How Do You Make Home Cooking Cheaper and Easier Without Sacrificing Quality?

| 6/3/2009 1:16:00 PM

Tags: home cooking, meal planning, family meals, recipes,

We're looking for reader tips on making home cooking easier, healthierless time-consuming and less expensive.

Do you have great ideas for making quick to-go lunches for yourself or your family? What about tips for bulk buying or making your own replacements for foods that people typically purchase pre-made and pre-packaged? Ideas for efficient family meal planning? Quick and easy healthy recipes? Bring it on! Just post your ideas to the comments section below.

9/1/2009 7:16:35 PM

I'm a college student so I don't have much money to spend and I have to cook for two people ( my self and my husband) for about $75 a week. We go to Fairway together with a menu plan and buy as much meat and veggies as we can afford. I than slice up all the meat into single meal servings and freeze it. Likewise, I also slice prepare all the veggies as well. Healthy cheap meals are a snap because all I have to do is defrost the meat the night before in the fridge and in the morning toss the meat, veggies and some seasoning into a crockpot before going off to class. I also bake my own bread on days I don't have class. It is so much tastier and cheaper to make your own.I use the article here for artisian bread in five minutes a day. It turns out very well. I also suggest the honey oat bread recipe here too!

7/27/2009 1:59:22 PM

I haven't bought bread in years. I make my own bread every weekend, then use it or freeze it. I always have bread available and I know what is in it. This time of year, I also make hot dog and hamburger buns and freeze them to have them ready. Again, I get to control what I put in them and keep it simple (ones in the store have too many ingredients including corn syrup). My freezer is also always stocked with meat. This year we raised a pig, so we have tons of pork/ham/bacon. We have also bought a 1/4 cow from a friend who raises beef cattle. We also have chickens and therefore fresh eggs and more meat. My garden is in full force and I am freezing and canning my own fruit and vegetables (don't forget saving seeds for next year). We can't wait for our apple and cherry trees to start producing fruit (still too young). Providing for my family in this way gives us better quality food as we know what we have or have not done to our food. We know exactly what we are eating

john m_2
6/29/2009 3:15:26 AM

Most definitely that would be our homemade “Kitchen Soup”! After saving and storing leftovers, odds and ends, loose veggies from the week and beginning my weekend cooking I dump most of everything into a large pot add a box of the store bought Chix or Beef Stock (if needed) add an equal amount of water and spices to spruce it up a bit. This not only eliminates wasted food, it saves us money, time and allows us to have several nourishing meals in the process. At times I have made too much but that I freeze and add to another batch and it’s ready in an instant when having “Pot Luck” dinners. At times I add noodles or dumplings.

josie elmstrom
6/25/2009 11:05:16 AM

Please do not use your garden's bounty and all those fruit trees to make junk food! I too was a single mom of 3 but I had to work 2 jobs to support us in the city. I NEVER bought jelly, jam, bisquits, coffee cake, etc... let alone make them from scratch! I made whole wheat bread or oatmeal bread from scratch. After picking bucket after bucket of white-flesh nectarines @ my mom's, I rinsed and froze what we couldn't eat fresh. I filled the bins in the fridge w/the fruit then froze the rest. Ditto for the plums and peaches she had. I used empty, washed cottage cheese and other plastic containers to freeze stuff. I taught my kids that pumpkins are for food not jack-o-lanterns or pumpkin-tossing and we would buy, cook, and freeze one every year. My oldest son was 21 before he learned what Peeps were. His girlfriend didn't believe him when he said, " Mom, what are Peeps?" I said, "Peeps? They'll rot your teeth out!" He said, "See why I don't know what Peeps are?" We helped shell beans w/Great-Grandma for fresh beans. My point is; use all that time and labor and reward you and your kids w/good food from your garden. Gardening is a priviledge and a whole lot of stir-frys and finger-foods for those kids can come out of there.

6/20/2009 7:25:25 PM

I moved to Korea to teach and over here it is still pretty agricultural. They are getting "modern" things in the stores, but I have found that making mixes from scratch, a crockpot and a pressure cooker are my survival tools. The net has tons of recipies that I utilize. It saves me lots of time when I work 12 hours a day. I have a small garden for greens and basics, so I know what goes into my cooking. I dice everything to make it go further and freeze what I can. It is a different pace of life, but not a bad one. I want to expand my garden more, but that will be a future thing.

6/20/2009 2:41:57 PM

I buy my tea loose, from the bulk section of my food c0-op. That saves tons of money compared with tea bags. I also make my own brown sugar - a cup of sugar and 1 tbsp molasses. When you can make it at home it reduces the amount of ingredients you always have to think about having on hand, too.

