The economy has become a topic of idle conversation like never before. No longer do acquaintances need to begin with the weather or weekend plans when there are major market fluctuations to discuss.
Though dinner planning typically centers around other markets, the economy is having an increasingly wide-spread affect on people’s food choices.
It can take a little time to re-orient your food thinking and planning, but I promise that you will find that these tips make you more creative, and don’t limit you at all. Here are five characteristics of dollar-saving dinners that I unconsciously incorporate into my meal planning:
1. In stock
When I recently re-organized my kitchen cabinets, I was shocked at how much food we have. I could probably get by for at least a month or two on what is already in my kitchen – even longer when you add in my farm share. Now when I plan out menus for dinner parties, I force myself to base what I am cooking around what I already have. Not only is this saving dollars, but tons of time on shopping and menu-planning.
2. From scratch
Forbes magazine recently put out an article on the cost of laziness (from J.D. at Get Rich Slowly). Buying prepared or pre-packaged food in the grocery store or other food purveyor is probably one of the most clear ways that most Americans are letting go of large chunks of unnecessary change. I put together a very popular Indian dinner a few weeks back using rice, lentils, and some vegetables from my freezer for eight people and didn’t spend ANY money. If I had bought mixes from the grocery store or prepared items for a nearly restaurant, I would have easily spent $25 – $60 dollars.
3. In season
“In season” also means “in abundance.” If you are lucky enough to live in an area with farming close by, you are probably familiar with seasonal produce sales. For the month or so when strawberries and blueberries are ripe for picking, they flood the shelves of New England groceries at almost half the regular price, and lucky folks return from berry picking with huge flats of berries for only ten or twenty dollars. Knowing what produce, mushrooms, and even meat and fish are in season will help you take advantage of the increased supply that is flooding the market and lowering prices.
4. In bulk
I used to love making beautiful individual portions of garnished soups or fish cooked in parchment. This was clearly costing me more time, but also, somewhat surprisingly, more money. It is much cheaper and faster to get a large cut of meat or fish (on sale or from the nearest store), than individual, equally-sized portions, and you save on those fancier garnish items. The extra bonus: yummy leftovers will save you from buying lunch or dinner out the next day.
No, I am not saying this because I just saw Food, Inc. Meat is a luxury and it is expensive. It has been since the dawn of hunting and currency (respectively). However, we as a society have become so used to eating meat every day, sometimes with several meals, that we has largely lost consciousness of this concept. As far as proteins go, you can make an equal sized portion of lentils for pennies on the dollar compared with meat. Even eggs are a much more economical option. You may gasp at the thought of preparing a vegetarian meal or think that your guests might grumble at the lack of a meat dish. But I promise you, when the food is elegantly and deliciously prepared, you’ll be surprised how likely it is that they won’t even notice.
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