Archive for the ‘Menu Planning’ Category

Last Minute July Fourth Party Ideas

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

July fourth party ideasJuly fourth weekend may have already begun, but if you haven’t finished planning your July fourth party, there’s no need to panic.  It’s possible to create a festive July fourth party, even at the last minute – and I’ve got 5 inexpensive ideas that can help you turn a regular barbecue into a memorable Independence Day feast.  So before you run out to buy American flag-themed napkins or complicated fireworks, read on to find 5 July fourth party ideas that may be useful this year and in years to come.

  1. Decorate with food – Who needs streamers or decorative flags when you can let your food decorate your July fourth party?  Use strawberries, raspberries and blueberries to create delicious and cheerful desserts, or spread them out as table decorations on a white tablecloth.  Other foods in appropriate colors include whipped cream, jello, and mayonnaise and ketchup swirled in a blue serving dish.  Red, white and blue jelly beans or sweet potato and yucca chips mixed with blue potato chips (I recommend the Terra brand) can also perk up any table.
  2. 50’s theme – The US has 50 states…why not use this as a basis for a 50’s themed July fourth party?  Break out your poodle skirt, prepare some root beer floats and serve cheeseburgers instead of typical barbecued hamburgers.  For extra excitement, set up a move projector and recreate the drive-in movie experience in your own backyard.
  3. Go small – Instead of serving your typical barbecue food, why not make everything in bite-sized pieces?  Think about making mini hot dogs, mini hamburgers, buffalo wings instead of roasted drumsticks, and mini muffins instead of cupcakes.  Smaller foods allow guests to taste everything you’ve made without over-eating, and will avoid the need for clumsy cutting if you’re having a buffet.
  4. Diversify your menu – Celebrate our great country by making dishes that are indigenous to different states.  Serve creole, Philly cheesesteaks, cornbread and cobbler.  If you’re having relatives or friends who have lived in other states, ask them to bring their favorite native food to share the taste of America with the rest of your guests.  This is also a great way to minimize the work of hosting the July fourth party.
  5. Let the games begin – If you’re inviting children to your July fourth party, offering games is a great way to keep them entertained and out of trouble.  Consider a game of capture the American flag, American flag relay races or a game of American flag football.

Happy  Independence Day!

High Food Costs on a Low Budget

Friday, March 11th, 2011

If you’ve been to the grocery store recently, you’ve probably noticed that the cost of food has risen considerably in recent months, a result of the rising cost of gas and an already tight demand of wheat, corn and other staples.  But if your salary hasn’t risen to reflect grocery store prices, you’re likely among the millions of Americans struggling to find room in their budget for necessities.  Here are some ways to stretch your food budget without sacrificing on the items that you need.

Skip Pre-Packaged Foods

High food costs on a low budgetIt’s no secret that pre-packaged snacks are among the biggest splurges you can make in the grocery store.  Instead of paying top dollar for individually-wrapped cookies, for example, buy a larger bag and let each child take his or her snack in a sandwich bag.  This strategy can save you over $10 in the scope of a single month.

Make Your Own Food

You may think that a loaf of bread, for example, isn’t that expensive, but in reality, it’s about five times the price of what it would cost to bake a similar loaf on your own.  Likewise, you can make over 50 cupcakes for just a few bucks (think about the cost of a single bag of flour, half a bag of sugar, some oil, eggs and chocolate chips), while about 10 servings of pre-packaged snacks will cost the same price.  There are dozens of similar examples of foods that are relatively easy to prepare and will help you save big – all you need is a bit of time and creativity.

Re-Examine Your Menus

Do you really want to splurge on steak, or can you enjoy a delicious meal of meatloaf or chicken?  Do you need to purchase a bottle of salad dressing, or can you make your own salad topping for a fraction of the price?  You’ll be surprised at how much you can save if you adjust your menus and recipes to focus on cheaper food instead of luxury items.

