- Plan: your meals for the week before you go shopping will save you money. Plan to make one of your good ‘old standby meals each week since you know the whole family will enjoy and eat the whole meal.
- Scan: do a quick scan of your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what you already have stocked. Use these items before buying new food products. The most expensive food item is a wasted food item. Use what you have before it is too old. We always forget those frozen chicken thighs way in the back corner of the freezer. This also increases your motivation to cook rather than succumbing to expensive take-out meals.
- Cook Once, Eat Twice: another way to save money while cooking is to “cook once, eat twice.” Make enough food to have purposeful leftovers for lunch the next day or to add to your next meal. For example, make a roasted chicken for dinner one night and use the leftovers for chicken burritos the next night. You could even top off your salad at lunch with some additional protein for a well-balanced plate. Recipe inspirations can be found here, (link to recipes page).
Stuck in a rut of cooking a rotation of the same 5-7 dinner meals each week? Planning out your meals each week and preparing your shopping list will help. You can also try different cooking methods here:
Dry Heat Cooking Methods: Baking, Roasting, Broiling, Sauteing, Grilling, and Frying (using plant-based oils). In recipes, these may appear as air-frying, stir-frying, skillet meals, one-pan oven meals, and casseroles.
Moist Heat Cooking Methods: Boiling, Simmering, Poaching, Steaming, and Microwaving. In recipes, these may appear as soups, slow-cooker dinners, boiled dinners, one-pot dinners, or fish plates.
Combo Methods: Stewing and Braising. The best examples here are beef stew and braised short ribs.
By using your leftovers, you will be reducing food waste and at the same time extending those shopping dollars wisely. Try some of these suggestions:
- Be intentional in creating leftovers.
- Prepare twice the amount of a recipe to use again in another recipe later in the week.
- Use chicken roast leftovers for chicken salad sandwiches or freeze them for perhaps chicken chili later.
- Save money by only having to go to the store once.
- Save time by only cooking once.
- Or repurpose your leftovers as such:
|Sunday||Rotisserie Chicken||Roast a chicken or serve a rotisserie chicken with frozen vegetables & brown rice|
|Monday||Leftover Chicken Tacos||Use leftover chicken to make tacos Add: -Leftover vegetables from yesterday -Fresh or canned diced tomatoes -Sliced cucumber/radish/zucchini with canned salsa. * Before you go to bed put 1 lb. of dried beans in a pot filled with water add 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon baking soda * Make a stock with the chicken carcass and refrigerate for tomorrow.|
|Tuesday||Chicken and Bean Soup||Take the beans and divide them into three separate portions. #1) Place 1/3 of the beans in a bag and freeze #2) Use one-third of the beans for tonight’s dinner. #3) Save the other third of the beans for tomorrow. Make soup with yesterday’s stock. Sauté onion or any combination of celery, carrots, peppers, garlic, and more. After they become translucent, add the beans, and cook until tender. At the last minute add some greens (kale, swiss chard, and/or spinach), and serve with half a lemon for dinner.|
|Wednesday||Bean Dip, Veggies, and Soup||Take the reserved beans, cook until tender, and puree. Add some tahini and lemon juice to puree. Optional – add in garlic. Serve the hummus with cut-up fresh vegetables & the leftover soup from yesterday.|
|Thursday||Chili Night||Chili: 1 lb. ground beef, chicken, or turkey. -1 onion -1 pepper -1 large can tomatoes -Add chili powder, cumin, and cayenne to taste. Serve in bowls and top with sliced lime wedges, & grated cheese.|
|Friday||Nachos||Nacho Night Bake tortilla chips and top with: -leftover chili -reduced fat cheese Roast in a 350° oven until cooked through. Top with fresh or canned tomatoes|
|Saturday||Leftovers||Leftovers Who wants soup? Who wants chili? Who wants tacos? Hummus & diced veggies? Add some fresh fruit for dessert & you’re set.|
- Eat at home 6 days out of the week and only cook on 3 nights. You will then be able to afford a treat night.
- Consider today’s leftovers as tomorrow’s ingredients. After making a large batch of sautéed onions, peppers, and onions, use the mixture in an omelet or add it to a spaghetti sauce or build it into rice and meat for burritos.
- Use clear storage containers to see what is kept inside. They are reusable and sustainable. Keep them in the front for easy accessibility and for a constant reminder. Also, zip-top bags are great for freezing. The bags can even be washed and reused.
- Have a purposeful Leftovers Night. If you happen to make three different meals Monday through Wednesday, combine all your leftovers to create a special meal. Turn leftover chicken, beans, and tomato sauce into a Chicken Chili.
You should find that you will save money by following these easy adjustments to your planning and cooking schedules.
