I Buy Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
We are a meat eating family and always will be. That being said, meat can be really expensive which is why I stick to boneless skinless chicken breast. It is affordable, healthy and you can use it to make dozens of different meals. In fact, our family rarely buys any other form of meat and we never get sick of eating chicken. Here is how I do that.
I prep my chicken before I cook it. Boneless skinless chicken takes more time in prep than it does to cook. If you do not already realize that, it means you are cooking it wrong and probably serving dry and chewy chicken. Here is my three step process for prepping boneless chicken.
First, you need to beat it down to size. Place your chicken in a freezer bag and use a meat tenderizer (the flat side) to beat the chicken down to between 1/3 and 1/4 of an inch. What this does is tenderize the chicken and get it down to a thickness where it will cook quickly and not dry out.
Second, you need to place the chicken in a brine. Nothing fancy, just a 1/4 cup of Kosher salt per quart of water. Leave the chicken in the brine for 30 minutes. What this does is super hydrate the chicken, making it harder to dry out when you cook it.
The third step is to marinate the chicken. I usually use a commercial marinade (generic) but only use half the bottle which is more than enough to coat your chicken. That gives you two meals per bottle, stretching your budget. Marinade for 30 minutes before cooking in the oven or grill (preferably the grill).
I Buy Frozen Vegetables
While you can certainly argue that fresh vegetables have a bit more flavor and nutrient content, you can also say that frozen vegetables store much better.
We often buy vegetables with good intentions but do not always get to them when we think we are going to. If you buy fresh vegetables, you usually end up throwing them away. That can be extremely wasteful and if you do it often, it can cost you a few hundred dollars a year.
Frozen vegetables are almost as good as fresh, when prepped properly and will last much longer. If you buy something but do not get around to cooking it for a few days or a few weeks, there is no loss because its frozen. As an added benefit, frozen vegetables are already prepped and often come in steam-able bags.
I Buy Generic Staples
By staples, I am referring to rice, pasta and bread. You can make hundreds of meals with these items and they keep forever. Rice and pasta can be stored in the pantry for months and bread can easily go weeks in the freezer. Make sure that you are planning most of your meals around these cheap staples, but avoid the name brands.
There really is no difference between most major brands and the generic. This is especially true when you are talking about pasta and rice, but even store brand bread can be just as good as the heavily advertised brand. By sticking to the generics in this category, you keep the cost of a serving at around 10 to 20 cents and that can really help stretch your food budget and cut down on how much money you need to feed your family.
I Buy “Loss Leaders”
Each week your local grocery stores will release a circular and if you are not reading it, you are missing out. While this might seem like a waste of time, it can save you hundreds of dollars and besides, you really only have to read the front page.
On the front page you will find what are called “loss leaders”. These are the products that stores decide to heavily discount in order to get you into the door. Sometimes it will be meat, sometimes canned goods and other times snacks. Whatever the case, these items are heavily discounted and sometimes even sold for a loss. The idea is to get you into the store so that you can buy more expensive and profitable items.
What I do is simply pick up the “loss leaders” and then do my regular grocery shopping at another store. Sure it would be more convenient to do all your shopping in one place, but nobody ever said saving money would be convenient.
The only caveat to stocking up on “loss leaders” is to make sure the item will store well. It should be an item that you can store or freeze for at least a few months and something that you already use. Don’t let sales prices convince you to try something new, because you might waste money on something you do just won’t eat.
I Never Buy Prepared Food
Labor is expensive and that means that any time a human hand touches your food, the cost goes up. This is why I never buy prepared foods and instead learned to cook all of my own meals. If you are the type of person that has hard time boiling water, this might sound intimidating, but do not let it be. If you take things step by step, you can build up quite a cooking skill set.
Take things slow. Learn how to prep chicken like I talked about above and then start trying a new simple recipe every week or two. And don’t fall for the everything must be fresh garbage. You can cook food just as well with dried spices and frozen ingredients. Even better, it is cheaper to do it that way with much less food waste.
I Never Buy Seasoning Mixes
Well, except for marinades, but those must be generics. Seasoning mixes are just there for convenience and will generally cost you ten to twenty times what mixing up your own spices will cost you. A good example of this is taco seasoning packets.
A taco seasoning packet is around 1 dollar, which honestly is not a lot of money until you consider the cost of spices. Instead of paying 1 dollar for a single mix, you can spend about 15 dollars and get all of the individual spices. You can then mix it up and tweak it to your particular taste. You can also cut the cost per serving down from a dollar to closer to 10 cents. It is a little thing, but little things add up in the end.