Buy Second-Tier Produce

I’ve written several posts about how to save money at the grocery store, but in addition to the obvious (use coupons, buy in bulk, etc), it’s important to consider purchasing things you wouldn’t otherwise buy, and trying new, cheaper things.  One such things is second-tier produce, or fruits and vegetables that are about to pass their peak and are ready to be enjoyed immediately.  In some cases, you may need to remove some soft spots in order to use a specific vegetable, but this effort will pay off big time.  Second-tier produce can be used to create inexpensive meals that can be frozen.  Among my favorite examples are bananas, which can make cakes, cupcakes and muffins, potatoes which can be used in stews, casseroles and for homemade french-fries, and zucchinis which can be turned into soups and quiches which freeze beautifully.

Cook from the Cabinet

Your pantry is meant to be used, not just looked at.  When the cost of food is high, reduce your weekly shopping expenses by eating food that you already own.  You’ll be able to replenish it when general food prices go down or you can find items on sale.

Celebrity Weight Loss Strategies for Cheap!

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Every Christmas is accompanied by at least one or two bad gifts…but perhaps the worst gift is the extra weight that seems to stick around way longer than any hideous sweater or ugly ceramic sculpture.  It’s hard enough to find a half hour to return a bad gift to the store, but for some reason, it can take months to lose the extra pounds that you added in only a few hours of eating.  What’s a busy parent, professional or student to do?   As my post-holiday gift to you, I’ve taken a look at how celebrities have lost weight successfully, and converted these plans into cheap (and entirely achievable!) weight loss strategies.  Here are some of my favorites:

Cheap weight loss strategiesWalk Your Dog (or Just Walk)

Until now, you may have been fine with letting your dog take care of his business in the backyard.  But Fido will be happier, and you’ll be lighter, if you get out for a bit of exercise.  You’ve probably seen dozens of pictures of stars walking their dogs – from Jennifer Aniston to Sarah Michelle Gellar to Jessica Biel, celebrities are constantly taking time from their busy lives to walk their own dogs.  And so can you.

Of course, if you don’t have a dog, you can still use walking as a free way to lose weight.  Christina Aguilera claims that walking for 40 minutes on the treadmill regularly helped her lose weight after baby Max was born in 2008.  And, if there’s no treadmill available, your neighborhood will provide you with a good exercise and a change of scenery.

Dance like Natalie Portman

Everyone’s been buzzing about how the already petite actress lost even more weight for her role in the acclaimed film The Black Swan.  Her secret?  Intense dance practice.  While you may not be able to train for hours a day as Natalie did (nor would you want to), you can definitely make some progress by investing in a dance-workout video and making an effort to follow it through at least once (or twice) a day.   One great thing about using dance as a means of exercise is that it’s relatively low-impact, which means that your body should remain protected from other exercise-related injuries.

Snack frequently like Hilary Duff

In an attempt to lose weight for her wedding, Hilary duff changed her eating habits so that she ate small, healthy snacks between meals to stave off cravings.  It’s rather trite to suggest reaching for carrot sticks instead of a chocolate bar, and since I’m a realist, I’ll skip the cliché.  Hilary pulled off regular snacking by stocking up on delicious, low-effort snacks such as Greek yogurt or hummus.  A handful of almonds can also provide a healthy burst of energy and help you feel full.  Of course, if you want to keep a stack of chopped veggies on hand, you’ll reduce the cost of your diet and you may increase the rate of your weight loss.  And, they’ll go great with the hummus.

Drink Like Padma Lakshmi

This culinary genius is no stranger to the kitchen, but she credits a healthy drinking attitude for hastening her weight loss after the birth of her daughter earlier this year.  Not only is water an extremely affordably drink, but Lakshmi suggests flavoring it to reduce the boredom.  Among her favorites are lemon slices, orange blossoms and jasmine flowers, but the options are endless.  Try mint leaves, rosemary twigs or apple slices to add a refreshing twist to any pitcher of plain water, and drink the pounds away.

Cook Like Brooke Burke

You don’t need to be a chef to cook healthy, tasty and affordable dishes.  Salads and sandwiches (with low-calorie, whole wheat bread) are some of the best diet staples and they require no advance planning or lengthy cooking times.  Brooke recommends a whole wheat pita stuffed with chicken, lettuce, tomato and cucumber.  For added flavor, add some mustard, which serves as a tangy low-calorie dressing.  Prepare a scoop of tuna (with low-fat mayo) on a bed of lettuce, or a chicken salad made from grilled chicken and grilled vegetables.  If you rotate the seasonings regularly you won’t get bored, and you’ll always have something healthy to enjoy.

