A few things you should know about me. First off, I’ve been a student for a very long time, so I’m used to living on a student budget. Two, I don’t processed food. I’ll make a very-rare exception here and there, but overall my food must be made from whole ingredients. This is for allergy and also health reasons. Because of this, I can’t afford to say “I don’t have the time” or “I don’t have the money” to cook from scratch (or almost scratch…I do use some bottled stuff that has recognisable ingredients!) Three, I absolutely hate wasting food. Savings aside, I think wasting food is really disrespectful somehow. Doing so is usually unavoidable to an extent, but I do avoid wasting food as much as I possibly can.
Over the years, I’ve learned that there are some really simple ways to save money cooking. I’ll share a few with you now, and perhaps more in the future. Just a disclaimer, some of you may find some of these gross. I assure you, they are safe and not gross once you get the hang of it, but those not used to cooking with such things may be a bit put off. I urge you to get over it, but if you can’t, just ignore it.
1) Stale? Don’t throw it out! I mean stale bread products. This can include bread, muffins, rolls or anything like that. As long as it isn’t moldy, it’s usable. I don’t recommend you eat stale bread, because it’s not very tasty, but there’s lots you can do with it. You can dry it out in the oven and grind it up for bread crumbs, you can cube it, season it and dry it out and make croutons, you can make bread pudding (this is great for muffins), you can make stuffing to use as a side dish to eat with a meal (it’s like mini Thanksgiving…who doesn’t love that?) There are a lot of possibilities. Google it. Back in the day, most people couldn’t afford to throw out bread, so there are a lot of recipes that use stale bread. I know we can now, but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
2. Old pasta and rice are still usable. This is the same idea as the bread. If it’s not moldy or doesn’t smell funny and isn’t that old (just maybe a bit hard or chewy after a day or so in the fridge), you can throw this in soups or casseroles.
3. In most cases, buying whole cuts of meat is cheaper. This isn’t just because it’s not butchered, though that plays a role. You can also do a lot more with a whole chicken than you can with just a few chicken breasts. I usually make some sort of roast or dish with the chicken, then use some of the leftovers for a casserole, stir fry or pie, and then boil the bones and remaining meat to make stock or soup. Granted, I live alone, but one chicken can feed me for over a week (yes, I have a freezer, so I’m not actually leaving a chicken and eating it after having it sit around for a week!)
4. Cabbage is your friend. At least in winter it is. It takes forever to go off, and it goes a really long way. There’s a reason it’s used in so many different countries’ cooking traditions. It goes a really long way.
5. Storage is key. I think this needs to be its own blog post at some point, but the way you store food plays a huge role in how long it lasts. I freeze stuff when I know I can’t eat it (easy, healthy microwave meals for busy days!), but I also store my food well when I’m using it. I make sure I get rid of anything that’s going off right away, because it causes the other items to go off quicker. I store produce in produce bags that absorb the gases and help them last longer (I swear they actually work, and they can be washed and reused up to 12 times). I store grains and things in sealed containers. There are a lot of tips and tricks to storing food well, so I think I really will have to keep the rest as another post.
6. Due dates are suggestions, not rules. Due dates are not laws of nature. They’re printed mostly for retailers as a guide for when a product must be sold by. Overall, I follow them for things like meat, but some things I’m a bit more lenient, and tend to use my nose and eyes as a guide instead. Dairy is an instance where you can stretch it way past. Even if milk has gone a bit sour, it’s great for cooking (the cooking will kill off anything nasty).