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I love good food. Whether I sit down to eat a simple lunch or plan an elaborate dinner with friends, I want to eat wholesome food that tastes wonderful and gives my body the fuel and nourishment it needs to be healthy.
But really good food is expensive, right? Well, it can be, but it doesn't have to be. Lately I've learned a few shopping tricks that have allowed me to enjoy the foods I love and save money.
Shop the Bulk Section
Find a grocery store that has a bulk section, with bins of flour, grains, pastas, dried beans, dried fruits, cereals and spices. You'd be amazed how much money you can save--and you only have to buy the amount you need.
The other day I ran out of bay leaves. Instead of spending $6.50 for a pre-packed bottle containing about 10 leaves, I purchased a small plastic bag full of leaves for 30 cents. How's that for saving money? Whenever I need whole-wheat pastry flour (which needs to be stored in the refrigerator, by the way), instead of spending almost $10 for a package that's more than I need, I can buy a couple cups for around $2.
Buy Whole Cuts of Meats
At the meat counter, look for meats that haven't been cut into individual portions. It's about 30 percent more expensive to buy single cuts, because it takes human labor to, for example, take apart a whole chicken--and that labor is reflected in the price you pay.
Check it out: Two boneless, skinless chicken breasts weigh about a pound. For the same price, you can buy a whole chicken that yields 6 individual cuts--two legs, two thighs and two breasts. If you've never cut apart a chicken before, check out this short tip on how to do it. With a little practice, you too can break down a chicken in a few minutes. As a bonus, you will have bones to make chicken stock, another food product that costs four times less than the prepackaged version.
Look for Produce in Season
When shopping for fruits and vegetables, try to buy what's in season. These items are less expensive because there's a flood of them on the market. (That means lower prices for you and me.) As an added benefit, produce that's picked when ripe actually contains higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals. So instead of buying that little tiny box of $5 blueberries during the winter (which were probably picked before they were ripe and given a ripening gas during transportation), try some apples, pears or citrus fruits.
If you're going to take the time to make a great meal, why not make a larger batch and save the leftovers? A couple years ago I purchased a vacuum sealer machine, and it's probably one of the most often used appliances in my kitchen. If I have leftovers, I can freeze individual portions in the vacuum seal bags. Not only do I prevent freezer burn, but now I have a quick and easy dinner for later. Simply reheat the frozen meal in a pan of warm water for 10 to 20 minutes and dinner is served! This works especially well for soup, stew or chili. Try this with my recipe for Cauliflower, Leek and Potato Soup or Carrot Cumin Soup.
When ingredients spoil, you're throwing money into the garbage. Instead of going to the grocery store once a week, plan out your meals every week and try several smaller shopping trips. Once I changed my shopping habits and only purchased what I'd be eating for the next couple days, I threw less spoiled food away. By looking back on what I spent on groceries, I found I could save about $50 a month. Learn how to keep produce fresh once you buy it.
Get to know the person behind your food. Shopping at smaller stores, co-ops and farmers markets is a good way to do this. They can help you make smarter decisions about what's fresh and produced locally, and help you find good bargains in the meat, seafood, deli, and produce areas.
Spend time talking to the butcher, fishmonger and baker. I've found that by developing these relationship, I learn what's really fresh, what's going to be on sale, and where the good values are. Often times I'll tell my butcher what I'm cooking and he'll steer me toward cuts of meat I haven't considered. I've saved a bundle by following his advice.
If you have other ideas for how to save green at the grocery store, please post them on the Ask the Chef message board. I'd love to hear what members are doing to make their dollars stretch farther in the checkout line.
About the Author
After 12 years in marketing, Tselani Richmond shed her corporate responsibilities and headed to Paris, where she studied cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, finishing first in both disciplines. She turned her sights on Parisian kitchens, working at Guy Savoy, a three-star Michelin restaurant, and at the famous pastry shop Pierre Herme. Tselani lives in Portland, Ore., and works as a personal chef, cooking instructor and food writer.