The most important thing to remember when trying to lose the holiday weight is that most celebrities have to work hard to maintain their figure (or to reclaim it after they’ve gained weight) – if they can do it, you can too.  Good luck!

How to Store Produce – Get More for your Money

Monday, August 9th, 2010

How to Store ProduceYou may have gotten a great deal on this season’s freshest fruits and vegetables, but if your purchases spoil before you have a chance to eat them, your great finds can quickly become a great waste of money.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could preserve the life of your produce?  Or, at the very least, wouldn’t it be nice if you could know when it was going to spoil so that you could use it before it’s too late?

Below you’ll find a guide for how to store produce that will help you maximize each vegetable and each piece of fruit so that you’ll get the most bang for your buck.  When possible I’ll also offer you tried and true methods for using old produce so that you won’t throw it away the minute it’s overripe.  We may not be able to prevent world hunger by using up more of our purchased produce, but we can surely prevent ourselves from wasting both produce and money.  And if that’s not a peachy idea, I don’t know what is.

Apricots – If you purchase apricots that aren’t yet ripe, let them ripen in a paper bag on the counter for 1-3 days.  Check them regularly.  Once ripe, store apricots in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 1 week.  Soft or mushy apricots can be used in fruit soup, cakes and pies.  You can also mix ripe apricots into homemade applesauce by boiling them with the apples.

Apples – Apples should be stored on the counter for up to 1 week and then placed in the fridge, where they can survive for up to one more week.  Be careful not to store apples in close proximity to other produce as the gases emitted by apples can cause other produce to ripen faster than normal.  Use soft apples in apple pie, apple sauce, apple cake or compote.

Artichokes – These flowery vegetables are best stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Arugula – Wash arugula in cold water and let it dry on paper towels.  Wrap the clean, dry leaves in cling wrap or a tightly sealed plastic bag.  Arugula is best if used within 2-3 days after washing.

Asparagus – If possible, store asparagus upright in the fridge.  Keep the stems wet either in water or with a damp paper towel wrapped around the base of the bunch.  Asparagus should last in its fresh form for 3-5 days when stored this way.  If your asparagus is turning brown, cook it immediately.  Cooked asparagus can last another 2-3 days in the fridge.

Avocados – Unripe avocados should be left to ripen on the counter.  For quicker ripening, leave your avocados in a paper bag.  Once ripe, avocados can be stored in the fridge for 5-7 days.  If you haven’t used your avocados before they start to get mushy, make a quick guacamole and freeze it for later use.  Frozen guacamole should contain lemon juice (to slow the oxidation process) and should be sealed in an air-tight container.

Banana – Bananas should be stored on the counter.  Once they begin to turn brown you can extend their life by placing in the fridge for another day or two.  The chill will hasten the browning process but the fruit inside should remain firm.  Most people don’t know that overripe bananas can be frozen.  Just put the bananas directly in the freezer for 1-3 months.  They will be mushy when you defrost them but can still be used in banana cake, muffins or bread.

Beets – Wrap beets tightly in plastic before refrigerating them.  They should last at least 7-10 days.  Many beets last even longer.  When they are starting to wilt, cook them immediately and you’ll prolong the life of your beets for another 5-7 days.

Blackberries – Store blackberries in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  There is no way to preserve the life of these delicate fruits so plan to eat them immediately after purchase.

Blueberries – Blueberries can last in the fridge for 3-5 days.  Store them in an open, airy container before they’ve been washed.  Wet blueberries will spoil quickly.

Broccoli – Fresh broccoli should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.  It should last for 3-5 days. You can also freeze broccoli for up to 10 months.  Prepare the broccoli by steaming it for 5 minutes.  Let it cool completely.  It will last in the freezer for up to 10 months.

Cabbage – Rumor has it that cabbages can last for months in a cool, moist place…but I don’t have a cellar in which to experiment.  If you’re stuck storing your cabbage under normal conditions, place it in the refrigerator where it should last for 2-3 weeks.  Pre-shredded cabbage won’t last longer than a week so make sure to eat it quickly.  Make sure that your cabbage isn’t placed near the fan of the fridge where it can freeze quickly.