Getting a big bang for your dollar at local farms and farmers’ markets
As an EBT card holder, you can use the DTA Finder map, to find a local farm or farmers’ market that accepts SNAP EBT cards as well as offers additional Healthy Incentive Program (HIP) benefits. HIP puts money back on your EBT card when you use SNAP to buy healthy, local fruits and vegetables from HIP farm vendors. For example, you use the map to find a farmers’ market near where you live. Visit the market, find the HIP farm vendor (should show HIP signage), choose your family’s favorite fruits and vegetables, and pay with your EBT card. Let’s say the total is $10. This money will automatically be replaced on your card. A family of 1-2 can use up to $40 each month in HIP benefits, a family of 3-5 can use up to $60, and families 6+ can use up to $80. More information on HIP can be found here.
Some other tips to follow while at the farmers’ market include:
- Plan ahead. Make a list of needed items for the recipes you have laid out for the week.
- Understand what in-season items are so you know you are getting the best produce grown locally, click here for a Massachusetts list.
- Stock up on hearty vegetables that will last a long time when stored properly; carrots, potatoes, or butternut squash are some examples. Remember not to store potatoes next to onions. The onions release a gas that causes the potatoes to sprout faster. Make sure your potatoes are in a paper bag in a dry, dark space.
- Your most cost-effective option is to buy in bulk to get the best price. Freeze what you will not use right away.
- Make sure to use the more perishable produce first. It is best to have a plan for use, so they do not go to waste. These fruits and vegetables have the shortest shelf life: bananas, berries, cherries, greens, and tomatoes.
Stock up on these essential items for your pantry and kitchen and you will be prepared to make numerous at-home meals easily while saving money.
|Food Item||Ingredient for||Benefits|
|In-season or frozen fruits and vegetables||Side dishes, desserts, casseroles, stir-fries, pasta dishes, and omelets.||Provide a variety of vitamins and minerals. Eat the rainbow!|
|Dried and canned beans||Enchiladas, quesadillas, salads, soups, and rice dishes||An important source of protein and many other nutrients|
|Canned tomatoes||Sauce, chili, pasta dishes, or soups||A major source of antioxidants and Vitamin C|
|Pasta and Grains||Brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole wheat noodles||High in fiber, makes you feel full longer|
|Potatoes||Side dishes, casseroles, skillet meals, soups||Fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins|
|Eggs||Omelets, frittatas, salads, strata, rice dishes, sandwich||Protein, nutrient-dense, and “good” cholesterol|
|Rotisserie Chicken||Main dinner, tacos, salads, sandwiches, chili, burritos||High protein levels, vitamins, and minerals|
|Canned Light Tuna (in water)||Sandwich, pastas, casseroles, salad||High in Vitamin D and protein|
|Tofu||Stir fries, salad, and sandwiches||Protein, Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, fiber|
These foods are typically lower in cost than prepared foods. By giving a little of your time, you can save loads of money each month with these essential food items in your rotation of recipes. Not sure how to use tofu, learn more here.
FDA.gov and CDC.gov recommend four simple steps to protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning:
Washing your food, hands, counters, and kitchen utensils areop at the top of the list. Try to keep raw foods to yourself. Germs can spread from one food to another while in the shopping cart, the refrigerator, or on the counter. There are foods that need to get hot and stay hot. Heat kills germs. Lastly, refrigerate cold foods right away. Milk should go immediately into the refrigerator as soon as you are home from the store or after you have made yourself a bowl of cereal. More details can be found here.
The FoodKeeper App helps you understand food and beverage storage. It will help you maximize the freshness and quality of items. By doing so you will be able to keep items fresh longer than if they were not stored properly. It was developed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute. It is also available as a mobile application for Android and Apple devices.
Food Expiration Dates
There is usually one of these three main dates provided on foods that need explaining.
- Expiration and Use By Dates: these refer to food safety. Do not consume food past these dates.
- Sell-By Dates: These are references for retailers to let them know how long to display an item for sale. It is not a safety date.
- Best If Used By Dates: This is a guide to how long a product will retain peak quality and freshness.
You can use food items past the date stamped if there is no evidence of spoilage (odor, mold growth, etc.).
Foodborne Germs and Illnesses
Foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Sometimes toxins (natural growth on fungi, algae, plants, and bacteria-however harmful to humans) and chemicals can be present in contaminated foods. Once contaminated foods are consumed, most bodies cannot tolerate these substances even at small doses. We get sick.
Symptoms of Foodborne Illness
Symptoms consist of:
- Stomach cramps
*Older adults, young children, people with weaker immune systems, and pregnant women are at the greatest risk for severe reactions. You should seek immediate medical attention for these individuals. Otherwise, food poisoning usually improves without treatment within 48 hours. During this period, stay near a bathroom and drink plenty of fluids (water, broth, and electrolyte drinks). Electrolytes are minerals, such as sodium and potassium, that help regulate your heartbeat and control your body’s water levels. Another tip is to try ice chips if drinking is uncomfortable. Once your feel ready to eat, start with toast, rice, or crackers. Avoid dairy, caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and spicy/fatty foods. They will make you feel worse.