Below are some shortcuts that will make doing so much quicker and easier.
But first, a few notes for those who don’t love being in the kitchen: A bit of good kitchen equipment will make your time in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable.
At least one sharp knife — serrated or not, your choice — is a must, although serrated knives don’t seem to need sharpening as often as the smooth variety.
A set of small, medium and large mixing bowls, three pans (one medium, one large and a skillet for frying) and a colander for draining pasta and other tasks would round out the basic kitchen equipment nicely.
Prep veggies ahead
A small investment of your time can really pay off.
I used to dread cooking dinner after working all day, but now I prepare many ingredients beforehand and can throw a meal together in no time.
This can be done with a surprising variety of foods, a few of which are highlighted below.
Onions, carrots, celery and peppers can each be chopped, separately, ahead of time. Spread the resulting pieces on cookie sheets lined with plastic wrap and pop them into the freezer. When frozen, transfer them to plastic freezer bags and store in the freezer. Throw them, still frozen, into your dish as it cooks.
Garlic can be minced and mixed with a little oil. Line cookie sheets with plastic wrap, form the mixture into logs and freeze on the cookie sheets. Wrap the frozen logs in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. Again, there’s no need to thaw the garlic before using it — just break off a small chunk and toss it into your dish.
Pre-packed portions are key
Cheese, too, can be bought in bulk, portioned out and frozen. I “cheat” and buy it in economy-size packages, already shredded. I figure by buying the big bag and not wasting any, I’m still coming out ahead.
I pack shredded cheese in 2-ounce packages (about ¼ cup), double-wrap and freeze them. Taken out of the freezer at the start of cooking, unwrapped and broken up a bit, it thaws quickly.
Meat can be purchased on sale, separated into meal-sized portions and frozen. It’s easiest to thaw if it’s frozen first — again, on plastic wrap-lined cookie sheets — and then packed into freezer bags in a single layer.
If you can swing it, a Foodsaver is an excellent investment, and you can buy replacement bags pretty reasonably on Amazon.com. (Watch this space for more ideas on using this and other food preservation equipment.) Or double-wrap each piece or meal-sized portion before putting into freezer bags.
Save on dry goods
Buy in bulk whenever possible. Staples such as beans, most grains (except brown rice), pasta, dried milk, sugar and honey can be stored almost indefinitely at room temperature. Learn to cook with these foods and watch the savings start to add up.
Store beans and grains for free — recycle plastic milk or juice containers. Rinse them well and set aside until bone-dry. You’ll need about three and a half for 25 pounds of grains or beans.
Avoiding waste is another way to save money on food.
Leftover fruit juice, including lemon, can be frozen in ice cube trays. Measure one, so you’ll know about how much is in each cube.
Tomato paste, too, can be frozen: Line a cookie sheet with plastic wrap and place tablespoonfuls of paste onto it. Freeze, then store in a freezer bag.
Making just a few changes, over time, can add up to big savings on your grocery bill!
Next time: Waste not, want not — cut your grocery bill by avoiding waste.
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 & Hunger Coalition and the soon-to-be-constructed Patterson Four Season Community Garden. Her blog, “Food Storage Tips and Tricks,” can be found at foodstoragetricks.blogspot.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.