Carrots – Carrots can last for up to a month in the fridge.  If your carrots begin to wilt before you’ve eaten them, peel them and use them in carrot cake or carrot bread which can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Cauliflower – Store cauliflower stem side down in a plastic bag placed.  Refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Celery – Celery should be stored in the fridge, preferably in a loose plastic bag.  It should last for 1-2 weeks.

Cherries – For best results, store dry cherries in a wide-mouthed bowl in the fridge.  Cover the bowl with a light towel or paper towel for extra protection.  Cherries stored this way should survive for 2-4 days.  Slightly mushy cherries can be used in compote, fruit soup or cherry pie.

Coconut (fresh) – Whole coconuts can be stored on the counter for about a month.  Cut coconut should be refrigerated where it will probably last about 5 days.

Corn – Fresh corn should be stored in its husk, in the fridge, for up to 3 days.  Once it’s boiled or grilled corn can last another 5 days in the fridge.

Cucumber – Cucumbers can last up to a week in the crisper section of the refrigerator.  Preserve the life of your cucumbers by pickling them or making cucumber salad with a vinegar base which can last another week or so.

Eggplant – Whole eggplant can survive for at least a week in the refrigerator.  For optimal results keep it in the crisper.

Endives – See arugula (above).

Garlic (fresh) – Store garlic outside of the refrigerator in a cool, dark place that has ample air flow.  Garlic stored in this way should last for 1-2 months.  If you wish to store fresh garlic in the refrigerator, peel the cloves and place them in a glass jar.  Pour olive oil on the garlic so that the cloves are fully covered.  Garlic stored in the fridge in this way should last for at least 3 months.

Grapefruit – Store grapefruits on the counter for up to two weeks without packaging.  You can also store grapefruits in the fridge in the vegetable drawer for a similar shelf life.

Grapes – Grapes should be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.  They should be entirely dry and placed in a plastic bag for storage.  Try to remove all spoiled grapes before placing the remainder in the fridge.  Grapes should remain fresh and crisp for about a week when stored in this way.

Kiwis – Refrigerated kiwis should last for about 1-2 weeks.  Unripe kiwis should be ripened in a brown bag before being placed in the refrigerator.

Lettuce – Lettuce should ideally be stored unwashed in the refrigerator’s crisper.  If you must prewash your lettuce, make sure to drain it thoroughly and wrap in a paper towel before refrigerating.  Keep lettuce far away from apples and pears which may cause it to wilt faster.

Mango – Unripe mangoes should be stored in pairs in a brown paper bag.  When ripe, mangoes should be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Melon (cantaloupe, honeydew) – Although most people store melons on the counter because they take up space, they should actually be stored in the refrigerator.  While they don’t spoil quickly, melons lose their sweetness the longer they’ve been cut.  If you really have no room in the fridge, store your melons in a cool, humid place.  They should last for 5-7 days outside the fridge.

Mushrooms – Mushrooms can last in the fridge from 3-5 days when stored properly.  Keep them covered with a wet paper towel or stored in a paper bag, as dark, cool places will prolong the life of your mushrooms.

Nectarines – Fully ripe nectarines should be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge, where they can remain fresh for at least 5 days.  Unripe nectarines can be ripened in a paper bag for 1-2 days.  Overripe nectarines can be used in compote, applesauce or fruit soup.

Onions – Instead of refrigerating your onions (as many people do), store yours in a pantry or vegetable drawer, where they will remain fresh for at least 3-4 weeks.  (You may want to line the drawer or pantry to contain the mess of shedding onion skins.)

Oranges – See grapefruits (above).

Peach – See nectarines (above).

Pear – Unripe pears should be stored on the counter in a bowl.  You can hasten the ripening process by keeping your pears near apples or bananas.  Once ripe, place pears in the fridge where they will last for about 5 more days.

Pepper (bell, chili) – Refrigerate peppers immediately to preserve them for 5-7 days.

