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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Frugality (Part XVII): More Bang for Your Grocery Buck

I've had this post percolating in my mind for some time now. With the New Year, a lot of people are thinking of ways they can save money or make their money go farther. A friend of mine is sending her son off to college and work next year and is trying to prepare him for adult life with those "What do you wish you knew?" kind of topics. Here is something I learned that I wish I knew when I was first starting out on my own: You don't have to buy exactly what you want to get something wonderful.

If we were on a more restricted budget than we have now, if we had to really make every penny count, and couldn't buy our meat in bulk or choose to buy locally or organic, I would stick to certain cuts of meat and certain fruits and vegetables, only getting other kinds for special occasions. Generally speaking, tough cuts of meat and root/winter vegetables - things that store well or take a long time to cook. The pay off is that they are inexpensive and have a ton more flavor. I mention soup and stock bones frequently here. These are usually quite meaty, and the meat can be removed and used for other dishes before you finish simmering the stock, or can be used as the meat in your soup quite generously. Learning how to cut down poultry is an excellent skill, but even if you don't want to do that, learning how to roast a bird is something that is manageable for anyone (and some people like to "roast" them, braise them really, in their crock pots and come up with broth as well as meat), the meat can be used for multiple meals, then the carcass used to make soup/stock.

Fresh Herbs:

Parsley
Cilantro
Ginger
Scallions

Vegetables:

Onions
Garlic
Celery
Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
Winter Squash (these can keep for months!)
Carrots
Salad Greens
Radishes (which can be eaten fresh, or cooked and are made more mild that way)
Apples (which can be gotten out of season as storage fruit)
Bananas
Frozen Peas
Frozen Corn
Frozen Pepper Strips (Trader Joe's has these for a very reasonable price, and so does Safeway, I find them on sale at Fred Meyer and a local chain grocer as well)

Poultry:

Whole Turkey (stock up when they are free/cheap around Thanksgiving and Christmas)
Whole Chicken
Drumsticks
Thighs
Leg Quarters
(Wings are often cheap, but aren't as good a meat to skin/bone ratio, in my opinion)

Beef (some of these may be harder to find if you only have a grocery store butcher, but keep your eyes open):

Shanks
Shin Bones
Oxtail
Chuck (ground, roast or steak)
Stew Meat
Cube Steaks
Rump
Heel
Neck Bones
Soup Bones
Short Ribs (meaty ones, English style)
Tongue (if you are brave)
Heart (likewise)

Pork:

Shoulder (strips, cubes or roast - also found as country style "ribs")
Ground (to use in meatloaf, meatballs, or to make your own bulk sausage)
Ham (when they go on sale around holidays)
Ham Hocks
Shanks
Bacon Ends (for using in soups, stews, seasoning beans, in gratins, and so on)

Lamb and veal are often hard to get at a decent price, but if you live where you can find it inexpensively, this is what I'd recommend.

Lamb:

Lamb Shanks
Shoulder (roast, chops, steaks)
Neck Bones
Ground Lamb
Stew Meat
Bones for Stock/Soup
Leg of Lamb (when it goes on sale around holidays, it can be used as is, or cut into cubes/strips for other meals)

Veal (if you can find it inexpensively at all):

Ground Veal
Shoulder Roast
Stew Meat
Shanks (osso bucco)
Neck Bones
Shin Bones

Even if these were the only fresh/frozen things you bought for a year, you could make so many different and interesting meals with these that you wouldn't feel deprived. However, if you added fresh, in season produce when it was plentiful and on sale, you could add more variation to your meals as well. Obviously, you don't need to buy most or all of these. We only buy pears in the fall, we only buy oranges and most citrus in the winter, we buy berries and stone fruit in the summer. There are other vegetables and fruit I'd add to this list if the budget were above bare minimums, but if you are on a subsistence budget, this would be a good place to start. We are blessed not to have to pare down our budget like this, but I am glad to know that I could feed my family on rather little if it were necessary, and I try to keep recipes and menus at the ready for if the economy turns, or something else happens that means we need to tighten our belts. Honestly, if we had to, I could pare these lists down quite a bit, too. I am simply trying to offer options to choose from for folks who either have to or wish to stretch their grocery budget more.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
Soup
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips
Storing Bulk Purchases
Turn It Off
Grow Your Own
Buying in Bulk
Gleaning
Entertainment on the Down Low
Finding Fun Locally
Holiday Shopping
Reconsidering Convenience

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