Cooking is one of my favorite past-times, but it’s gotten harder and harder for me to cook because of my back so I’ve had to come up with several shortcuts to make it easier.
Tip 1: Use a Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker
I own both an electric pressure cooker and a slow cooker; I would not part with either of them. When you work long hours, you don’t want to come home and cook, so you can throw something straight from the freezer into your pressure cooker and have it done in a fraction of the time. The toughest cuts of meat even come out tender so you can buy the cheaper cuts of meat and save yourself money when you’re shopping. If you want to come home to a finished dinner, put it together before you leave, set your slow cooker and it will cook all day while you’re gone.
Tip 2: Frozen Vegetables
Frozen vegetables are often lower priced than fresh vegetables and contain more of their nutrients than canned vegetables. Most frozen vegetables go from the field to frozen in a day or two. Canned vegetables, you don’t know how long they’ve been in the can before you purchase them and honestly, you don’t know what they’ve had used on them to keep them edible.. Fresh vegetables are the best choice, obviously, if you can get them locally, but a lot of produce is now being imported and you don’t really know what is being used to keep it fresh. Most frozen vegetables can be steamed in their bag in the microwave these days, making them quicker cooking than fresh and possible even canned.
Tip 3: Multiple Meal Recipes
Some recipes can be used to make multiple meals. For instance, roast a whole chicken on Sunday for dinner and use the leftovers for a chicken soup or casserole later in the week. You can use the bones from the chicken to make your own stock for the soup. You’re making use of the leftovers as well as making use of the bones before throwing anything away. My favorite multiple meal recipe is chili; serve it as chili the night it’s cooked, if there are leftovers, take and add it to macaroni and cheese for a baked chili-mac and cheese. You can even reduce the chili down to use as a topper for hot dogs or chili fries.
Tip 4: Cook and Freeze Ahead
With the price of groceries being what it is, one of the more frugal tips that I have started following is to cook meals in large batches and freezing them for later. For instance, make one big batch of chili while the ingredients are on sale and freeze it into meal size portions for when you want to have it. Buy extra of your ingredients for meatloaf or lasagna while they’re on sale, make your meal, plus a meal or two ahead, par-bake them and freeze them. All you need to do is take it out of the freezer, thaw it, plop it in your baking dish and finish baking it. For instance, bake your lasagna for 40 of the 60 minutes the recipe calls for when you first make it, then when you put it in the night you want it, cook it the other 20 minutes or a little longer if it hasn’t heated through.
Tip 5: Use Pre-made Helpers
If you’ve watched the Food Network at all, you’ve had to at least see one commercial for Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade cooking show. Take a page from her book when you’re cooking. Sometimes it’s less expensive and faster to use shortcuts from the store. For instance, you can pick up cut and cleaned vegetables in a lot of produce departments for last minute dinner ideas. Combine your fresh pasta with a jarred sauce and you have a quick pasta dinner. If you don’t want to take the time to make stock, buy the boxed stock, but be careful to buy stock and not broth. Read the label and make sure it’s not filled with a ton of preservatives and sodium.
Tip 6: Prep Ahead
When you buy fresh ingredients, especially fresh produce, you can generally prep it ahead of time, as long as you have the proper method of storing it. For instance, preparing lettuce for a salad; tear the leaves, do not cut it. You can prepare a lot of ingredients a day or two in advance to save you time when you’re ready to cook. Make your meatloaf the day before you plan on cooking it, then all you have to do it put it in the oven when you’re ready. Cut and cook your potatoes ahead for mashed potatoes, put them in the refrigerator a day or two ahead and all you need to do is heat them and mash them the day you want them.
Tip 7: Buy Multi-Meal Ingredients
When you buy your meat, buy family sized packs even if you’re cooking for one or two people. You can split the meat into smaller packages when you return from your shopping trip and have just the amount you need when you’re ready to cook. It cuts your grocery bill since most stores prefer to sell to you in a larger package when they put things on sale. This also goes for produce as well. Think about what you can make with the items you’re purchasing and figure out how far you can make things stretch without wasting anything.
Tip 8: Shop The Middle Of The Month
Plan your shopping trip around the middle of the month. This may sound a little strange, but if you shop in the middle of the month, you tend to get some of the better deals because it’s the slower time of the month for stores. Seniors get their checks and generally shop the first 4-5 days of the month, this also goes for those who get assistance. After the first 10 days of the month, people don’t shop as much unless it’s for things they’ve forgotten.
Tip 9: Do Not Shop Every Week
Some people like to shop on a weekly basis, but you end up spending more money than you plan to when you shop this way. You’re hitting the stores when they aren’t putting the best things on sale. It’s fine to go pick up a few odds and ends, but never more than that. Most people don’t know what they want to eat from day to day, much less a month in advance. That’s fine, you don’t have to know specifics. When you shop, buy the things that appeal to your palette and your budget.
Tip 10: Plan Ahead
This goes along with tip 8 and 9; you don’t have to plan out your meals but have an idea of the things that sound good when you’re matching up the store ads. For instance, does chili sound good? Buy the ingredients for it. You may not make it tomorrow or a week from now, but by the end of the month, you’ll make it. Does the store have a beef roast on sale? Buy it. You may not want it right away, but you have it as an option. Just make sure to pick up what you need to go with it. Planning ahead and shopping the ads gives you a better handle on your budget, plus it gives you more of a variety of things you can make.
It may seem like many these tips aren’t recipe related, but if you think about it, cooking starts with a trip to the supermarket. You can’t save time or money if you don’t have anything to save time and money with.