Plums – Ripen plums in a paper bag for about 2 days.  When ripe, keep plums on the counter (in a bowl) for another 3-4 days.  Overripe plums can be used in fruit soup or fruit compote.

Potatoes – See onions (above).

Radish – Refrigerate dry radishes and they should last 10-14 days.

Rhubarb – Fresh rhubarb should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.  It will last about 5 days.  You can also freeze fresh rhubarb for up to a year.  Cut the rhubarb into small chunks and place in an airtight plastic bag before freezing.

Scallions – For best results, wrap scallions in a wet paper towel and place them in the crisper of the refrigerator.  They should remain fresh for about a week.

Sprouts – Keep sprouts in their original container in the refrigerator before using.  They should last 2-3 days.  Once the container is open, make sure all the sprouts are dry before refrigerating.

Squash – Refrigerate summer squash in a plastic bag for about 5 days.

Strawberries – Store strawberries in the refrigerator in their original packaging.  Make sure they are completely dry and remove all mushy or rotten berries before refrigerating.  Strawberries should last for about 3 days when stored this way.  You can also freeze strawberries for later use.  Wash them quickly in water and place them on a cookie sheet to freeze.  When frozen, transfer strawberries to a plastic bag.  They will last for up to one year in the freezer.

Sweet potatoes – Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark pantry.  They will last for up to a month.  In most cases, mushy or brown spots can be removed from sweet potatoes so that the rest can still be salvaged and enjoyed.

Tomatoes – Ripen tomatoes on the counter in the sun.  When ripe, refrigerate for another 3-5 days.

Watermelon – Store watermelon on the counter for up to two weeks.  Cut watermelon will remain fresh in the fridge for about 3 days.

Zucchini – Zucchini should be stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator where they will last for up to two weeks.  Slightly soft zucchinis can be peeled and used in zucchini bread, soup or casseroles.

To Freeze or Not to Freeze? Food for Thought

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I don’t know about you, but at times I purchase food I think I’ll love, only to find it relegated to the back of the fridge, the corner of the pantry or to a long-forgotten shelf in the freezer.  This trend of neglect is not only terrible because it wastes food, but it wastes money as well, as I’ve spent money on food that will meet its end in the trash, when it should be in my stomach.   What’s worse is that I’m not alone – a 2009 study proved that Americans throw out nearly 40% of all domestically produced food – double the amount that was wasted in 1974.How to store food

I won’t shock you with details such as how if we saved even 25% of today’s wasted food we could feed 20 million people a day.  Instead, I’d like to share with you some tips and tricks for how to store food and how to freeze food that is commonly wasted so that more ends up on our plates and less ends up in the local landfill.  I’ll dedicate this post to non-produce items and next week we’ll focus on fruits and vegetables.

How to Store Dairy Products in the Refrigerator:

  • Dairy should be stored in its original packaging whenever possible.
  • Once a package of cheese is opened, the cheese should be stored in wax paper or loose plastic.
  • Once removed from their original packaging, soft dairy products such as cottage cheese or yogurt should be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.

How to Store Dairy Products in the Freezer:

  • Hard cheeses can be frozen in their original packaging for up to 6 months.
  • Processed cheeses will endure beautifully in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Butter can be frozen for up to 9 months.
  • Milk can be frozen for up to a month.  Be aware that the carton will expand during the freezing process and may explode if there isn’t sufficient room for expansion.  Milk frozen for longer than 1 month may begin to separate.

How to Store Meat and Fish in the Refrigerator:

  • Raw meat, chicken and fish should be kept in its original packaging until you’re ready to cook it.  Opening the packaging increases the risk of disease-causing bacteria latching onto your food.
  • Meat should be stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so that its juices don’t drip onto other foods.
  • Meat should ideally be stored at below 35 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Raw meat, fish and chicken should be used within 1-2 days of entering the fridge.
  • Cured meats can remain in the refrigerator for up to 60 days.

