Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cooking Like Grandma Saves Money & Calories

                I visited my adult daughter and her roommates bearing a beautiful, plump raw  chicken. They were all puzzled how to fix it since they had never cooked a whole chicken. I quickly explained they could make it in a cooking bag and they were set. Statistics show that people under thirty no longer know how to cook. They live on a diet of drive thru and microwavable foods.  This isn’t good for your health or budget.

1.       First, make a list. Forty percent what we throw in the cart are impulse items. Grocery chains hire experts to get you to buy things you don’t need.

2.       Know your prices. Often we pay too much for an item because it is marked sale.

3.       Know your price per unit. Sometimes the larger item is a better buy. If you have someone to split it with, all the better.

4.       Buy basic ingredients as opposed to buy packaged items.  The hamburger dinner mix that cost around two dollars is about a five cents worth of macaroni and spices. You add the hamburger, butter, and milk. A cookbook might help if you want to make stroganoff, but it isn’t has hard as you might think. I use or and scroll until I find a recipe that I actually have the ingredients to make.

5.       Don’t have the needed ingredient. Substitute it. The best thing about my grandmother’s cook book was the substitution list on the inside cover. Here are a few from the Internet: spice, herb, and alcohol. Do not have buttermilk, apples, or eggs, then use the Cook’s Thesaurus to find a good exchange.

6.       Most recipes that call for ground beef, I use ground turkey or chicken. It is less fatty and cheaper. Got a freezer, then you can stock up on basic ingredients like chicken and ground turkey.

7.       As a working mother, I used to cook all the meals on one day, then freeze them. Some churches even have days where women cook ahead for an entire month in a few hours. Check and see if any the local churches have a Fix and Freeze program. Can’t find a program? Gather a few relatives, friends, or neighbors and start your own. Fix, Freeze, Feast is a good starting book.

8.       Do you have granny’s cookbook and her recipes make no sense because she used a pinch of this and a dash of that. Use this heirloom measurement tool.

9.       My own grandmother lived through the Depression so food was never wasted, ever.  Plan your meals so you use all food before it goes bad. Left over veggies can go into a soup or stew. Produce that is getting limp is stew worthy. A beef vegetable or minestrone soup is a good bet.

10.   Toast stale bread. A damp paper towel wrapped around a couple of slices and microwave for 30 seconds will revive it. The bread can become croutons, breadcrumbs and bread pudding. NEVER EVER, USE MOLDY BREAD. Bread mold goes all the way through bread even though you can’t always see it. It can have a bad effect on the consumer.

11.   Soft crackers can spend a few minutes in a warm oven to return to their original crispness.

12.   Stale cookies or overdone cookies can recover their moistness by wrapping a section of cut apple in paper towel and placing them all in a plastic bag overnight.

13.   Your slow cooker is best to cook cheap meat cuts. You can tenderize the meat by hitting it with a meat hammer, or an actual hammer wrapped in a clean cloth. Use meat tenderizer or pour leftover wine into the cooking liquid. The alcohol content cooks out while tenderizing the meat. Onions help too.

14.   Grow your own produce and herbs when possible.

15.    Recycle leftovers. Mashed potatoes can become potato pancakes.

16.   It is not cheaper to make your own bread. However, biscuits are much cheaper and taste better than canned ones.

17.   Leave the peeling on the potatoes and apples, it saves times and nutrients, just make sure you wash them first.


The good thing about cooking like grandma is you are more in touch with what goes into your body.  People who only eat out one night a week via the drive thru gain more weight than those who do not.  The secret ingredient was according to my grandmother was love. I was always able to taste it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holiday Parties that Don't Break the Budget

Trimming Holiday Entertaining Expenses

I just came back from a holiday party that the hostess must have spent hundreds. It was fun, but it was so over the top, and the food was barely touched because there was so much of it. My first thought was she could have cut expenses, and it would have still been a wonderful party.

1.       Alcohol is a major expense-not only are you buying liquor, you also purchase mixers, fruits, even barware if you don’t already have it.  A major savings is possible by dropping down to wine only, or a spiced punch. When you send out the invitations, indicate it is BYOB (bring your own bottle.) If you’re not comfortable with that, you can go alcohol-free.

2.       Sodas-some people stock up on a variety of sodas, which while not as expensive as alcohol, does add up. A selection of ice tea or hot apple cider, or even hot chocolate, or coffee is enough to satisfy most folks.

3.       Invitations don’t have to be fancy to get your point across-many people are using email invites sometimes featuring PDFs attachments. Got a smilebox account? Then get the most out of it by using it for Christmas cards, and holiday invites. It will save you on stamps too.

It is certainly more tactful than handing out invitations.

4.       Food-most people are under the mistaken impression that catered food is better. Usually, it’s worse and you just paid more. I would not recommend a full scale sit down dinner, unless it is for a group of eight or less. This is just too much work. A buffet with finger foods usually works much better. Places such as Gordon Food Service, Costco, Aldis, and Sam’s Club sell the large portions of the holiday fare at discount price.

5.       Fancy yourself a gourmet cook, and then you can cook ahead provided you have freezer space.

6.       Don’t be afraid of her old-fashioned pitch-in, or a cookie swap.

7.       There is also a cooking party. A theme such as Mexican or Italian is your base. You assign ingredients to the attendees. As the host, you always provide the most expensive ingredient. Then you prepare the meal together, which can be fun.

8.       You can also choose easy meals such as soup or chili. These are always winter favorites.

9.       Most people already have their house decorated for the holidays. Therefore, you really shouldn’t need anything else. Festive napkins and paper ware might add some color and make cleanup easier.

10.   Games might be nice depending on the crowd. You know your friends best. Offering small prizes might be a nice touch too. Remember keep it whimsical and cheap.

11.   Party favors can take the shape of brownie or cookies wrapped up in a bag with a ribbon to take with them.

12.   Holiday music when the first guests arrive is a nice touch, but make sure to turn down the music as more guest arrive so it won’t seem so chaotic.

13.   Make sure to take plenty of pictures. You can email them to various attendees, but I’d would advise against posting them on Facebook and tagging the people. Trust me; many folks actually resent this type of behavior.

14.   While this will not help you this year, purchase holiday paper ware and favors at 50% or below after the holidays for next year.


While it is a bad deal to run out of food or drink, make sure you don’t overbuy. Holiday goodies that you don’t normally eat won’t help your budget or waistline.  You can manage a holiday party without destroying your budget.