Frugal Cooking Tips for Thrifty Meals: How to Find Cheap Food and Save Money on Groceries
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The below frugal cooking tips and strategies for finding sources of cheap and free food has made it possible for my family to easily save thousands of dollars per year on our food costs and improve our health along the way. You can do this too.
As we discover new ideas and tips for saving money on food, I continuously add what we have learned to the list below. So this is like our frugal cooking tips blog.
I am sure you will discover many new ideas below which will inspire your own healthy frugal cooking and meal planning.
If you have new thrifty meal ideas of your own, I hope you will take the time to share them with us by leaving a comment at the bottom of each page.
"Frugal Cooking and Cheap Meals Pay Multiple Dividends"
Pragmatic advice for a frugal diet is one of my favorite topics because a healthy diet CAN be had cheaply and often CHEAPER than traditional less healthy diets (despite what many folks believe).
An investment in knowledge always pays the best dividends especially when it comes to creating a more frugal kitchen.
Some of the dividends from eating well cheaply include freeing up more money to pay down debt, saving on healthcare costs, feeling better, and reducing environmental damage in the long run.
Even though we have reduced our food bill substantially, maintaining a cheap yet healthy diet is certainly still at the top of my family's frugal living priorities list.
Yes, stretching our food budget is a never-ending battle. But it is also a rewarding and frugal fun challenge to find new cheap food sources that are also healthy.
We have learned through many little successes and failures that the most important key to frugal cooking was to change our mindset and alter our eating habits.
We all have life-long eating habits that often are sources of extra food cost and waste. Breaking habits and daring to try new things is important.
Food frugality and finding cheap food sources requires a mindset of flexibility, planning, efficiency, and resourcefulness.
"A Looming Global Food Crisis in the Making"
Now is the time to prepare by honing your frugal cooking skills. There will come a day soon when these times of plenty (relatively speaking) will come to an end. We are just now seeing the first signs of a global food crisis looming on the not-too-distant horizon.
Food prices have risen as much as 20% in many staple food categories over the last several years and the average two earned income family of three people now spends close to $9000 a year on food.
This puts grocery costs near the top of the list of monthly household expenses and has made cutting food costs a major priority for most families, including ours.
We as a family have taken the bull by the horns to lower our food bills via these many frugal grocery shopping ideas and careful meal planning and food storage techniques. As a result we now spend less than $1,700 per year per person for food and we are healthier and happier for it too.
We have easily cut our grocery bill in half over the last few years and you can too. Frugal meal planning is a fun challenge the whole family will benefit from. It helped pay our mortgage off early too.
I am sure you will find many useful frugal cooking tips and tricks for putting healthy, yet affordable local organic food on the table without breaking the bank or scrificing your other priorities.
If you make many of these frugal meal ideas and practices habitual you will become more self-sufficient as you literally keep more money in your pockets every month and free yourself from the convoluted food system most people are mentally shackled to.
The following tips for smart wholesome frugal cooking and healthy eating will also greatly empower you to grow your food independence and to be more self-reliant and more insulated from supply constraints, demand spikes, food shortages, and the inevitable continued inflation of food prices.
Bon appetite fellow frugal gourmet.
The Will to Save Money Often Begins With the Bill
The first and most important step in any frugal kitchen strategy is to know where your food dollars are being spent so you can prioritize where it makes the most sense to reduce, eliminate, or substitute.
My favorite digital frugal food tool - Learn how the NeatDesk Receipt Scanner can help you get organized and save money on groceries. It's not just for Hoarders anymore;^)
To Save on Meat Costs Consider How You Buy, Prepare, Cook, and Store Meat
Having a freezer, slow cooker, pressure cooker and a little know-how about what meats to buy and when is key to our Frugal shopping strategy for fish, poultry, pork, and beef.
Here are our 18 Frugal Grocery Shopping Tips to Save on Meat and our top 40 Cheap Beef Cuts for the Most Tasty and Thrifty Beef Dishes.
Be Your Own Butcher
If you must buy meat at the Supermarket or grocery store, try to buy whole chickens and beef shoulders on sale, then cut it up yourself into steaks, stew meat, pieces, chops, and cuts.
We also like to make our own homemade freshly ground hamburger meat using delicious combinations of the above 40 cheap beef cuts. Here are the 15 cuts of beef we like to use and our 15 Tips for How to Make Ground Beef and Hamburger the Frugally Delicious and Fresh Way
Raising Rabbits as a Frugal Food Source
Many trying to live the frugal lifestyle enthusiastically believe that rabbit is the perfect meat. I can not recall ever eating rabbit, but many people I know say it is very tasty and very lean.
