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Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Three-Pronged Approach to Saving on Groceries

Grocery prices have been inching higher and higher every month this year. Yet, our income remains the same. So, I am having to double-down on managing our food supplies, using every trick in my repertoire. 

You know that I compare prices when shopping. Once I get those groceries home, I work to get maximum value out of what I purchase. To simplify, I follow a basic approach to providing meals and snacks on a low budget that incorporates 3 straightforward ideas. 1) I push what is cheap; 2) I stretch what is expensive; and 3) I use every morsel and drop of all food.

Push What's Cheap and Plentiful

When I say cheap, I mean both foods that are cheaply bought or that I grow or forage. So, here are some specific instances from this past week where I either nudged or served my family the cheapest of my food supplies:

a jar of homemade instant oatmeal just before stirring it all up

kale and apple salad using garden fruit and veg
plus toasted almonds and raisins

white bean and garden vegetable sandwich spread
w/ homemade whole wheat bread

  • homemade granola
  • homemade instant oatmeal made with my food processor, adding brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and milk powder
  • scratch desserts -- cookies, brownies, and blackberry pie using foraged berries
  • homemade soups using garden vegetables -- 1) cream of sorrel, 2) Italian vegetable
  • homemade bread
  • salads from the garden, including a kale and apple salad one lunch, squash blossom salad another
  • white bean and garden vegetable sandwich spread
  • chilled bottles of tap water (to encourage inexpensive beverage consumption)
  • more grape leaves stuffed with rice and garden herbs for a super inexpensive side dish and leftover snacking
  • bottomless container of free foraged blackberries ready for snacking and meals

Stretch What's Expensive
Defining expensive is different for each of us. We all have those ingredients or foods that cost more relative to our budget. For my budget, meat, coffee, tea, chocolate, nuts, and butter all fall into that "expensive" category. Here are some ways that I stretched this category of foods this week:

meatloaf for 4 adults using 8 ounces beef stretched with TVP

homemade chocolate-almond candy

  • I made large pots of tea with a single tea bag for us all to enjoy over the course of a day instead of each of us using our own tea bag. Savings -- 3 tea bags
  • I love my coffee and decaf. However, to stretch what I have, I've switched from a 12-oz mug to a 6-oz tea cup for drinking coffee and decaf. Savings -- about 3 teaspoons of coffee granules per day
  • I made meatloaf using TVP to stretch the ground beef. I rehydrated 1/2 cup of TVP granules and mixed with 8 ounces of ground beef to make a dinner for 4 adults. Savings -- 4 ounces of ground beef (I normally serve 3 ounces of beef per person in our house)
  • I made scratch brownies with a mix of vegetable oil and plain yogurt instead of butter. Savings -- 1/2 cup of butter.
  • When I baked chocolate chip cookies, I used 3/4 the amount of chocolate chips called for in the recipe. Savings -- 1/4 cup of chocolate chips.
  • I used those remaining chocolate chips later in the week in a batch of chocolate covered almonds for my family. In our house, if we snacked on nuts, as is, we'd likely consume 1 cup of nuts in a day. Instead, I took 1/2 cup of whole almonds and coated them with melted chocolate for a candy treat for my family. Savings -- 1/2 cup of almonds. For our plain snacking during the week, I put out the much cheaper roasted peanuts. A note: while it's true we could just skip candy altogether, homemade candy is often a bargain compared to commercial candy. Example -- Hershey with Almond bar, 1.45 oz, 88 cents (Walmart). Homemade chocolate covered almond clusters, 1.45 oz,  about 40 cents.