How to Store Meat and Fish in the Freezer:

  • Items that are wrapped tightly should last a long while in the freezer.  Plan your future menus around these guidelines:
  • Type of Meat Freezer Life
    Beef (including ground beef) 6 months
    Cold Cuts 2 months
    Fish 6 months
    Lamb (including ground lamb) 6 months
    Pork (including ground pork) 4 months
    Poultry (including ground poultry) 4 months
    Sausages 2 months
  • Label all meat products with the date before freezing them so that you’ll be reminded to eat them on time.
  • Prepared meat, poultry and fish can be frozen for up to 3 months.  When possible, freeze meat in liquid to retain its flavor and moisture.
  • Prepared meat should be sealed tightly and all air should be removed from the container when possible to preserve the flavor of the food.

How to Store Grains (outside of the freezer):

  • Storing bread in the refrigerator prevents molding but promotes staling.  If possible, store your bread on the counter or in a bread box and use it within 3-5 days.
  • Muffins, cupcakes, pancakes and waffles can all be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
  • Cooked pasta can last in the fridge for up to 7 days.  It should be stored in a tightly sealed plastic bag or Tupperware.
  • Cooked rice can survive in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  After this time it will probably begin to get hard.  Rice in sauce may last up to 4 days.
  • Cakes should be stored on the counter in a cake saver or tightly wrapped in their original packaging.  When sealed properly, homemade cakes can last for up to 7 days, and purchased baked goods may last up to 2 weeks.

How to Store Grains in the Freezer:

  • Make sure to cool all grains before freezing them.
  • Breads should be wrapped in plastic and then in aluminum foil before freezing.  Food prepared in this should last up to 2 months in the freezer.
  • Muffins, cupcakes, pancakes and waffles can be frozen for up to 3 months when wrapped tightly in plastic.
  • Cooked pasta and rice should be sealed in an airtight container or plastic bag.  If sealed properly it should last in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Unfrosted cakes can be wrapped tightly in wax paper and tin foil and frozen for up to 3 months.  Many types of frosting can be frozen separately.
  • Cakes with fruit should not be frozen as they will be soggy when defrosted.

I hope that these guidelines help you to freeze food and store food properly so that you will waste less and enjoy more.  Got any other ways to store food?  Please share by leaving a comment below!

32 Ways to Save on Groceries

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

A few weeks ago I surveyed my friends on Facebook to see how much money people were spending on average at the grocery store each week.  The wide range of responses was truly surprising, but what wasn’t surprising was that everyone seemed to really want to save more money.  I decided then that I’d compile a list of ways to save money on food (that don’t require starvation or extreme compromise on your favorite items).  I’ve come up with 32 ways to save money on food, so that even if you only implement some of them you’ll still enjoy significant savings.  If you have a successful strategy that you don’t see here, please let me know!

