Saving money on food really isn’t difficult if you use food efficiently. Here are some ideas to help you minimize waste.
Get creative, particularly with leftovers
Ziploc makes an inexpensive, hand-operated pump to pack leftovers and keep them fresh. The machine takes special bags, but it’s great for the freezer. Use frozen leftovers within a month or so.
Here’s a great suggestion from the Web: Keep a soup bag in your freezer — toss in leftover bits of this and that — meat, veggies, beans, rice, even stuffing and scalloped or mashed potatoes — until you’ve collected enough to make soup. Each batch will be different. And it’s quick, easy, and “free.”
Put up extra vegetables
Don’t let fresh veggies go to waste. Instead, blanch them and put them in the soup bag.
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
2. Drop in the veggies, cooking just until their color brightens.
3. Drop into cold water to stop the cooking (optional).
4. Drain, and then refrigerate or freeze.
An even better idea, for crunchy veggies in danger of going south: old-fashioned, brined pickles. Not only does brine pickling prevent waste, the pickles are actually good for you, in ways that very few other foods are.
Save dough by saving bread
Don’t toss stale bread! Cut it into cubes, air dry them and place them in a plastic bag. Bread cubes stored this way can eventually go moldy; keep the bag in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. Toss the cubes with melted butter and garlic salt and toast them in the oven. Voila — homemade croutons. Or save cubed bread for stuffing or bread pudding.
Economize on poultry
Instead of buying packaged chicken breasts or thighs, buy a whole chicken and cut it up — it’s easy and only takes about five minutes.
Google “cutting up a chicken” or email me for a how-to.
In addition to the familiar cuts, you’ll end up with the makings of a tasty pot of stock. I also save the giblets for our animal friends.
Toss any chicken parts your family won’t eat into a large pan, add a handful of chopped onions, toss in a few carrot and celery slices (you’re ahead of the game if you’ve prepped and frozen them) and add water to cover.
Put 2 to 3 teaspoons of poultry seasoning — or a bay leaf and a teaspoon or so each of thyme, rosemary or savory and sage — into a coffee filter or something similar and add five to 10 peppercorns. Don’t add salt. Tie the bundle with clean string and toss it into the pot. Add water just to cover.
Bring everything to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour. Your house will smell wonderful.
Remove the chicken, veggies and spice bag and strain the stock.
Return the stock to the pan and bring it to a full rolling boil. Boil it until the level is reduced by half — watch the mark it makes on the side of the pot.
When reduced, refrigerate the stock overnight or until very cold. It should have the consistency of Jell-o. Skim off the fat, spoon the rest into ice cube trays and freeze.
Use the frozen stock cubes wherever you would use canned chicken broth or bouillon cubes. It’s especially good for beans, when cooking rice and as a nourishing broth for anyone who is under the weather — just add a little soy sauce for flavor.
While the stock is boiling down, remove the meat from the bones. Use it for chicken potpies, a casserole, chicken salad or anything else you can dream up. Or freeze it for later.
Assuming you end up with 13 servings from a 5.5-pound bird, which is very possible, the per-serving cost at 99 cents a pound would be just 39 cents a serving.
You can do the same thing with a turkey, although it’s a bit more challenging because of the size of the bird.
These are just a few ways to avoid waste and cut your grocery bill.
Next time: Canning 101.
Jenifer West grew up in Modesto and lives with her family in Patterson. She is a senior account clerk for the city of Patterson and has worked in the past as a health food store manager and as a chef at a natural-foods restaurant, among other jobs. West is a founding member of the Patterson Health, Wellness and Hunger Coalition and the soon-to-be-constructed Patterson Four Season Community Garden. Her blog, “Food Storage Tips and Tricks,” can be found at http://foodstoragetricks.blogspot.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org