yeast dough from scratch).

  5. I ran out of milk and the cereal my youngest likes, last night. my college sons had been home for the weekend and syphoned some essentials for college! It was freezing cold and I couldn't face a late night trip to the store. He also didn't want to be home alone. So we made a plan for breakfast, using left over challah, eggs etc and he drank water. I think I should 'run out' of things more often so that we use up what we have! Thanks for some great suggestions Rachel.No 11 is a really easy one to use in the USA -there's always a sale on some pantry staple, that can save you money in the long run.

    1. Oh Gilly, I always feel so guilty about the leftover challah. Sometimes we eat a lot and sometimes... we don't. I know I could make breadcrumbs and freeze them, but that does NOT fit into my lifestyle.

    2. We often have eggy bread on a Sunday. (That's French toast to any Americans reading.)

  6. This is all such sound advice. I need to follow all of it, but in particular the baking bit. Never baked with Aaron which is terrible, when we have lots of work surfaces AND I know how - really really must. Also we have lots in cupboard that new stuff gets shoved in front of as you say. xxx

    1. The truth is that I do it on my own. I hate the mess that ensues after a baking session with DD.