Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stocking Up: Your Pantry Can Save You Money!


Making something out of nothing (almost!)

If you were to look in my cupboards, the first thing you’d think is that they need to be organized. The second thing you’d think, is that there really isn’t much in there! Oh, but there is….. it’s just not instant. When I can, I do stock some convenience items. I do believe in buying a couple of treats, because they simply make you happy. There is actually a mix or two somewhere (though I can't think of any at the moment). Chocolate is on the list, and I can’t live without coffee and/or tea. But here are the staples you will need in order to create most of the recipes in this blog:

· Powdered milk, either nonfat, or whole. I LOVE a product you can only find in the Mexican section of your supermarket, called Nido. It is in a can, and it is a powdered whole milk. I use this in baking and cooking to replace the fresh milk so I can save that for drinking. If this is the only tip you take from this blog, take this one. Wonderful to have in emergency situations, too!

· Self rising flour

· Regular flour

· Bread flour (optional, but if you make bread, buy this)

· Whole wheat flour

· Sugar, white and brown

· Eggs (or powdered eggs, for when you run out)

· Regular milk for drinking- don’t even try to get your kids to drink powdered milk, unless you are going to mix it with chocolate or strawberry syrup. Make sure it’s well-chilled, too.

· Cheese. I buy 2 lb. bags of shredded (real) cheese for about $7 each. Typically, I buy a Mexican blend, and Mozzarella, and then a couple of smaller bags of Italian blend for about $2 each. If they came bigger, I’d buy ‘em!

· Pasta, different varieties

· Butter

· Canola oil

· Olive oil (I like extra virgin)

· Large (29 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes. I buy concentrated crushed tomatoes but regular crushed tomatoes work just fine. They get used in lots of recipes, so you will want at least 3 in the cupboard at the beginning of the month.

· Ground turkey- this is a sneaky little item that I buy in plastic “chubs” or sleeves for about $1.86 a pound. I use it in place of ground beef in most everything, and I love, love, love, the sausage version. It has the added benefit of being healthier, too!

· Other meat: buy in bulk on this one, divide up and freeze in 1 lb packages until you need them. I actually tend to use less meat than most- we use it more like a flavoring, and I don't tend to use much red meat as most people do. But there is room in this $300 budget for red meat if you like it.

· Rice: I like Jasmine, or Basmati, which is a little more expensive but has more complex carbohydrates than other rice, as well as a superior flavor. Do not boil and drain, or you will lose the B vitamins. I will give you a fool-proof way to make it that won’t let you down (It is not my method, credit the Japanese). This is one of those items that cost a bit more, but pay off in the end. Give brown rice a try, too.

· Ground flax meal (in the baking section): This is extremely good for you and undetectable in baked goods, although the flavor is nice- a mild, nutty taste. A terrific source for Omega-3 fatty acids, and for the money, the best you will find. It’s also a fat substitute, and has the added benefit of keeping your digestive system happy.

· Wheat germ- strangely, in the cereal section. Wonderful in bread.

· Yogurt- both vanilla and plain. This is another place where I spend more than the minimum. I’m looking for live active cultures, and there is a lowfat brand that is organic, and tastes spectacular. No matter how good for you something is, if you can’t get your kids to eat it, it isn’t going to work. I like Stonyfield Farm’s lowfat versions, and I buy the big 32 oz. containers. This works great for sour cream, and for creaming up sauces. I also mix crispy rice cereal and other cereals with the vanilla yogurt for my two year old, because it makes the cereal stick to her spoon. She gets those great live active cultures to boost her immune system and aid in digestion, and it tastes fantastic. Also: it doesn’t spill like liquid milk!

· Cereal: Buy the bagged generic versions, and get the large one. I only buy one a month, but you may need more. Skip the branded versions- they cost way too much, and you can get more for less buying generic.

· Oatmeal: I love stone cut for eating, but will use old fashioned oats too. Quick oats are good for baked goods and sneaking into things for filler. Good in meatloaf, great binder (you can grind it a bit in a magic bullet, blender, or food processor.

· Juice: Buy the frozen kind that you add water to. Make sure it’s 100% juice… And you can make “soda” by adding carbonated water, too. Very refreshing, and good for kids.

· Speaking of soda water: I can buy a gallon of regular water for 99 cents. I can buy two liters of soda for 68 cents (though I buy very little). Yet one liter of carbonated water costs me nearly two dollars. Can someone explain this? Meanwhile, check this out: Soda Club USA. I don't have one yet, but all the reviews are VERY favorable. You can make your own soda and soda water! Cost of the unit is about $100 and is very economical to use.