  1. Shop at stores that double coupons, and you’ll get double the savings.  Not sure which grocery stores in your area offer coupon doubling? Check out this comprehensive list.
  2. Search for high-value coupons and BOGO deals. You may not be able to double a high-value coupon, but you may be able to save more than you would have with a lesser coupon (even if it’s doubled).
  3. Only buy the freshest produce buying gently aged produce will ensure that it’ll spoil faster and go to waste.
  4. Don’t buy produce in bulk. Approximately 20-30% of produce purchases end up in the garbage – don’t let your purchases become another statistic.
  5. Check your eggs before purchasing them. Why pay money for an egg that is already cracked?
  6. Use cash instead of credit. If you’re trying to stick to a strict budget, shopping with cash is a great way to make sure you don’t overspend.
  7. Shop alone. Shopping with children or friends provides an easy way for unnecessary items to wind up in your cart.
  8. Don’t shop hungry. If you’re hungry in the grocery store chances are good that you’ll end up purchasing frivolous items in addition to your necessities.
  9. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. Everyone likes to feel as though they got a deal, but if you don’t truly need something you can save money on food just by not buying it.  Of course, if you’ll be purchasing the item the next week you might as well take advantage of the sale…
  10. Be wary of expiration dates. When purchasing dairy products, the items in the front are generally the ones that expire first.  You’ll get a longer shelf life out of your purchase if you take the ones from the back, and reduce your chances of throwing away spoiled food.
  11. Shop by unit price, not by sale price.  There are times when economy-sized products are not the thriftiest purchase.  Compare the unit price of small packages vs. larger packages and determine which one is truly a better value.
  12. Look low.  In most stores, cheaper brands are located below eye-level, so don’t hesitate to look down when you’re shopping – you never know what deals you’ll find!
  13. Follow your list.  Enough said.
  14. Plan a menu in advance.  Sticking to your menu is a great way to stick to your list, which will save you money on food.
  15. Plan your menu based on sales.  This week’s menu may already be set, but you can plan next week’s meals based upon what’s on sale this week.  Not only can you take advantage of sales but you’ll be able to cross menu planning off your weekend to-do-list.
  16. Keep a small notebook with acceptable pricing in your purse. This way, you’ll be able to discern between good deals and those that aren’t truly worthwhile.
  17. Ask for a rain check. If a sale item is out of stock, don’t be embarrassed to ask the customer service counter to extend the deal when the shelves are restocked.
  18. Buy generic products. You probably won’t notice the difference between generic oil and brand name oil (or most other products), so why pay more for a brand name?
  19. Only buy produce that is in-season. Not only does produce taste best when it’s in season, but it’s also cheaper when it’s grown in abundance.
  20. Try doing only one monthly shopping. Reducing trips to the grocery store will allow you to save money on gas and to avoid impulsive purchases.  You may need to sneak into the store for some milk or eggs, but you may be able to find these items for a comparable price at your local convenience store or gas station – it’s definitely worth checking out.
  21. Comparison shop. If your neighborhood has multiple grocery stores, make sure you know how much your favorite items cost at each one, so you’ll know you’re getting the best deal.
  22. Don’t shop when you’re tired. You may forget items (and need to return needlessly) or throw things into your cart that you don’t really need or want.
  23. Scan your pantry before leaving the house. Knowing exactly what you’ve got at home will prevent you from throwing extra items into your cart “just in case.”
  24. Ask for a price match guarantee. If you find an item advertised elsewhere for less, ask your grocery store to match the price.  Not only will you save money on the item, but you’ll also save on gas since you won’t need to go to another store.
  25. Plant your own vegetable garden. Even if you’ve got a brown thumb like I do, don’t laugh – gardening is good for the environment, extremely economical and a great educational opportunity for children.  If you don’t have a garden plant some produce such as tomatoes and leafy greens indoors.  Just make sure they get enough sunlight (6-8 hours a day) and water.
  26. Check out dollar stores. You can often find convenient snacks and other foods at dollar stores for…you guessed it…only $1.
  27. Opt for do-it-yourself instead of pre-packaged foods. Why spend $1 on a single packaged cake when you can make several of your own mini-cakes for a similar price?
  28. Freeze your milk. Many consumers are surprised to learn that milk can survive in the freezer for up to 3 months.  If your milk is about to expire, freeze it and take it out when you’re ready to drink it quickly.
  29. Take advantage of freebies. It only takes a few moments to sign up for a freebie, but the savings can really add up.  Free diapers, for example, can save you 25 cents per sample, while a free deodorant can save you $1 over the life of the sample.  Subscribe to freebie newsletters (including mine!) and let the free stuff come right to your door.
  30. Check your Catalina coupons. Most shoppers ignore the coupons that come with their receipt, and shove them into their purse or a grocery bag.  You can save money on groceries by using these coupons, so make sure to treat them responsibly!
  31. Look for discounts at the meat counter. Oftentimes the deli counter will offer deals on meats that are about to reach their sell-by date.  As the butcher if he’s got any specials and throw the meat in the freezer either before or after you cook it.
  32. Review your final bill to check for pricing errors. Why pay more as a result of a cashier’s mistake or scanning error?

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Who Says a Cheap Dinner Can’t be Yummy?

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Since I didn’t get around to posting any easy, cheap recipes last week (sorry!), I want to make it up to you by offering two cheap dinner ideas this week.  Since this is the season of temperamental weather, it’s hard to predict in advance if I’ll want a cold meal or a hot meal at night.  This of course, can throw a wrench in your menu planning.  But have no fear – I’m going to offer you both types of inexpensive recipes so that you can wing it while still adhering to your menu plan.

