Making some foods from scratch saves a couple bucks. Making other foods from scratch saves a couple cents.
Your job, as a good kitchen steward, is to figure out the difference.
Unless you have the luxury, like I do as a Type A stay-at-home-mom, of working your behind off making literally everything from scratch, it’s vital to run a cost-benefit analysis to prioritize. (Did I really just say I have the luxury to work hard? Yes, friend, the real food lifestyle is countercultural in many, many ways…)
For example, Crystal of Money Saving Mom, a frugal guru who does make a number of things from scratch along with couponing, wrote about how she chooses not to make homemade tortillas, because her paycheck per hour ends up in the pennies for as much work as they take and as inexpensively as she can find them regularly at the store.
For reasons other than frugality, namely health benefits and the ability to soak the flour, I do choose to make my own homemade tortillas. But budget isn’t the driving factor there.
For many of my other foundational Kitchen Stewardship habits, the ones that are most important to stick to, you’ll find incredible cost savings:
1. Homemade Yogurt
Now that my baby is almost three, I’m certain I’m saving at least $300 a year, maybe more, JUST on making homemade yogurt. We’ve been on vacation for a week, and (praise God) had a kitchen at our disposal, so store yogurt was one thing I purchased to have on hand.
We spent almost $20 on yogurt alone, I kid you not. In a normal week at home, I would have spent $3-5, end of story.
If you eat yogurt, friend, make it homemade. It takes 15-20 minutes active work time, and if you use my favorite method, zero dishes. Yogurt is by far my favorite from-scratch food.
If you don’t eat yogurt – you should! The healthy probiotics are second to none. If you do it right, a little frozen fruit and honey makes it taste like ice cream. Trust me. Get on this one.
2. Homemade Chicken Stock
Not only can you save $30 a batch if you have a pot big enough for 2-3 chickens, but making your own homemade chicken stock is the only way to get truly healthy, full-of-collagen, immunity-boosting stock, instead of imitation broth that usually has MSGs somewhere in there and lots of salt.
Anything that takes garbage like chicken bones and vegetable scraps and turns it into not only food, but power-packed, nutrient-dense healthy food, is a frugal trick you must learn.
3. Dry Beans
You know by now that I have a thing for beans, and I can’t stop singing the praises of cooking with dry beans especially. The cost savings are immense over canned, which are already frugal, and if you’re smart enough to make big batches and freeze them, you get your convenience food right back.
Soaking dry beans and cooking them slowly also knocks out some of the hard-to-digest parts of beans, increases their nutrition, and helps you avoid BPA-laden plastic linings in cans.
The Everything Beans Book will teach you truly all you need to know to become a beans master, and in honor of the Eat Well, Spend Less series, it’s on sale through tomorrow night for 40% off! Use the code SPENDLESS here at checkout. You can also scan my beans recipes, starting with the carnival of beans where you’ll find over 60 recipes from all over the blogosphere.
I love some scrambled eggs for breakfast, and I know they’re much more nutrient-dense than grains, but you know what? $1.50 or more for breakfast for my family can’t hold a budgetary candle to $1.50 for 6-7 breakfasts of soaked oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, and coconut oil.
I buy my oats in a 25-pound bag for $11.25. If you can find a bulk purchasing option in your area, it’s WELL worth it. I recommend saving oatmeal canisters to store the bulk oats – mine are stacked 3 high and 3 deep in the basement!
This will be a controversial choice for sure, since some say the starch in white potatoes metabolizes just like sugar. Well, shucks. There’s also iron in the skins, some protein in there, a good opportunity to slather on the butter, and they’re one of my favorite foods.
Particularly if you’re grain-free, like we are right now, I don’t know how to do it without potatoes.
I like to find them on reduced produce for about 20 cents a pound. Definitely frugal, and I’m sticking to it.
What About Grains?
Since we’re grain-free currently to explore a gluten issue, and grains certainly are harder to digest and take more time to prepare than other foods, I’m not sure where I stand on other grains.
However, if you eat grains no matter what, of course grinding your own and baking homemade bread will save tons of money. You’ll definitely want to learn some skills with flour…but run a cost-analysis to make sure your time is worthwhile.
Top 5 Expensive Foods
Consider this: cutting some expensive foods may be just as frugal as buying cheaper foods or eating less. Here are five foods that jack up your budget, some which you may not even think about when you sprinkle them overtop a frugal casserole:
- Cheese: This is a sneaky one for us – it’s so easy to serve cheese and crackers as a snack and pile on the cheese to make any meal more delicious. But remember that most cheese, even cheap stuff, is still $3-4 per pound, more than most meat. Be aware.
- Meat: No kidding. Buying less expensive cuts of meat like stew meat and using a whole chicken for stock and stretcher meals like casseroles and soups is the best way to make sure you have meat, yet remain within your budget.
- Eggs: A middler. High-quality eggs can cost 3x more than store eggs, which are a pretty frugal option, but as you saw on my splurge list, they’re worth it to me.
- Sweeteners: honey, maple syrup: Rather than give in and buy white sugar all the time, just figure out how to use less. Even “good” sweeteners aren’t healthy for you in large amounts.
- Dried fruit and nuts: Worth the price, but definitely something on which you want to watch for deals. I try to teach my family that nuts and things like power bars (dried fruit and nuts) from my Healthy Snacks to Gobook will fill you up and last longer than a handful of potato chips, so eat them differently. Savor. Take smaller bites. Eat less.But we still go through a pound of crispy nuts awfully fast!
Fast, Frugal, Real Food Meals? (Or Even Just “Fast”)
When it comes to mealtime, it’s important to have a cost analysis of what each meal totals, too, so you can ensure you have some “frugal” meals in your menu plan each week. Along with the Monday Mission challenge yesterday, I shared my top five frugal meals, many of which can be put together in 30-60 minutes and/or made ahead and reheated.
I was thinking of which meals can be made “with pantry staples” and just tossed together quickly, like if you walk in the door from vacation at 6:00 and you need something NOW. No pre-planning, no soaking, no cooking dry beans.
If you want to stick with a true traditional foods lifestyle, that’s a tough one.
Chicken broth isn’t in the pantry in a can; it’s in the freezer.
Beans aren’t in a can, either – they take 24 hours of pre-planning (unless you have them in the freezer, which could possibly make a quick meal).
Any grains in the pantry ought to be soaked overnight to reduce phytic acid, so that’s out entirely. The old quick spaghetti trick from my processed foods days isn’t an option either for a true real foods diet, especially gluten free.
Scrambled eggs are quick – I’d serve with thinly sliced, fried potatoes and maybe grain-free banana Paleo pancakes – but that’s not exactly from the pantry.
Nachos are the best I came up with – Cook up some frozen meat, thawing each half-centimeter in the pan while you go, season, and eat with the best store tortilla chips you can find (usually no trans fats, at least, which is better than I can say for store tortillas). Maybe a can of beans with seasoning or refried beans without trans fat on the side.
Help! What “real food” meals can actually go from “no plan whatsoever” to the table in 30 minutes or less?
Be sure to come on back tomorrow for an awesome meal planning giveaway and the rest of the Eat Well, Spend Less ladies’ best frugal meal recommendations!
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