One of the most frustrating parts about trying out new recipes is spending a fortune on the ingredients. How many times have you thought, "I could have eaten out for this much money". These shopping strategies will assure that you won't. Although cookbooks often quote "only 40¢ a serving!", the check you write at the supermaker often says $40. If you have a good supermarket and can use all of these strategies you can make any meal in this book for a few dollars. ($2-$5, even in the most expensive grocery area of the country, Washington, DC.)
Too Easy Gourmet
cookbook contains useful shopping strategies such as
Forget Unit Pricing,
Stock Up - NOT!,
Be Clever, and
Shop "Off-Peak" .
Forget Unit Pricing
The fact that you are a smart consumer is probably
costing you money. If you need milk for a recipe, a pint costs about $4 per
gallon while a gallon cost about $2.75 per gallon, so generally shoppers opt
for the larger sizes. However if you throw out the milk after only using a
pint (which is often the case), you are paying up to $20 a gallon for milk!
Always buy the smallest unit of product you will use. It will be fresh and
cost less in the long run, especially if you don't cook often. For example,
if you are making the Fettucine Alfredo, you may be better off buying a half
pint of milk from the vending machine at work for 35¢ ( $5.60 per
gallon) than making a trip to the market for a gallon of milk that will go
bad in a week.
Grocery stores assume most people are cooking for 4-6 people (as
inaccurate as that is). Therefore they package meats (chicken, lamb, etc.)
for the convenience of those shoppers. That's why chicken breasts are
packed in 4's and 6's. Grocers are more than happy to repackage meat in
single packs if you ask. For example if you need one chicken breast, ring
the bell, hand the butcher the four pack and ask, "Can I have just one of
these?" 9 out of 10, will say "sure" with a smile. The the tenth will say,
"You bought that book! We are going to have to start putting out more meat
prepackaged for one." You can also ask for just a few slices of deli meat,
cheese, or small amounts of ground beef or fish.
This is a favorite among fans of
Too Easy Gourmet.
Many supermarkets now have Salad Bars. This is a great place to get precut,
prewashed, ready to use ingredients. For example, if you need 1 cup of
broccoli florets for the
recipe, get it from the salad bar.
At about $2 per pound it will cost about 16¢, and be ready to use for
the recipe. Other wise, you'll have to buy a whole broccoli at 80¢ per
pound and spend $1. Additionally, you have to wash it, trim it and throw
out the 50% of the broccoli (the heavy stem) that is unedible. And you'll
Onions, mushrooms, tofu, orange slices, vegetable oil and a variety of other ingredients are usually available at good supermarket salad bars.
The author's favorite trick. Many large supermarkets now
have an section that sells "bulk foods". These are top quality foods that
are sold by the pound in barrels rather than packaged. Since the packaging
is a large part of the price you pay for many products, consumers gain by
buying out of barrels by weight with out the packaging. (You scoop the
product into plastic bags and mark them. Savings can be up to 200%). The
products range from cookies to flour and from spices to dog bones.
This is great for single cooks, especially in the area of spices. A bottle
of spice (e.g. - oregano) stays fresh only about 3 months in a cool dry place,
(Yes, check your cabinet!) and costs about $2.50 per bottle. At bulk food
you can buy 1 Tablespoon of fresh spice for about 4¢! Grocers keep the
products fresh and clean. (Then they get to throw them out instead of you.)
Now you understand why when you have bought four spices for a recipe your
bill is usually so high. You are already paying $10 in spices. With this
strategy you pay about 20¢ and everybody wins; you, the grocer, and the
company that makes spices.
Most supermarkets permit you to break egg packages in
half so you only buy six. A dozen eggs will stay fresh two weeks so why buy
12 if you will only use 4 in two weeks. Same goes for butter. Grocers
usually allow you to buy 1 stick rather than four. We already discussed
meats in the section called
Stock up - NOT
Most cookbooks, tell you to plan your meals a week in
advance (yea, right) and give you a list of things to stock up on. This is
not practical for most people who work and have busy schedules. You are much
better off keeping this book in a convenient place (in your office, car,
or daytimer) and on the days when you do want to cook, shopping for what you
need for that day, (and one or two other days if you are sure you will cook.)
That way ingredients will be fresh and you'll have no waste. (Also, if it
turns out you don't like a particular recipe your investment has been nil.)
Stock only things that are very nonperishable, such as flour, dry pasta and
liquors which are great for making sauces. Generally, avoid freezing. It
Think. If you have pasta, cheese and flour at home all you
is milk. The vending machine at work will do it
and you don't even have to stop at the market. Do you need 1 T of soy sauce?
How many are stuffed in your top drawer from the take out Chinese meals
you've had this week? There are many non-traditional places you can get
ingredients for dinner. The left over white rice that you never eat that
comes with the Chinese take out can be used the next day for Fried rice or
California Rolls. At all costs, avoid running around to multiple markets to
get ingredients. (Many cookbooks recommend you first go to the fish market,
then the grocer, then the butcher...who has time?)
Finally, try to shop "off-peak". If you live in the suburbs and commute
home from downtown everybody in your town will be at the supermarket at 5:30
pm. Is there a grocer who is reasonable near downtown where you can stop
first while everybody else rushes for the home market? Can you shop at
lunch, at break or in the morning when the supermarket is so empty you could
bowl? I especially like the morning because you can pick up some fruit for
your most important meal; breakfast at the same time.