Save and Use Every Morsel and Drop

I spend a fair amount of effort each week making sure we don't have to throw out or compost food. This week was no different. Here are a few ways I used every last bit of both purchased and homegrown foods.

squash blossom salad

  • I made a beautiful and delicious squash blossom salad to have with lunches. Squash and pumpkin blossoms are often overlooked for their food value. They can be added to soups, casseroles, salads, or sauteed. The blossoms are delicate. I soak them in cold water to encourage insects to escape, then pull off the base of the blossom and tear the rest open along one side to lay flat, checking for bugs. I gently pat the mass of blossoms dry before tearing and arranging in a salad or sliced to add to cooked dishes. In the salad I made this week, I used squash blossoms, a tomato, and some greens, and arranged on plates. I dressed with an oil, vinegar, garlic, and thyme vinaigrette. As I said above, squash blossoms are delicate and this is not the type of salad to toss, but instead to arrange on plates.
  • I used the bones, skin, and fat/drippings from roasting some chicken legs to make stock in the crockpot overnight. The next day I was able to pick off a bit more meat and then freeze this in the stock.
  • When cooking carrots this week, I washed the carrots but did not peel them. Unpeeled carrots may not look as "clean" as peeled ones, but this ensured we ate as much of each carrot as possible. I also used the green tops of the garden carrots in the white bean and vegetable sandwich spread.
  • I made a kale and apple salad early in the week, adding the bitter leaves from several garden lettuce plants that are going to seed. Lettuce leaves become bitter when the plants mature and develop blossoms. Most folks compost these leaves along with the tall stalks. I add them to salads that already have strong flavors. Every bit of edible garden produce that we eat from our garden during the growing season will spare some of the prime produce for freezing to eat later.
  • When I cooked meat this week, I saved the leftover fat in containers in the freezer to use in cooking later.
  • I rinsed and scraped the near-empty yogurt jars to add to the cream of sorrel soup. I also pureed the saved milk skin from making that yogurt, then added to the soup. When I make yogurt, I have to heat the milk to kill competing bacteria before adding the yogurt culture. This creates a milk skin that I then strain off for a smooth finished yogurt. I save the milk skin in a container in the fridge for use in cooking later. That's what I pureed and added to the soup along with the yogurt jar scrapings and rinsings.

This is my three-pronged approach put into action this past week. I know that sometimes it seems like I'm only saving a teensy tiny bit, but in the end, I am able to keep our grocery spending averaging less than half of the governments "thrifty" suggested food spending.


  1. Lili, I think you've reached expert status at making grocery budgets stretch! I'm always inspired by your food posts. And I know it takes plenty of hard work and careful planning to make it happen.

    While my goals are a bit different in respects, trying to eliminate food waste is still a priority. I'm actually reading Anne-Marie Bonneau's book, The Zero-waste Chef, for fresh inspiration (requested it from the library). I try to get as much nutrient-packed pasture butter into my growing kids for the nutrition aspect, for instance. But growing so much of our own produce this year (most productive gardening year ever for us, due to planting more and working harder at it) enables the room for that in the budget. Now I'm working on perfecting homemade gluten-free baked goods next, to help avoid buying the more expensive pre-made breads and pizza crusts, as well as mixes. I've made stock for years, and that adds so much flavor and nutrition to homemade soups.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I understand where you're coming from. Similar to your experience, because I've been able to get more out of our garden this year (and buying less produce), I am able to buy more meat. I'm working on getting more meat into us, hoping it will help with a couple of different issues my family members and I deal with.

      Good luck with the gluten-free baking. I know those commercial goods are soooo expensive. Have you ever made a rice pizza crust/ I read about it in the Tightwad Gazette many years ago. I've never done it, but it could be an easier alternative for a GF pizza.

  2. In stretching the food budget, the most important part that I see from your post is the time and effort it takes to do everything you talked about. You work very hard at your job with good results. I hope you give yourself a pat on the back every day for the excellent job you do providing for your family.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      In some respects time and effort is super helpful, but I also think that some of these ideas can translate to less work-intensive opportunities, such as serving inexpensive foods in place of more expensive ones, like microwaved or crockpot baked potatoes instead of a boxed rice or potato dish. Or making crockpot overnight oatmeal instead of boxed cereal. Or, using up leftovers in a dinner instead of letting those go to waste. But I do agree that I spend time each day working at keeping our grocery spending down.
      Thank you for your vote of confidence. I really appreciate it!


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