6/11/2009 8:16:48 PM

I'm trying to use homemade mixes, the sources I've got are Make-a-mix and More Make-a-mix books and an old tupperware mix book, the selection of mixes is extensive. My grandmother used to talk about mixes, sadly I don't have any recipes she used. Also by using mixes you know whats in them, and lessen the bad additives and you reduces a lot of packaging. I watch my small grandchildren daily and there isn't much time to start from scratch, one of them is always awake. I don't buy premades at the store, they are just to expensive.

6/11/2009 8:06:26 PM

I'm trying to make my own mixes, the books I use are Make-a-mix cookbooks and an old tupperware mix book, there are endless master recipes. You know whats going into the mix, so bad additives are reduced, as are all of the extra packaging which reduces recycling. My grandmother used to talk about doing this, sadly I don't have any recipes that she made. I'm caring for my two young grandchildren, so there isn't much time to start from scratch and I don't buy premade mixes etc, so this is the best solution I'm finding. It's hard to decide which to make first,

kaf bakers hotline
6/11/2009 7:59:18 AM

We agree, baking from scratch is a real money saver. Thanks for spreading the word!

6/10/2009 11:19:15 PM

Crock pot! I think life as we know it would stop if my crockppot were to die ;)

alan ithaca
6/10/2009 1:08:40 PM

Our local co-op, as do many, offers a 17.5 % discount on almost all purchases for working a 2-hour shift each week. This saves us a great deal on groceries. We also buy as much in bulk as possible. We have a rice cooker, which is great for cooking rice and other grains. Additionally, it has a steamer, so for a simple and delicious meal we can have rice and steamed veggies with very minimal effort. Sometimes we add beans or tofu/tempeh for a simple and delicious 1-pot meal. Saves time, gas, and water when it is time for washing dishes.

kelly jo
6/10/2009 12:38:48 AM

Use the BBQ grill outside! Quick, simple, great taste, and the scenery and fresh air is always relaxing, even after a stressful day at work! I always make a side dish of veggies in an aluminum foil package. Quick, easy, and steams perfectly in it's package. Examples are: Asparagus, wash it well, lay on foil, dot with butter (or spray foil with Pam) salt (or garlic) if desired, roll up package tightly in center, fold up ends, tightly. Place on grill, turn once, package will "puff" up a little as it steams inside. It's done in less time than it takes to boil water! Try red potatoes, diced, with onion. Toss in olive oil, add Dill, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper, or your choice of seasonings. Roll up foil package and cook! Also, the foil can be washed and re-used many times if using the "Heavy Duty" type, which means less waste. Corn on the cob? Everyone loves fresh corn when in season. But husking, cleaning, and boiling water takes time. Why bother? Soak corn, in it's husk for 20 min. or more (even a couple hours). Put directly on grill and rotate every few minutes. Corn steams in it's own shell, giving it GREAT flavor, and when done, just peel back the husk, and the silk comes right off with no effort. Best tasting corn you'll ever have! I grill year round, even in dead of winter. It's as fast as broiling, steaming, and is better for you than pan frying. You end up with tender, naturally flavored foods.

6/8/2009 6:23:46 AM

SOUP! Soup is low-calorie, low-fat, filling, healthy, and tasty. You can use leftovers and/or your own vegetables. My favorite standby is beef and barley soup. I actually don't put any meat in it, but use beef broth. The basic soup is two parts broth to one part tomato juice. To this I add barley and then whatever vegetables I want and/or have on hand: carrots, peas, green beans, corn... Soup is a better choice with sandwiches than chips. It's also a wonderful first course for supper.

6/7/2009 3:41:49 PM

As a SAHM of 3, I had to make a dollar stretch. We grew a garden, using a grey water set up from the washer. We dried, canned and froze everything we didn't eat fresh. My garden was the back yard, 20x20, we were on a city lot, had a small strawberry patch, raspberry patch and a cherry tree. I made jelly, jam, fruit roll up, spaghetti suace, salsa, pickles, among other things. Plant things like carrots, radish, lettuce, etc avery two weeks. That way, you will always have some ready to be picked. I bought baking supplies in bulk and cooked from scratch. The easiest way, master mixes. I had 3 or 4 different master mixes going at any one time, kept them in air tight containers. Made it really easy to fix up a batch of cookies, cake, biscuits, coffee cake and all from the same mix. Use the crockpot. Makes fixing dinner easy. Just put everything in during the morning and leave it alone. When you come home from the store, cut up your veggies. Have celery and carrot sticks all cleaned, cut and stored in an air tight container. Makes snack time easier. My kids liked the fish crackers. It was their splurge at the store. I used snack cups and filled them with crackers, single serving size for the kids. Pudding and jello were also placed in snack sized containers. Plan your meals for a week or two at a time, this will also help. Start by making a list of everything your family likes to eat and figure out the best way for you to rotate the meals. This will help with grocery shopping, make a list and stick to it. Follow the sales, use coupons. With a little time and thought, you will be amazed and what all you save and how much healthier you will become.