· Applesauce and canned fruits: I usually have bananas around, and whatever fruit is in season, but if you run out, you have this to fall back on. Buy unsweetened versions, or the cans with juice instead of “heavy syrup.” Also, you can make great cobblers from canned peaches. Just buy the generic brands, or catch a sale.

· Dried fruit, like raisins and apricots. I personally love dried cherries.

· Tortillas: these, like pasta can be made with the ingredients on this list, but for the sake of saving time, I buy them. If you are lucky enough to have a Tortilleria around, take advantage. There’s nothing like a fresh tortilla, either flour or corn. And you know those wraps that are popular now? Basically, they are tortillas. Most manufacturers make them without lard now.

· Frozen vegetables: Buy fresh whenever you can. Many farmer’s markets accept food stamp benefits, too. However, I always like to have frozen vegetables on hand in the freezer because they are instant, and take a lot longer to go bad. Make sure you’ve got frozen spinach: This is one of the few vegetables that is better for you cooked, because it shrinks up and you get more that way. You can sprinkle it into things for a touch of color, and get some vitamins into unsuspecting kids. I add it to soups, and spaghetti sauce, nearly everything- like parsley, only healthier.

· Instant potato flakes: Yep, I’ve got an instant item in my pantry. Note that this isn’t a mix. Never buy those potato mixes like “garlic and chives,” etc. (Who doesn't have garlic?). I'm talking about simple dried potato flakes, with nothing else added. You can use these for thickening sauces, making soup, an instant meal in a hurry, or even a type of pasta called gnocchi.

· Spices: I can’t live without garlic powder (not garlic salt), onions, both powdered and minced, basil, oregano, vanilla, nutmeg, paprika, pepper, poultry seasoning, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper. Buy the basics, then add as you go- they last a long time. Most of these I buy for 50 cents. There are few times when the expensive version is better.

Also, try that Mexican section of the grocery store again, because often you can find packets of spices and shaker jars for very cheap prices. A wonderful place to find things like chipotle and other peppers, both dried and canned. About nutmeg: buy the whole nutmegs. Just suck it up and pay the extra money. They last forever. When you grate a real nutmeg, folks, the taste is nothing like the ground stuff that comes in the shaker bottle. The taste is an epiphany-they are much more delicious and almost delicate when you grate them yourself.

· Baby food carrots. You need this if you have kids, and think you are going to get them to eat homemade macaroni and cheese. In order to get them to eat this, no matter how wonderful it tastes, you will need to make the stuff fluorescent. This seems to be a universal kid requirement, this fluorescent orange color. Carrots do the trick, and are good for them, too. And they’ll never know unless you tell them, if you don’t add too much. Also wonderful in spaghetti sauce!

· Cocoa, and yes, a generic bottle of chocolate syrup. Used judiciously, this stuff can get your kid drinking milk, or provide a welcome treat. I think it’s unlikely that we can eliminate all preservatives and artificial colors/flavors from our diet. I just try to keep it to the bare minimum. You can also make chocolate syrup from cocoa and keep it in the fridge.

· Honey, and molasses, which add flavor and color to foods as well as sweetness. Molasses has the added benefit of being the only sweetener with nutritional value, and it’s a powerhouse: you get great amounts of Potassium, Calcium, iron, Choline, Magnesium, and Selenium, as well as other trace vitamins and minerals. When I looked that up and saw the actual nutrient value, I decided to just eat a spoonful every day.

· Fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Go to the farmer’s market, buy in bulk and can or freeze. Another great option: farmer’s co-ops. This is where you buy a “share” of what is grown, and you get boxes once or twice a month full of fresh vegetables.

Buy in season, no matter where you pick up your produce. Produce from other countries is much less regulated for pesticides than that grown in the United States. And it costs a lot more (this can only get worse as fuel costs go up). In any event, it’s always my favorite thing to step onto the porch and snip some fresh herbs. They look pretty, planted with some clover, which helps to add nitrogen back into the soil like a living fertilizer. How cool is that? A little mustard keeps bugs away, and tastes good in salad, too.

I've mentioned before that I shop at my favorite superstore, Walmart. I'm sure there are other stores that have great values as well, but the truth is they get the bulk of my grocery money because I save at least 40% by shopping there. Another store I LOVE, but we don't have one nearby: Trader Joe's. If you have one, go there! Trader Joe's if you're listening, please come to SC!

My sister has to send me things from CA, because there are some things you can only get at Trader Joe's, and I'm not kidding when I say the prices and the food items are incredible. They have lots of other things, too, like gourmet items including wine and cheese: Foodie Heaven.

No comments: