The following is a guest post from reader Linda Brown. Linda is a a native Floridian who designed wedding cakes for over 30 years until a health problem forced her into early retirement. She now has a renewed approach to the meaning of frugality and what it can mean to financial goals and the future. She coupons, gardens, bakes and collects old recipe books.
Most of us have begun to make some changes in our homes to reduce waste, save energy, and protect the environment and have found that one of the benefits is that we save money because of our efforts.
One place I have started working on is in the kitchen. I have been using websites to find the best deals on groceries by using coupons and found that in the process I was getting a lot more for my money and started eating out less. But I hate to admit it, I was also wasting food. So I have decided to finally curb this waste. We don’t peel potatoes anymore, I’ve decided it’s too much waste and you peel away a good portion of the vitamins and minerals. We have found that we love the skins.
Check your produce bin often and use the vegetables available. Find out which items you most often throw away and find if they freeze well, or if they can be used in other ways like vegetable stock, soups and stews, or omelets and quiches. Compost your vegetables that are past their usefulness.
Composting does not mean having an ugly pile of stinky rotting stuff or an expensive tumbler. Just get an old garbage can and cut the bottom out and dig a hole deep enough for it. Use the lid with holes punched in it for air circulation to keep too much rain and critters from getting in. Add leaves, yard clippings and your kitchen scraps (no meat/dairy products). Mix it occasionally with a pitchfork. Eventually you will have your own handy compost made by your own kitchen scraps and it will be a great organic treat for all your plants.
Fruits are also another wasteful offender. I was routinely letting bananas, a family favorite, over-ripen to the point that my family would not eat them. So I began freezing them and found that not only do they freeze well but they make delicious milkshakes and smoothies and by adding just a few more ingredients like blueberries, strawberries, or mangos not only is it a healthy treat it is also really tasty. Or they can be used for banana bread, muffins, waffles or pancakes! I’ll never throw away a banana again. To make them even more of a bargain throw the peels into your worm bed or compost bin. Or bury older bananas in the garden by a prized plant to enrich the soil. I actually threw some peach pits into my worm bin last summer and this week noticed that I have 3 peach trees coming up! I am going to try and pot them and see if I get some viable peach trees.
Another money saver is spices. Spices age fast. I would suggest cleaning your spices every year and checking which spices are out of date. Also just going through that spice rack might inspire you want to use those expensive items in an exciting new way. You will also know better what you have on-hand, and instead of buying duplicates invest in an old standby that should be in your cabinet. Dehydrated onions, garlic powder, celery seed, parsley flakes all can be used when you are out of a fresh ingredient.
Meat is a high ticket item. Big savings can be realized in this category just by making a few adjustments. I have found that meat isn’t necessary for every dinner. We have at least one night a week that is meatless or very little meat is added. A hearty bean soup with a few ham chunks is always a delicious meal with a warm pan of fresh cornbread. Baked mac and cheese with a small amount of diced leftover chicken or white tuna added is a kid-friendly easy meal. Pasta with a small amount of vegetables and leftover diced meats and a creamy milk sauce also is a family favorite. I also like to find marked down ground beef in large bulk packages. I immediately come home and brown the beef (and make a few meatballs for sandwiches) and put it into freezer bags after cooling. I use this for chili, tacos and enchiladas, sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce, goulash, and any number of great and fast dishes.
Finally take a look in the pantry before shopping. Take note of what you have so you will not spend money unnecessarily. These items last longer but not forever. Rotate older items to the front. You can freeze flour and flour based items if you find a really good sale. Just make sure to wrap well first and date it.
A few easy ways to use some stale or past their prime items:
Crackers: Crush and put on top of casseroles with small amount of butter dotted makes a delicious and crunchy au gratin.
Broccoli: If it is limp but still good, chop and add to cooked rice or noodles and leftover chopped meats for a delicious baked casserole topped with cheese.
Bread: Make croutons, grilled sandwiches, toast and use as stuffing, french toast, add to meatloaf, dry and put in blender for bread crumbs, feed birds or chickens
Old spices: Can use but strength is usually much reduced as it ages. There are exceptions. Use to deter pests in garden.
What is your favorite way to use stale or past their prime grocery items?