6/7/2009 11:04:01 AM

I've found the use of a pressure cooker a way to save time and energy. It enables you to make a three pound roast, all the veggies, and gravy in approx. an hour. During this time that I've traded my safety shoes for an apron, I'm the boss in the kitchen and it works for me ;)

6/7/2009 9:59:38 AM

If you are growing a garden to fill your pantry with good healthy edibles, here is a great tip. We were looking for seed to plant for our favorite beans. We especially like black beans and cranberry beans. I found seed for back bean at the local hardware store. You got about twenty beans for a dollar and a half. I tried looking on line for bean seed and found several sources that came in four ounce packages. My grandson wanted to count how many seeds that was, so I opened my storage jar of dried black bean and measured out four ounces for him to count. Four ounces for five dollars was not such a good deal either. The light bulb went off in my head. Here I was with a half gallon of dried beans in my hands and I was looking for seed.....duh! A pound of black beans cost a dollar. My grandson counted the one pound package to see how many beans were in it. There were over 1000 black beans in the package. To check the viability of the seed I put a few of each variety into a flower pot. That was in March. I got 100% germination in a sunny window sill. We now have two long rows of beans growing in our garden. One of black beans and one of cranberry beans. They are beginning to bloom. I planted another row yesterday for a later harvest. My mom told me that she had planted pinto beans before and the way to hull them is to leave them on the vines until they are dry.She pulled up the vines and took them into the shade to pick. Then she put them into an old pillow sack and beat them against the picnic table in the back yard. She said she snipped the corner off the pillow case and the beans came out in a clean steady stream into her storage jar. I will be using her tip this summer. Especially the part about picking them off the vines sitting in the shade.

m. folger
6/7/2009 9:28:05 AM

On the lighter side, here's a humorous YouTube video on the subject:

6/7/2009 9:27:55 AM

Thanks so much for all these recipe/tips. I can't wait to try them. And some of the tips sound like real time savers and that is just what I was looking for!

6/7/2009 8:25:05 AM

One of the best bang for your buck is dried beans. Navy beans, great northern, cranberry beans, pintos, and black beans are all readily available in any grocery store. When I cook beans I will cook enough for three days meals. On the first day we will have the beans with rice and cornbread for a good and satisfying no meat high protein meal. The next day we may have them incorporated into bean tacos on fresh made flour tortillas. The last day we will have the rest added to homemade chili. Dried beans take time. They have to be soaked overnight to soften them up before cooking. I have found that if I soak several batches at once that I can freeze the presoaked beans in freezer bags. The frozen beans will cook much quicker than the dried ones. The act of freezing seems to soften them up even more. This saves time and money. Less energy is expended to cook the beans and they are always ready to pull out of the freezer and cook. To defrost the frozen beans quickly just put them in hot water. You can even add chopped green pepper and chopped onion to the bag before freezing which will save another step.

6/6/2009 8:52:47 PM

A great way to save money is to go vegan. Rice, beans, potatoes and wheat flour are cheap and healthy, especially if you buy in bulk. Another good way is to bake your own no-knead bread. it's easy, takes very little time, and you control what goes into your bread. While a loaf of wheat bread is going for over $4 at the grocery store, my wheat bread is of a much higher quality and only costs about fifty cents a loaf.

6/6/2009 11:30:23 AM

Despite the fact that my partner and I have both been unemployed for nearly a year and are struggling financially, we still buy organic food for every item that is available for sale. Anyone who eats meat and says they cannot afford organics should stop eating meat. I have been vegetarian for over twenty years. Also, I never buy convenience foods. If you cook from scratch, there is no reason why you cannot afford to buy local produce (preferably organic if available) and organic food in general. It is utter laziness and bad money-management if you say you cannot. People need to realize that good food is the most important thing in life: more important than changing cars often or keeping up with the Jones' McMansions. Anyone who says they cannot afford good food: Keep your car ten or twenty years. Ditch your too-big house. It is all a matter of priorities.

