If there’s one room in almost any home that could be considered a “money pit,” it’s the kitchen. I think I could go grocery shopping every single day and still never run out of things to buy.
Everyone is always hungry, always eating, always costing me money!
Way back during the ultra-frugal days when we owned just three pieces of furniture and I dried our wet laundry on lines in the basement, I constantly had to search for new ways to save money if I hoped to make it to the next paycheck.
I never went a week without making a menu plan, and I clipped coupons like our lives depended on it. Because they sort of did. I also learned a whole lot of ways to stretch a dollar by stretching the food in our kitchen.
18 Ways to Save Money in the Kitchen
1. Use green peppers instead of red peppers.
When making a recipe, use the cheaper green peppers, rather than the more expensive colored peppers. Also look for other less expensive produce you can use in recipes. Make an apple pie instead of blueberry. Serve carrots or sweet potatoes instead of green beans or asparagus.
2. Make homemade chicken stock.
I love, love, love homemade chicken stock. I love using up the scraps of chicken; I love smelling it on the stove; I love how yummy it is in recipes like homemade chicken soup. It is so much better than the canned stuff!
3. Serve pasta. A lot.
Pasta is cheap and kids love it. For years, our family practically lived off the stuff. One of our favorite pasta recipes is Baked Rigatoni. Yum!
4. Use dried herbs instead of buying fresh.
In many recipes, dried herbs can be substituted for fresh ones. Use about a third the amount of dried herbs that you would use for fresh (i.e. one teaspoon dried herbs equals three teaspoons of fresh).
5. For fresh herbs, grow your own.
I have a brown thumb and tend to kill every plant that dares come through my door, but even I can usually grow herbs (at least for a little while). Growing your own, even if you only keep them alive long enough to use a few times, is much cheaper than buying them in bunches or packs at the grocery store.
6. Use dried beans instead of canned.
When making chili, beans and rice, or bean soup, use dried beans instead of canned. You can even pre-cook the beans and freeze them in two-cup portions in freezer bags so they’re easy to substitute for the canned version in recipes.
7. Use plain yogurt or sour cream instead of buttermilk.
I nearly always use diluted plain yogurt or sour cream when making biscuits or pancakes. As a general rule, I use about two-thirds yogurt (or sour cream) and one-third milk. It’s not an exact science. You just want the consistency to be thin enough without being too runny.
8. Use basic cookbooks without complex ingredients.
My favorite cookbooks use simple, basic ingredients that I usually have on hand. The cost of meals can really add up when you have to buy exotic or expensive ingredients that will only be used in one recipe that you aren’t even sure your family will like. If you don’t have a high-quality, basic cookbook, try Joy of Cooking – it’s one of my favorites!
9. Cut meat before serving.
Meat stretches much further when you’re not putting a whole steak or chicken breast on each person’s plate. Slice the meat in the kitchen before it’s served. As a bonus, you don’t have to spend the first fifteen minutes of your meal cutting up bites for all your little people.
10. Prepare tacos for the family.
When the kids fix their own tacos, the meat seems to disappear before everyone even makes it through the line. When you fix the tacos all at once, you can “ration” the meat and stretch it to fill each shell. It helps to stand up the shells in a 9 x 13 baking dish to keep them from falling over while you’re making them.
11. Buy bottled “real lemon juice” instead of lemons.
Lemons can be expensive! Bottled juice works just as well in most recipes. We even use it to make homemade lemonade and can’t tell a difference.
12. Cut out recipe ingredients that won’t be missed.
Unless you’re a chef or have a well-trained palate, you likely won’t be able to pick out every single flavor in a recipe. Be on the lookout for ingredients you can leave out without it having much effect on the finished dish.
13. Make simple and inexpensive side dishes.
Look for ways to prepare side dishes from things like rice, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. These foods are cheap and can be prepared a variety of ways. You can also add homemade biscuits, cornbread, or a loaf of French bread to your meal to help make the main dish stretch a little further.
14. Don’t go grocery shopping.
Every now and then, challenge yourself to go a little longer than usual between shopping trips. When you have to “shop” your pantry, fridge, or freezer to come up with meals and snacks, it forces you to get creative and use foods that would otherwise be wasted or overlooked.
15. Don’t serve dessert.
I may sound like a mean mom (and maybe I am), but I rarely ever make dessert. When the budget is tight, it’s too costly to use the eggs and butter in treats. Plus, when you only serve dessert occasionally, it’s truly special.
16. Cost out by number of servings.
When shopping for packaged items, such as bags of apples and oranges, opt for buying bags with more pieces of smaller fruit. You usually only eat (or serve to your kiddo) one apple or orange at a time, so a 3-pound bag with twelve smaller apples will last longer than the same weight bag with ten larger ones.
17. Bake homemade bread.
I used to make all of our bread. With practice, French bread was quick to make and everyone liked it much more than the store-bought varieties. Plus, it’s much better for pairing with soups or serving beside pasta.
18. Plan for using leftovers.
Get creative with using leftovers on your menu plan. For each meal you plan, try to think of a second meal you can write on your menu that uses the leftovers. You’ll be much more likely to actually use them if it’s written on your plan.
Start small and keep saving!
When money is tight, every penny counts, and every cent adds up to dollars over time. The more you implement small changes to save money, the more you’ll start looking for even more ways to save.
Sometimes it’s the little things that propel you to search out bigger ways to improve your family’s finances. Use these ideas as a springboard for your own money-saving solutions!
What are some of your favorite ways to save money in the kitchen?