Important Things to Remember:
- Pretty much any recipe can be modified. If it calls for an ingredient you wouldn’t normally buy and will never use except for that recipe, it can possibly be left out. For example, a lot of recipes will call for a spice that I never use – I just leave it out OR substitute that spice for something I know I have and will like (for main spices this is not recommended). If the recipe calls for some kind of meat you never use, just substitute something different (for example, one of the recipes I have calls for shrimp – I don’t like shrimp and won’t buy it; I’ll use chicken instead). Cheeses are the same way (why buy 5 different kinds of cheese when 2 or 3 works just well and will save me money?), as well as pastas. I also modify amounts. If a recipe calls for a pound of ground beef, I often use half. If a recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts, I’ll use 1 or 2. If I want more protein than what I’ll get by modifying the amount of meat, I’ll add beans to the recipe (and believe it or not, it’ll still taste good!).
- I almost never buy a name brand or ready-made product. If a recipe calls for Kraft dressing, I’ll either buy the off-brand or make my own. If a recipe calls for ready-to-eat bacon or chicken strips, I’ll buy it raw and cook it myself. Yes, it might save you a little bit of time to buy ready-cooked, but you’ll save more money going the “old-fashioned” route. There are occasions when buying ready-made is best but not very often.
- Almost everything is cheaper frozen, meats included. Some people really don't like to buy frozen meats and that's fine. Juices and Vegetables are also cheaper frozen. Of course, produce always tastes better fresh, but especially in off-season times anyway, you may as well go with frozen.
- There are some things that will freeze and keep just fine that most people don’t think about. I have frozen cream cheese many times and it always turns out fine (just defrost it in the refrigerator), any cheeses (they usually thaw better if they are shredded before freezing), milk (just pour a little bit out first so it doesn’t explode when freezing and then be sure to shake it up when it’s thawed), and egg substitute (which we always buy because it’s healthier). If you see something on sale that you will probably use a lot of (but not before it all goes bad), buy a bunch and freeze it (assuming, of course, you have freezer room). Just remember that if you freeze anything to use containers and packaging that is "freezer approved". You wouldn't want to buy extra things and then have it all go bad just because you didn't put it in the right kind of container.
- As much as possible, I try to make my own breads. This doesn’t always happen, but it is so much cheaper to make your own rather than buy and they always end up tasting better. Most “bread” recipes that call for a bread machine can be made just as easily by hand and really are not as time consuming as we assume. If you make more loaves of bread (or any other bread product) than you can eat very quickly, you can always freeze it and just pull it out the night before you use it and let it thaw on your counter (doughs can also be frozen: just be sure to add extra yeast to help be sure it won't all die and then thaw it in the refrigerator). Also, bread keeps for a little longer than normal if you refrigerate it. And remember that proper packaging applies to breads too!
Check back on Monday for Part VI of the Menu Plan Series!