6/6/2009 7:52:34 AM

I make organic peanut butter playdoh for the kids, homemade fruit roll-ups, homemade organic sandwich bread, and fresh jam. All of which freezes, takes very little effort (most of the making time is wait-time,) and costs almost nothing compared to the store.

6/6/2009 12:09:17 AM

I make several kinds of sprouts easily and cheaply in quart size mason jars, covered with a little square of linen held on with a rubber band. I get organic seeds from the local health food store. Alfalfa and lentils are seeds I sprout once or twice a week. Lentil sprouts make an amazingly good base for a raw salad. A pound of organic alfalfa seeds cost us about ten dollars and has lasted for over two years, using it weekly, so it saves a fortune over store bought sprouts. sells organic seeds and also is a great resource for instructions on how to sprout anything. It's a great way to always have cheap, fresh organic vegetables!

6/5/2009 11:31:41 PM

Menu planning is the first phase to making home cooking cheaper. A basic menu can be prepared, then compared to local grocery ads and coupons to find what meals will be the cheapest. Buying in bulk is great - if you have the space! Air tight containers (like cereal containers) help you to see what you have stored and also to keep it fresh. Fudging recipes also helps to make the meals cheaper. Instead of buying an expensive (but tasty!) canned pasta sauce, buy the cheap one and use Italian seasoning to spice it up. Use that on a pizza crust, add pepperoni, ham slices and ground beef and you've got a cheap, fast, stromboli that will wow!

6/5/2009 10:05:11 PM

Instead of purchasing beef or pork from the grocery store, I purchase a side of beef or half a pig in the fall or late spring from the slaughter house. The quality of the meat is better, I get to choose the thickness and size of the packages, and the slaughter house labels it for me. Best of all the meat is much less expensive at the slaughter house than it is in the grocers.

6/5/2009 10:00:58 PM

We extensively use rice and potatoes to make our meals go farther for less, without sacrificing too much nutritional content (enriched rice is readily available). Rice added to soup makes it more filling, as a base for a chicken or veggie dish it can add various flavors (try cooking the rice with butter or spices added to the water), and it's great to cool the palate between bites of spicier foods. Rice porridge is a neat dish to try, if you're tired of toast for breakfast. Potatoes are also versatile - you can make stuffed baked potatoes with leftover veggies and some butter, bake 'em, fry them with egg and bacon for breakfast, etc. After cooking, both will store for a few days in the fridge if sealed well so they don't dry out. Take half an hour and boil enough rice for a few days, then separate and store and you'll have a great base for quick meals. A great side-effect of this is that you'll want to use less meat while cooking, because you'll be filling your plate with delicious and filling rice and veggies instead - and many of us can benefit from lower meat intake! Another great tip is obviously to buy and cook in bulk. What you don't eat immediately, freeze in single-serve packs. By freezing extra meals when you have time you can cut down on prep time on those busy nights, and leftovers in portions too small for another meal can easily be turned into stew or stir fry.

ruth c
6/5/2009 7:54:23 PM

In recipes calling for milk use powdered milk added with the dry ingredents and add water in the amount of the milk called for.

6/5/2009 3:19:09 PM

i found you can make powdered sugar in your blender. Put 1/2 a cup to a1 and 1/2 cups of reg sugar in blender and blend doesnt take long. Blend for a bout 10 seconds and check. keep doing that until its at the consistancy you want.

6/5/2009 1:07:21 PM

I grind my own grain so I can buy grain in bulk and it has a long shelf life. This also goes for oats for oatmeal and corn for cornmeal. I also plan my menus so I can buy in bulk and that week of menus use all of the canned diced tomatoes. Then nothing goes to waste. You can get great bulk items for a health food co-op.

georgi hockaday
6/5/2009 12:53:26 PM

Home-made mixes save time and money. The Mix-A-Meal cookbook is worth the price at Standards in my cupboard are onion soup mix and white sauce mix. You can make a mini-recipe for one time use or a larger batch for storage.

patricia sweet_2
6/5/2009 11:00:38 AM

I have developed a booklet which lists over 350 foods, and details the amount of 12 different nutrients contained in each of these foods. This allows me to check low cost foods to make sure they provide all the nutrients needed for a healthy diet.

6/5/2009 10:53:23 AM

When cooking a dish that calls for the more expensive veggies,use less than called for, dice and freeze the rest, for instance, celery, green peppers ,red peppers, even onions. I add herbs to help enhance the flavor.

6/3/2009 7:22:30 PM

Here's my recipe for homemade granola and granola bars:

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