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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Using Less Butter and Extending Our Grocery Budget

For those of us on a tight grocery budget and using butter instead of margarine, the price of butter can be a bit of a pain-point, right? Really, $3 or more for a tiny 10-in by 3-in box just seems so out of proportion compared to how much food you can get for that same $3. 

For the past year, my usual price per butter, buying store-brand on a senior discount day, has been $2.51/lb, and I realize that is a good price for butter. This last week, I was able to buy 5 pounds on a special 2-day only sale for $1.99/lb. I bought all I was allowed to, obviously. But 5 pounds wouldn't last long in a household of 4 adults, for whom I cook and bake almost entirely from scratch, unless I implemented some butter-extending techniques in my cooking practices. My hope is to make this butter last until the fall/winter holidays, when stores will have their baking sales and I can buy additional butter at a low price. And I think this is doable, as for the past 2 months, we've been able to hold our butter consumption to 1 pound per month. I consider this quite a feat for my butter-loving family, as previously we'd go through almost a pound of butter per week. How have we accomplished this?

Below are several ways that we've cut our butter consumption and extended our grocery money.

  • using more oil in all types of cooking and baking. Vegetable oil at Walmart (Great Value brand) is $4.98/gallon. Per the USDA, a gallon of vegetable oil weighs about 7.7 pounds. At Walmart's price of $4.98/gallon, a pound of vegetable oil costs 65 cents, a lot more economical than dairy butter and somewhat more economical than the price of margarine in my area. I have been buying our vegetable oil from Cash & Carry in a 35 lb cube (a lighter-weight plastic pour container inside a cardboard box). I pay about $17 to $18 per cube, so my vegetable oil costs 51 cents/lb. Other stores that carry vegetable oil in 35-lb cubes include Sam's Club and Costco Business. A 35-lb cube sounds enormous, but it's just about 4.5 gallons of oil. For our family of four adults, with baking and cooking almost exclusively from scratch, we are using about .8 of a gallon of vegetable oil per month, or just under .85 oz per person per day. Considering we are also consuming far less meat than ever (once or twice per week), this is a healthy amount of fat to consume for us. The Department of Health and Human Services (as referenced in SFGate) recommends 200 to 450 calories from unsaturated fat sources per day for normal adults. That's 1 to 2 ounces of unsaturated fat. We're within these guidelines as we also eat nuts and seeds and their products.
  • making soft butter (how-to's right here) and making it even softer by mixing in more oil than I previously had. I now use a ratio of just under 1 part vegetable oil to 1 part butter, with a pinch of salt stirred in to compensate for flavor in this blend. I previously used about a 1:2 ratio of oil to butter. This soft butter is very soft. It retains its opacity on room temperature bread but quickly melts on anything warmed or toasted. It is soft and spreadable directly out of the fridge.
  • reserving butter to use as a spread on bread or to impart flavor to cooked vegetables. This is an informal rule in our household right now -- we save the butter as much as possible, using it almost exclusively for spreading on bread or adding a small amount to cooked veggies/potatoes. We feel that the butter flavor is most appreciated in those applications. 
  • substituting oil for butter 100% in most of my cooking and baking and using part oil, part butter in the rest of the baking. I've made drop cookies with half butter, half oil with success, and I've made bar cookies, like brownies, using all oil with success. I also make scratch biscuits, muffins, and snack/coffee cakes using only oil. I do like using a 50/50 blend of butter and oil for scratch scones and delicate cakes (as for a scratch birthday cake), for the flavor that butter adds to those products.
  • using oil to add richness to cream soups and sauces, such as for making a bechamel or white sauce. I start the roux with oil instead of butter, mix in my flour and add milk.
  • using saved fat from cooking meat, such as chicken, beef, turkey, and ham fat. Here are several ways that I use meat fat, including how I clarify strong-flavored fats.  In addition to saving any fat that is normally rendered in cooking (left in the pan after cooking meat), I also render any fat chunks that are left on the meat after cooking, such as found on some of the lesser-expensive hams.
  • greasing baking casseroles and pans with vegetable shortening (Crisco) instead of butter. Great Value brand (Walmart) is 99 cents per pound. I prefer greasing bakeware with a solid. I have had better success with items coming clean from a pan when using a solid compared to an oil.
  • using oil in skillets in place of butter, for eggs, veggies, and lean meats. 
  • using oil instead of butter to make croutes (crispy/crunchy, oven-toasted bread slices) by pouring a spoonful of oil onto a baking sheet, dipping one side of the bread in the oil, then turning and dipping the other side before oven-toasting. Croutes don't get soggy as quickly when adding a wet topping (like a poached egg or sloppy joe filling) or when used as an accompaniment to stew and hearty soup (using croutes as dippers). I also make great garlic toast in the same way, dipping both sides in oil and adding a sprinkle of garlic powder and salt to the top side of the bread before placing in the oven to toast.
  • using other spreads on toast or bread, such as the inexpensive peanut butter that I bought 2 weeks ago (50 cents/lb), homemade jams, and cream cheese (I stock up when I can get it for 90 cents/8 oz, which would be $1.80/lb).
  • topping popped corn with a flavorings, seasonings, and popcorn salt instead of adding melted butter.

