Eat Well for Less: Save Money in the Kitchen

The easiest place for most people to start when they're looking to save money is with the food budget. Unlike mortgage payments and other big expenses, food costs are variable, and grocery shoppers have more control over their purchases. Depending on lifestyle and personal preferences, families can employ dozens of different strategies for saving on food, from planting a garden to baking from scratch. Not every strategy will be right for everyone, but all are worth trying.

Small Changes Mean Big Savings on Food

Saving starts with considering waht a family eats each day. If a family eats out several times a week, cutting back to once a week or less results in immediate savings. If both parents and the children eat lunch out every day, they could save fifty or a hundred dollars a week by taking sack lunches instead.

Using less of something is a time-honored way to save money. Cutting back on expensive ingredients or substituing less expensive ones can cut costs without sacrificing taste. Many dessert recipes, for example, taste the same when the amount of sugar used is cut by up to one-third.

Replacing expensive sodas, chips, and pre-packaged snacks with homemade tea or lemonade, cookies, fruit or popped corn is another way to save. Some family members might compain about these changes initially, but if everyone will commit to this program for one month, at the end of that time, they may find you don’t miss the old snacks at all.

Save Money by Cooking From Scratch

Prepackaged and convenience meals add dollars to the grocery bill. Cooking from scratch saves a lot of money. Homemade foods taste better and tend to have less fat, salt and preservatives than prepackaged foods. And cooking from scratch isn't as difficult as it looks. The library is full of cookbooks; a selection of these can help reluctant cooks to experiment and learn their way around the kitchen. Cooking is also an enjoyable family project, with mom and dad and the children all pitching in to put together a meal.

For those who don't have time during the week to cook, taking one day each weekend to prepare meals is a money-saving approach. Having meals ready in the freezer cuts down on last-minute dashes for fast food and eases weekday dinnertime stress.

Plan to Save Money at the Grocery Store

Writing down menus for one, two, or even a month's worth of meals helps cooks plan what to buy and takes the guesswork out of what to prepare each night. A mix of family favorites and new dishes keeps things from getting boring. Writing down menus helps avoid wasting food, too, and allows shoppers to take advantage of sales.

In addition to planning meals, it's a good idea to look ahead and anticipate how to make each meal go further. Adding more vegetables on the side, may allow the main dish stretch to two meals. Leftovers from dinner can go into lunches the next day.

A large cut of meat such as a ham, a roast, or a chicken, can furnish ingredients for several meals. Items such as pot pies, tacos, burritos, stir fries, and casseroles are good ways to use leftovers for new meals.

New Recipes Can Lower Food Spending

A vegetarian dish one day a week or more can shave dollars and cents from the food budget. Vegetarian meals are healthy and generally very inexpensive. Even die-hard meat lovers usually like bean burritos, vegetable lasagna, or a hearty vegetable soup.

Ethnic dishes, such as quesadillas, stir-fry or pasta with sauce are also money savers. These kinds of meals use less expensive meat, and are often quick to fix and fun to eat. Homemade pizza and homemade soups are quick to fix and inexpensive as well.

Slow-cooker meals, outdoor grilling, and recipes that utilize the microwave can save energy as well as money.

Entertaining for Less

Meals for guests don't have to be gourmet fare. Home-cooked comfort food such as a seafood casserole, a pot roast or even meat loaf and mashed potatoes will entertain guests as well as steak and lobster. Ethnic themed meals such as Mexican, Italian or Indian dishes can also be inexpensive and festive. Brunch, a dessert party or a backyard barbecue are other fun options that aren't expensive.