Tuna Burgers with Salad

Total cost: Under $10 for 4 people

Tuna Burgers:

2 cans of tuna

¼ – ½ cup of mayonnaise

1 cup plain or seasoned breadcrumbs

1 small minced onion

Salt, pepper garlic powder to taste

2 eggs

Mash up the tuna and add the rest of the ingredients.

Shape into patties.

Fry in 1 Tbsp. of oil until golden brown, flipping as needed.

Serve with buns or pita as desired.

Classic Salad:

½ – 1head iceberg lettuce

1 tomato

1 cucumber

Salad Dressing:

¼ cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sugar

2 Tbsp white vinegar

2 cloves garlic minced, or 1 tsp. garlic powder

Mix together and pour over salad.

Save $1 on a StarKist Tuna Pouch – (print multiple copies and stock up now – good until 4/30/10)

And now, for a cold cheap dinner that is perfect on a hot spring or summer day:

cheap-dinnerVegetables and Cheese Sandwich:

Total Cost: Under $5 for 2 people

4 slices of your favorite bread or bagel

2 slices of Swiss or Gouda cheese

½ cucumber, sliced

½ tomato, sliced

2 leaves lettuce

2 tsp. chopped basil

Butter (optional)

Toast bread if desired.  Add butter if desired.  Layer cheese with vegetables, placing the tomato slices closest to the bread.

This sandwich may sound simple, but you’ll be surprised how the basil adds a nice flavor that complements the sharp taste of the cheese.  If you’re looking for inexpensive recipes that taste like expensive gourmet sandwiches, this one is a true winner!

Finish off your meal with Baskin Robbins ice cream – get a coupon by completing this quick survey for an extra-sweet deal.

Bon Appetite,

Billy

Bye-Bye Takeout, Hello Menu Planning

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Eating out is always fun, whether you’re enjoying a juicy entrecote steak or a burger at the drive-thru.  And, even though a hamburger may cost as little as $1.99, the price of eating out can really add up.  Tack on a drink, an extra side dish or even a meal for your partner or child, and you’re already talking about a not-so-small investment.  One way to avoid wasting money (and adding on the pounds) in this way is to start menu planning.

I know you’re thinking that menu planning is a big hassle, that it’s time consuming, and that you’ll never stick to the plan anyway.  But I’ve been experimenting with menu planning for the past 3 months, and I’ve found that it’s been amazingly helpful.  Believe it or not, I’ve even found it extremely doable.  I find myself scouring weekly circulars and coupon books to find food on sale so that I can stock up and weave them into my menu plans throughout the month.  Knowing what I’m going to eat each day has also prevented me from snacking mindlessly in front of the fridge when I can’t figure out what to have for dinner, and, much to my chagrin, has encouraged me to plan healthier meals (and most importantly, to actually make them).

I’m so excited about how menu planning has changed my life, and I really want to share this experience with you.  So, for the next weeks I’ll be guiding you through weekly menu planning and providing recipe advice and encouragement.  Every Thursday through March I’ll be introducing a new and original recipe idea and ideas that can make it easy to create your menu plans either on weekly or monthly basis.

Here’s an easy menu idea to help you get started – I look forward to welcoming you back next week!

Appetizer:

Soup from a can, prepared according to directions (Yes, canned soup is delicious! Try it out with a coupon for Progresso soup )*

Main course:

menu-planning“Mock” Spanish omelet

2 eggs

Splash of milk

3-5 Tbs salsa (to taste)

2 Tbs onion, diced

Grated mozzarella cheese to taste

Red or green peppers, cubed (optional)

Prepare frying pan with oil, butter or cooking spray. Wisk eggs with milk.  Add to frying pan.  Add onion, salsa and peppers.  When the egg begins to separate from the pan, add cheese.  Fold the omelet in half for 1 minute.  Flip.  Omelet is ready when the cheese is melted.

Serve with bread or a tortilla as desired.

I used to eat this quick and inexpensive meal at least once a week.  But now that I’ve started menu planning, I’ve got tons of ideas, so I don’t need to repeat as frequently.  Send me your favorite inexpensive menu ideas today, to billy@billy.com.  I look forward to hearing from you and sharing ideas together!

*As you get more proficient in the kitchen you can personalize canned soups as you desire