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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Eat Well for Less

For most of us, eating well is important.  But in these economic times, saving money is just as important.  So how can we continue to eat healthy, delicious meals while not emptying our bank accounts?

In a December article from NPR, chef Michel Nischan of the Dressing Room restaurant in Westport, CT gives his tips for frugal meals that taste great.  While some of the examples used in his tips may not translate to the home cook, his ideas are on target.
  • Buy in season.  While it's a bit harder to do that in our area this time of the year, it's still possible.  Wintertime farm markets are popping up locally.  In the supermarket, look for fruits and vegetables that are grown closer to home if you can.  By all means, during the growing season, buy your fruits and veggies at a farm market--they're more nutritious, better tasting and will usually last longer.  Best of all, grow your own produce if you can.  That will save loads of money throughout the year.
  • Buy in bulk.  In the article, the chef uses the example of buying a 24 lb bag of grain--a little more than a home cook would need.  But buying dry goods like flour, grains, etc in larger quantities will always save you money.  Join a club shopping store like Costco or buy from the bulk aisle at the supermarket. 
  • Herbs and spices add "zing".  This is very true.  Grow your own herbs (easier in the spring and summer, but you can grow them indoors, too) and add them to pretty much everything for a burst of flavor and freshness.  In fact, a great way to cut down on salt in recipes is to add fresh herbs--both bring out the flavor of foods.  Garlic adds loads of flavor, too.  The same goes for spices--cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, pretty much any spice you like.  Not only do they add flavor, but they're also healthy.
  • The chicken thigh secret.  Chicken thighs usually cost much less than breasts and are moist and flavorful.  They're great for marinating--picking up the flavors and moisture really well.  They can't always be used interchangeably with breasts and their cooking time is usually longer, but they're a cheaper way of serving flavorful chicken.  And you often can find them boneless and skinless.
  • Not every meal requires meat.  There are many who feel that no meals require meat, but for those of you who are carnivores, try cutting costs by eating 2-3 meatless meals each week.  There are plenty of places where you can get your protein--beans, nuts, etc.  And meatless meals can be just as flavorful as dishes with meat--sometimes even more so!
Here are a few other tips from me:
  • Clip coupons.  Yes, it's a pain to take the time and to organize them.  But you can save loads of money if you do it.  For example, we pretty much never buy breakfast cereal unless it's on sale and/or we have a coupon.  Be a smart shopper.
  • Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store.  Not only are the foods on the perimeter of the store healthier--produce, meats, seafood, dairy--but they're cheaper than the stuff in the inner aisles. 
  • COOK!  Eating frozen meals, pre-packaged foods and eating out all the time will cost you a fortune.  This food is full of fat, sodium, cholesterol and ingredients that you can't understand without a doctorate in chemistry.  Buy the foods that you need and use them.  I feel that's one of the biggest benefits of a personal chef service--I only buy the ingredients that are needed for the dishes I'm making for you.  No more buying things and having them go bad in the back of your fridge.  That's just throwing money into the trash can.
Do you have any other ways that you save money while trying to eat well?  Let me know!


  1. Great post, Rich. I would also add: learn to can your summer produce! There is nothing better than opening a can of your own garden tomatoes on a cold winter night!

    Also, buy large pieces of meat. A 5 lb beef chuck can be cut into a couple steaks, cubes for stew and slices for stir fry or sandwich steaks for a lot less than all those products individually.

  2. Those are great tips, too, Sue. We're members of Costco and when we go, we get big packs of meats and break them up into smaller sizes for freezing. Seems like a lot of money when you're buying them, but it saves a lot in the long run.