Frugal Cooking Often Means Eating Less Store-bought Meats
Meat, especially whole cuts of beef, is often one of the most expensive foods you can buy because beef prices are closely tied to the cost of crude oil which affects all agricultural costs, packaging costs, and transport costs.
Become a Vegetarian, Lose Weight, and Save Money
Becoming a Vegetarian may be just the ticket to help you go green, get healthier, and cut your food bill in half.
Some of the most healthy, eco-friendly, energetic, and frugal people I know are Vegetarians - those who never eat fish, fowl, or meat.
Free-Range Eggs and Chickens
More people seem to be raising their own chickens these days. And since home chicken raising is in, it is no wonder that many home-based poultry farmers also find themselves knee deep in free eggs which they often sell for cheap or give away.
Go Fishing for Frugal Food
I am an avid fisherman and supplement my family's diet with lots of free delicious freshwater fish caught in local ponds, lakes, and rivers (but I do not eat fish from polluted waters declared as being impaired by the EPA).
Make Your Meat Last Longer
Frugal cooking often involves making the most of more expensive foods such as meats. For example, for hamburger patty stretchers you can mix in oatmeal or a soybean "textured vegetable protein" to get more protein bang for your burger buck at a lower cost.
Cook More, Eat Less, Waste Nothing
Most of us have grown accustomed to over-eating and we have also become notorious wasters of food. The average household throws away about 15% of all the food purchased.
Many studies have proven that eating very little may lengthen life. And you don't need a PhD or double blind studies to know that eating less will lower your food bill. Frugal home cooking can help you spend less, eat less, and waste less - in contrast to what happens at most restaurants.
Eat Like a Neanderthal
Imagine what a Neanderthal or Cro Magnon must have been eating as they hunted and gathered across the grasslands of Eurasia. Believe it or not, their all-natural whole foods diet and even a fraction of thier energy expenditure would do wonders for our general health. Science proves that genetically, and thus metabolically, we are 99% similar to our ancient ancestors.
Consider the long-term cost savings of eating right for our genes as compared to high carb diets and sedentary lifestyle currently fueling the quickly advancing epidemic of Diabetes and Heart Disease. Frugal cooking and a low carb whole foods diet does not have to be a contradiction in terms if you follow all the other advice found on this and the linked to pages.
Quality Over Quantity and Carbs
Go against the American herd and eat less food in general, and specifically eat less of the popular high carb highly processed convenience foods like Hot Pockets, Pizza, Chimmy Chongas, Hotdogs, breaded frozen Franken-meats, and TV dinners. This goes for most fast-food, sodas, and fruit juices as well.
Eat In, Not Out
Eat out less because restaurants and fast food joints tend to result in overeating, and prepared foods are much more expensive and unhealthy than a nice home cooked meal.
Frugal cooking meals ahead of time and freezing the extras means your food costs per serving will often drop to pennies compared to the dollars most restaurants charge. And never under-estimate the value of the time you will save too.
Restaurant Coupons and Deals Arbitrage
My family eats out only very occasionally, which makes the experience a special treat. And we hardly ever pay full price because we have learned to visit the restaurant's website ahead of time to sign up for their newsletter or loyalty club to get special big coupons and discounts.
Frugal Crockpot Recipes: Healthy, Convenient, and Deliciously Cheap
Having grown up in a poor Air force family, I think most of what we ate came from my frugal German mother's Rival Slow Cooker, or Rival stoneware cooker as she often called it.
She wore that Crockpot out making hundreds of cheap yet delicious and hearty meals. We have learned a lot about frugal crockpot cooking over the years from my frugal mom.
Frugal Soup Recipes Are Very Healthy and Very Cheap
For some reason many folks give soups a bad wrap. Not my family. We have become made-from-scratch soup connoisseurs, and I am not talking "stone soup" either.
Healthy soups are a frugal cooking mainstay and provides the cleanest fuel for the body. I am not surprised to hear of "The Cabbage Soup Diet". Soups are a great way to eat healthy and cheaply.
Learn to Live Off the Free Fat of the Land Like We Foraging Locavores
Whether you are a Frugal Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore, or Carnivore there is likely a rich bounty of frugal food served up close at hand by Mother Nature, no matter the season. From wild game to wild fruits - nature's bounty is free for the foraging Locavore.
Frugal Gardening: Grow Your Own Fresh and Pesticide-free Food
If you own a little land, planting a small orchard and vegetable garden is a no-brainer to help save money on food bills. But if you only have a small area, like a patio, balcony, or window box - you can still grow a significant amount of fresh produce in a even the small area of a container garden.
Growing your own fresh organic fruits and vegetables at home can be a money saver if you know how to garden cheaply. I have been a frugal gardener since about the age of 6. So frugal gardening is another one of my favorite topics especially where it relates to healthy frugal cooking and whole foods.
Eat Your Garbage
We never ever throw kitchen scraps into the trash. This to us would be a sin because of the diverse and dense nutrients most kitchen scraps contain.
No we don't eat garbage...directly, that is. Worms eat our garbage...and we eat them. Just kidding.
Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, quickly converts kitchen wastes into the best organic plant fertilizer there is - worm castings (yes, I'm talking about worm poop). And we have all the free frugal fishing bait we need too. Don't poo poo Vermicomposting. It is a frugal gardening sportsman's must-do.
Extreme Frugality: Learn from the Freegan Subculture
Speaking of eating your garbage...Freeganism is a growing anti-consumerism movement which stresses reducing waste and thus reducing consumption of resources and impact on ecosystems. Yes, some Freegans do eat garbage and take frugal cooking to the extreme.
I can't stomach the idea of eating food scavanged from out of the garbage can, and especially not discarded meat scraps as the so-called "Meagans" sometimes find and eat. But what is interesting is what they can teach us about how much waste most of us produce, food and otherwise.
Reducing waste is key to living frugal. Freegans and Meagans have helped focus attention on how much good food gets tossed in the trash. The Freshkills Landfill studies also proved how much food we as a society regularly throw away.
Shop Your Local Farmers Market
Buying fresh local fruits and vegetables at the peak of the season and in bulk from your local farmers markets can save you a lot of money on food. And you will likely be supporting your local economy rather than some Earth-raping factory farm 5,000 miles away where a Rainforest used to be.
To find the local markets in your state I have created a State Farmers Market Finder.
Learn How to Preserve Food
There are many methods of food preservation such as pickling, canning, dehydrating, vacuum sealing, salt curing, root cellar storage, and smoking. And let's not forget the easiest of them all, freezing.
Frugal cooking and food preservation goes hand-in-hand because when you cook and store meals in bulk you often will lower your meal costs to pennies per serving.
Use Grocery Coupons and Buy Sales Items in Bulk
I am a frugal shopper but I generally do not use many grocery coupons because coupons are often for unhealthy and more expensive brand-name items I do not normally buy. We are a generic brand "great value" family. But lately it seems that all genres of brands are enticing shoppers with coupons, so lately we have been finding coupon deals even on the cheaper brand varieties we do buy.
I know of many people who have made regularly finding and using grocery coupons an integral part of their frugal kitchen strategy. I also know of a few extreme couponers who have taken coupon savings to a level I never would have thought possible.
Though their stockpiles of food and supplies procurred for free is enticing, the whole extreme couponing thing just seems wrong to me because in most cases they are emptying shelves and abusing the system. Extreme couponing also involves a lot of time and hastles too.
Community Supported Agriculture Programs
If you are not into frugal gardening yourself or if you just want some supplemental produce to make up for what your garden does not supply, you may want to consider joining a CSA program.
Community Supported Agriculture Programs allow you to purchase shares in the harvest of a cooperative farm operation. This usually means you will get regular portions of fresh cheap in-season produce for pick-up or delivery.
Frugal Grocery Shopping
Frugal grocery shopping is not hard if you think about how grocery stores are designed and the almost subliminal ways retailers exploit consumer psychology and behavior to squeeze every last penny they can out of you.
Once you know the tricks of the retail trade, then it is a simple matter of behaving opposite from the way they want you to. Shop with a list, shop seldom, look low, and beware the impulse buy. These and other tips will save you money on groceries and merchandise every time.
Never ever buy plastic bottles of water or soda again. You can filter your own water at home and also make your own soda. Or join the growing frugal home brewer movement and brew your own beer or wine at home. You can also roast your own green coffee beans with a cheap Popcorn Popper.
Food Assistance Programs
Food assistance programs such as WIC (Women, Infant, and Children), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and School Meals are government programs designed to reduce hunger and provide nutritious food to low-income people.
Make Your Own Frugal Snacks
Anything out of a snack machine, and popular store-bought snack foods like potato chips and "lunchables" or "juice packs" are usually some of the most highly processed, heavily packaged, and expensive grocery items. They cost you healthwise too. Stop the snack impulse buying and start making your own healthy frugal snacks at home. And do not buy food at work. Brown bag it and you will save a ton of money over the years.
Learn From Preppers and Survivalists
All the 2012 hoopla aside, the millions of Preppers and Survivalists show us that if you set your mind to it, you can become more food-independent and self-reliant on your own homestead.
This means learning how to find or create sources of potable water; how to forage for food; how to grow fruits and vegetables; how to raise, hunt, or trap animals for meat; and how to store and preserve foods for the long-term.
Consider Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics
Frugal gardening can be done even if you have no soil to grow in. Hydroponics and Aeroponics is a wonderfully efficient way to grow healthy greens on nutrient laced water.
And Aquaponics is a fun frugal way to raise your own fish too. Tilapia and Catfish are two sources of high quality protein that can be easily and efficiently grown in a homemade Aquaponic system.
I've also seen home systems incorporating a Vermicomposter placed over barrels of water where Catfish are raised on the compost worms harvested from above.
Frugal Gourmet Recipes
Many popular gourmet recipes are too complicated, too time-consuming, and have too many expensive ingredients. Frugal gourmet recipes on the other hand often include a few key high quality fresh ingredients, such as peak of season herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Preparing high quality fresh ingrdients in a simple way with fresh herbs, garlic, and a squirt of lemon juice or drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, for example, allows the flavors to remain unobscured and prep time to remain low. So you can save time and save money on extra condiments, cream, butter, sauces, ect. because they would only obscure the main flavors.
And since meat is usually the most expensive food item you can buy, the frugal gourmet recipes we make often include smaller portions of economy cuts of meat cooked to tenderness in a crockpot and used mainly for seasoning, rather than being the focus of the dish.
I do like to eat meat, but as a frugal cook, I think meat (especially beef) is over-rated. I could easily become a frugal Vegan if I needed to shave another 20% - 30% from our already low grocery bill. But until then, I will remain a frugal cooking Omnivore.
Gleaning for Food, Food Banks, Food Recovery Programs
Expired food or surplus harvests being wasted, even as millions suffer from hunger and food insecurity, is a major problem. But food "gleaning" aims to collect and place surplus or past-prime foods from farms, gardens, markets, and stores with donation channels so it can feed the needy rather than going to waste.
Food Banks and Food Recovery Programs are springing up all over and are often where you can find some outstanding frugal food finds.
Aldis: Our Favorite Little Grocery Store for Saving 40% Off Our Grocery Bill
When we go grocery shopping, the first stop we make for the bulk of our groceries is Aldis, a smaller discount grocery chain quickly gaining popularity nationwide.
From their ingenious quarter in, quarter out shopping cart take and return system to the efficient and fast checkout and store layout, Aldis oozes German practicality and efficiency. I love it because it means BIG savings on groceries.
Bare bones displays, smaller footprint stores, shorter hours of operation, low staffing costs, basic selection, and good quality but cheaply priced private label food brands means you can regularly save up to 40% on your food purchases at Aldis.
Aldis is our favorite grocery store of all and is where we purchase up to 80% of our monthly grocery needs, and at significant savings over other big box grocery chains.
Find Restaurants Offerring Free Meals on Your Birthday or on Veterans Day
Free Birthday meals or Veterans Day meals offered by restaurants is a win win promotion for you and the restaurant. They know you will likely bring in guests who will be paying full price, and you will be getting a frugal free meal.
Take a break from frugal cooking at home, at least on your birthday, or for veterans on Veterans Day. Don't pass up this rare frugal meal freebie at your favorite restaurants.
Practice Smart Food Storage
Smart food storage techniques are important if you want to save money on food by buying sales items in bulk. Otherwise, without proper food storage you will end up wasting money on food lost to spoilage.
Fresh is always best, but most staples can last up to 6 months if stored properly, such as in the freezer. But when you get beyond 6 months worth of most froozen food items, they will often end up becoming a negative investment due to either poor flavor or outright spoilage.
Frugal Food Substitutions
Food substitutions prevent those last minute rush trips to the store when you suddenly notice you have run out of ingredients needed in your frugal recipes. You can also make your own substitutions for pre-prepared ingredients to save money on items like baking powder, buttermilk, brown sugar, mayonaise, cake fluor, or bread fluor.
Save Money on Food With a Grocery Price Book
A Grocery Price Book is usually a notebook with the history of prices you have paid on particular grocery items at different times of the year and in particular stores. The more price history you have, the easier it is to identify when an item tends to go on sale and what prices are lower or higher than average.
You can then load up when price is lower, or you can pass on higher prices or buy in a different store selling it cheaper. The point is your record enables you to know what is or isn't cheaper.
If you don't want to keep a journal, then at least keep your receipts which can supply similar information over time. A big part of frugal cooking is knowing when to buy and the limit to what you should pay based on historical prices.