Better Budgeting: Stretch Your Food Budget with These Fantastic Tips

Stretch Your Food Budget with These Fantastic Tips

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

How many times do you toss out forgotten leftovers in the refrigerator or uneaten food from dinner plates? Every time you toss away food, you are throwing away money. While you don't want to take unnecessary risks with questionable foods, following some simple suggestions can help save money which does add up over time.
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Produce

Save money by purchasing produce on sale. Before buying, however, examine the product carefully. If you do get any bruised or damaged produce, remove any bad spots and use the produce right away. One bad fruit, vegetable, or even potato, can ruin the whole bunch.

Keep celery crisp by storing it in a cup of water. (Wrapping celery in aluminum foil before placing it in the refrigerator is also supposed to keep celery fresh.)

Asparagus keeps longer if you store it upright in a small container of water.

Wrap a head of lettuce in a towel to prevent it from "rusting" so quickly.

To preserve mushrooms and herbs, avoid washing them until needed. Store in a paper bag in the refrigerator instead of a plastic bag which traps moisture and promotes spoilage.

After cutting tomatoes, oranges, lemons, etc., you can place them cut-side down on a plate in the refrigerator.

While peeling apples, bananas, pears or peaches, place the slices in slightly salted water to help retain their natural color and enrich the flavor. You can also dip them in lemon juice or lemon-lime soda to prevent them from turning brown.

Prevent fruit and vegetable spoilage by lining the bottom of your crisper drawer with a paper towel or dish towel. This absorbs excess moisture that causes faster spoilage.

Extend the shelf life of your bananas by keeping them in a closed plastic bag. If you keep the plastic bag open or place bananas in a closed paper bag, they ripen faster.

Instead of throwing out your celery tops, cut them up to use in stews, soups, roasts, and in stuffing.

Beet tops are rich in vitamins, minerals, and iron, and can be substituted for spinach greens.

Save your orange and lemon rinds, boil in water and add the flavored water to iced tea, lemonade, and fruit drinks.

Buy garlic on sale, roast in bulk, and freeze. To roast in bulk, peel some of the outer layers of the garlic and place in a baking dish. (You don't need to cut the tops.) Lightly drizzle olive oil over each layer of garlic. Cover with foil and bake at 250 until they're soft. Check them about every 30 minutes. Take out those that are soft and bake the rest for a little longer. This will take at least an hour until finished. After they're cool, pop out the garlic and place into two thick freezer bags or a plastic container before putting in the freezer. (Use double bags because of the smell.) To use them, defrost at room temperature, just enough to peel and drop into what you're cooking.

Most vegetables (as well as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or stuffed potatoes) freeze well. However, do not freeze celery, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, or raw tomatoes.

Dairy Products

Cottage cheese, yogurt, and sour cream keep much longer if you store the containers upside down.

Buy milk on sale. Remove a little from the container and freeze. Adding a sprinkling of salt keeps the milk from spoiling as quickly.

If you have just a little milk that you don't think you can use before it spoils, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. After they are frozen, pop out and store in resealable bags or freezer containers.

Did you know that you can freeze fresh eggs?

* To freeze whole eggs, beat the eggs just until blended. Measure a cup at a time into freezer containers. Add ½ teaspoon salt for every cup of egg. Use within three months of freezing. (The salt does not make the eggs taste salty.)

* You can also freeze individual egg whites in ice cube trays and transfer to a freezer container or freeze a quantity of egg whites and seal tightly in a freezer container. (Label with number of egg whites and date.)

* Freezing egg yolks require special treatment because of the gelatin property. If frozen as is, egg yolk will eventually become so thick, you won't be able to use it in a recipe. Before freezing, mix in either 1/8 teaspoon salt or 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar per 1/4 cup egg yolks (four yolks). Label the container with the number of yolks, the date, and whether you've added salt (for main dishes) or sweetener (for baking or desserts).

* Hard-cooked whole eggs and whites become tough and watery when frozen, so don't freeze them. However, you can freeze hard-cooked yolks to use later for toppings or garnishes. Carefully place the yolks in a single layer in a saucepan and add enough water to come at least an inch above the yolks. Cover and quickly bring just to boiling. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, in the hot water about 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain well and package for freezing.

* Store frozen eggs for no more than three months. When you're ready to use the frozen eggs, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator or under running cold water. Use the eggs as soon as they're thawed and use only in dishes that are thoroughly cooked. Egg whites will whip to better volume if allowed to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Substitute two tablespoons thawed egg white for one large fresh white, one tablespoon thawed egg yolk for one large fresh egg yolk, and three tablespoons thawed whole egg for one large fresh egg.
Coffee and Tea

Store coffee beans in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them fresher longer. Ground the beans as needed and keep extra ground coffee in refrigerator or freezer.

Store tea in a cool dry place, preferably sealed.

If you have leftover coffee or tea, pour it into empty ice cube trays and freeze for iced coffee or iced tea.

Herbs

You can save fresh herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, sage, etc., by freezing herbs. Chop the herbs and put a teaspoon or two in each cube of an ice cube tray, along with about a tablespoon of water. After freezing, remove the cubes from the trays and store in a resealable bag in the freezer. To flavor your soup or sauce, drop a frozen cube into it.

You can also dry herbs and store in an airtight container in your pantry or the freezer for longer storage.

Grains, Nuts, and Seeds

Store grains, nuts, flaxseed, and wheat germ in the refrigerator or freezer to keep from spoiling. Nuts can be left in the shells.

When storing bulk grains, such as hulled oats, barley, wheat, kamut, etc, place several bay leaves in the container to prevent bugs from ruining them.

Miscellaneous

While potato chips and cookies are not the healthiest choice of food, you can keep them fresh for months by storing in the freezer.

Instead of draining the liquid from canned vegetables, use it in soups, sauces, stews, gravies, and casserole dishes and for making a white sauce.

If you have a well-stocked pantry, remember to rotate your food. Whenever adding new items place them in the back or bottom and move older items to the front. You may find it helpful to list the items you have in your pantry and/or freezer. Either type or write the items in pen. List the amount you have in pencil. Every time you remove or add items, change the amount. You can also write expiration dates in marker on tops of cans, boxes, or jars as a reminder to use them in time.

Next time you purchase food or find a terrific sale on groceries, remember some of these tips to help you keep your fresh food fresher longer.

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Copyright © 2008 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.

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