Basically, if a recipe calls for butter, I will try it at least once with oil or a mix of oil and butter to see if I like the final product. Often times, I can't even detect a difference between using oil vs. butter. In the few times I can detect a difference, I often don't object to the change -- it's just different, in my mind. In the rare instance that I don't like the change, then the next time I slightly increase the amount of butter and decrease the amount of oil that I use. In other words, I experiment until I find that point where I'm satisfied with the final product, but at the same time saving the maximum amount of money.



  1. How does Crisco compare to the butter and oil prices? From my experience, Crisco makes the best biscuits and the best pie crusts.

  2. Hi Ward,
    The Great Value brand (Walmart house brand) is 99 cents/lb. The oil that I buy costs me about 49 to 51 cents per pound. Butter is typically $2.51/lb, for me, but I think of $1.99/lb as my "stock-up" price, so a range from $1.99 to about 2.50/lb. I agree that Crisco makes both great biscuits and pie pastry. I don't use oil for pie pastry, but use "Crisco" instead. The biscuits that I typically make are drop biscuits and they tend to be forgiving. My daughters have more patience for cutting out biscuit dough and will make "crisco" biscuits.

    So, Great Value "crisco" is half the cost of butter (if 1.99/lb), and vegetable oil is about half the cost of "crisco" or 1/4 the cost of butter. I prefer to not use a lot of the solid shortening, you know -- hydrogenated fats.

    I haven't bought Crisco brand shortening in years, so I can't comment on whether or not Great Value is as good, but we think it works just fine for pie pastry, greasing pans, and the occasional batch of rolled out biscuits.

  3. If you haven't guessed, Ward is me L and L. I am helping him set up a blog for the trip he just took and sometimes Google is too smart for us and opens up one of our blogs without us wanting it to.

    I know that Crisco is not the best choice healthwise, but every once in a while, a little is okay, I think. Thanks for doing the cost comparisons. Good info to know.

  4. Hi live and learn,
    I suspected as much but of course, didn't want to assume. That's great about the blog you're helping him set up. He'll be able to "relive" the memories through writing about it.

    Yeah, about Crisco and health, that's why I just don't buy margarine to save money. I agree, every once in a while is probably okay.

  5. I also ration out the butter, aiming for 1 lb/month consumption. I make popcorn on the stove, with a covered pan, using oil and now skip drizzling melted butter on top, instead using Aldi's cheese sprinkles (surprisingly clean ingredients)-works fine. For medical reasons, I am switching the oils used in cooking, but still keep a tub of Aldi's "crisco" on hand for greasing pans when I don't have any saved butter wrappers, as well as to make pie crust, and some cookie recipes. I've been on this renewed health journey for almost a year, it's made a difference, as evidenced by labwork and some weight loss. Great start, have a ways to go.

  6. Hi Carol,
    That's about where we're are right now -- 1 lb per month, but I am trying to squeeze that down to 3/4 lb per month, to save a few sticks for holiday baking. I know some cookie recipes call for Crisco shortening, but for some reason I don't care for those. My daughters made some chocolate chip cookies last month using "crisco" and I wasn't a fan. (Actually a good thing that I didn't like them much, so I didn't eat as many!!) A lady at our church brought cookies she made with half butter/half Crisco. They looked nice (mounded instead of flattened out) but I could tell there wasn't as much butter as I like. Maybe I'm just being extra picky over the butter flavor. I do use "crisco" exclusively for pie pastry. To me, this is the flavor that pie crust is supposed to be. So, in saying that, maybe the crisco and cookie thing is all about what my cookie-expectations are.
    That's how we do popcorn, too -- in a pan on the stove. It's how my mom made it, so that's what I learned. It does take a tiny amount of skill, compared to microwave popcorn, but we like it made this way. We've also stopped buttering it. I wish we had an Aldi's here. I'd love to try some of their products.
    I'm so glad for you that you've found this path to improved health. My hope is that it continues for you. I'm working on improving my own health right now. The end result will be worth it.


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