Thursday, February 19, 2009

Grocery Shopping and Cooking on a Budget

On February18, 2009 Boulder's Daily Camera food section ran an article titled Value Meal.

Five local chefs talk about eating well and cheaply by showing us how to prepare a delicious meal for 4 people for $15.

Hoorah to the Camera for running a piece on budget cooking with panache!

And I have an additional message: Recession-strategy dining-in is not about following a recipe and cooking up yummy economical meals.

Enjoying "Value Meals" requires knowhow such as grocery shopping on a budget, then once home, efficiently storing and managing your food for the week so that there's no waste -- this all before actually cooking anything!

And then we all have recipe books and access to articles like "Value Meals," but following recipes often leads to expensive, impulse purchases at the grocery store. In other words, it's more economical to think ahead, rather than from meal-to-meal and recipe-to-recipe.

Thinking ahead means planning for the number of meals you intend eating at home for the week, then writing a list of groceries that will cover those meals.

When writing your list, it may help to peruse your favorite recipe books for ideas on dishes you'd like to prepare during the upcoming week keeping in mind the following:
  • your budget,
  • the time you'll have available to cook,
  • the difficulty factor of the recipes, and
  • whether or not you intend having a friend or two over during the week for a meal.
Because I shop at Whole Foods on a budget, I usually go to their website and check the "Good Stuff For Less" for weekly sale items and "Whole Deal newsletter" for coupons. I'll write my list and do my weekly menu-plan according to WFs best buys.

Once home, I organize my perishable groceries. For example, here are three things I might do:
  • If I've bought say two-for-one bunches of chard, I'll wash and lightly cook one bunch, freezing it for later use.
  • If I've snatched up a sale on hamburger and bought 2lbs for the price of 1lb, I'll freeze about 3/4 of that, separating the meat to be frozen into one-meal portions.
  • Asparagus has been a great buy lately, but it can quickly go limp in the fridge so I always put it bottoms-up in a cup with about 1/2 inch of water -- that way it stays crisp longer.
And did you know it's perfectly fine to buy conventionally grown asparagus over the higher-priced organic? Apparently, minimal-to-zero pesticides are used during the growing process because insects don't like asparagus.

Having organized my groceries in the fridge and dry goods in my cupboard, I'm very aware of what I have available to cook with for the week.

I might go back and peruse a few recipes, gathering ideas, but I never follow a recipe exactly. Rather, I prefer to be recipe-independent, improvising by calling upon my inner culinary expert and engaging my desire to have fun in the kitchen, and my love of creating healthy, colorful meals.

As you begin putting meals together without following recipes directly, engage you inner culinary expert and try making simple and colorful meals with a variety of fresh vegetables.

Chances are you'll find your meals look appetizing while being full of are flavor, texture and nutrients.

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