Frugal kitchen rules for wasting less and saving more. Learn how to maximize what you have and create less kitchen waste with these 10 easy rules. Are you up to the challenge?
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THE REASON FOR A FRUGAL KITCHEN
I’ve heard it said more than once at work, “Sylvia, you’re so frugal, teach me your ways!”. This always baffles me because the only thing I’m doing at the office is bringing my own lunch. While I enjoy eating out as much as the next person, I also like putting my money towards things I care about, like books and gardening. It’s the same thing in my kitchen.
I enjoy challenging myself to stretch my groceries so that I can afford to spend more on local meat and building my vegetable garden. Not only am I saving money with my frugal kitchen, but I’m also reducing plastic waste in the process. There’s so much I could have learned from my grandparents when it comes to running a frugal kitchen–there’s nothing like wartime rationing to teach you how to stretch the food you have–but these are the tips I’ve come up with on my own.
#1: USE WHAT YOU HAVE
It happens to all of us. There comes a night where we don’t know what to make for dinner. We stare at our fridges blankly and scratch our heads, so we pick up the phone and call for reinforcements. This costs us in more than one way: not only financially, but health-wise. Open up the fridge again. Take stock of what you have in the freezer and in your pantry. I’m going to wager that there’s something in there that can be turned into a good meal. Let’s challenge ourselves and get creative. Let’s use what we have.
If you have a couple of potatoes, an onion, and textured vegetable protein, you can make a vegetarian shepherd’s pie. Make breakfast for dinner if you’re stumped. Omelettes and frittatas are always winners, especially when they’re served with a side salad. What about a quick batch of crepes? Try combining a grain, some vegetables and a protein to make hearty buddha bowls on the cheap. Heck, when’s the last time you made grilled cheese sandwiches? I’m telling you. There’s always something!
#2: KEEP A WELL STOCKED PANTRY
When you’re trying to use what you have, it really helps if you keep a well-stocked pantry. Some of my favourite things to keep on hand at all times include…
Canned tomatoes (diced and crushed)
Dried beans and legumes
Frozen shrimp (and other proteins)
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
If you have a couple of these items on hand, odds are you can work it into something tasty.
#3: MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH
This is a wonderful opportunity to save a good chunk of money in the kitchen. There are so many things that we buy because it’s convenient or because we don’t know how to make it ourselves. Not only is it more economical to make food from scratch, but it’s also healthier because you know what’s going into your food. Lastly, there’s the satisfaction of making something yourself. Here are some things I insist on making from scratch:
Beans (cooking a batch as opposed to opening up a can)
Burgers and meatballs (if you know how to make your own burgers, you can make meatballs, too!)
Crepes and Pancakes
Veggie ground round
#4: WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
This should be everyone’s motto. How many times have we chucked out produce that looked a lot better when we carefully picked it out at the market? Excesses of herbs gone bad. Stale bread. Overly ripe fruit. Wrinkly potatoes. Vegetable peelings. I could keep going, but I won’t!
PRESERVING IS KEY IN A FRUGAL KITCHEN
Herbs can be frozen or dried and stale bread can be ground into breadcrumbs. Overripe bananas can be peeled and frozen for smoothies or banana bread. Lemons can be zested and juiced, and then frozen for later use. Soft pears can be transmuted to a jam. Wrinkly potatoes, on the other hand, are still good! And vegetable peelings? Freeze them and turn them into a broth when you have some time.
The thing is, maximizing what you have involves a bit of work, but so does wasting it. You work hard to put food on the table, right? Why throw it away? You’ll still need to go out and buy new bananas, only now you can make banana bread!
#5: BUY IN BULK
Buying in bulk seems obvious, right? It’s cheaper to buy a 50-pound bag of flour in the long run than it is to buy a 5-pound bag. If you bake a lot it makes sense to buy that big bag, but if you only use flour once in a blue moon, that 5-pound bag is a better option. You need to do what makes sense for you. If you don’t have a chest freezer, don’t buy half a pig. Bulk bins are a great place to start as they are more economical than pre-packed goods and you can often reduce waste while you’re at it. Many bulk food stores have a zero-waste program in place which allows you to bring and fill your own containers. Bonus!
#6: BUY ON SALE
I swear by this frugal kitchen rule! Every week I scour through the flyers to determine where I’m getting my grocery shopping done. This is what I usually keep my eyes peeled for:
When these are on sale, I'll buy a whole bunch and stash them in my crisper drawer. When I anticipate needing an avocado or two, I'll pull them out to ripen.
The dream is to have chickens of my own some day, but for now I get these on sale.
Although making my own isn't hard (and is infinitely more delicious), it doesn't have a very long shelf life.
I almost never buy any of these things at full price. What’s the point? These are things I’m going to use before I get close to approaching the expiry date. And because I always have a healthy supply in my pantry, it eliminates the need for paying full price. A dollar saved is a dollar earned! I also love snapping up heavily discounted produce that’s passed its prime, I just need to make sure I use it or preserve it straight away!
#7 KEEP AN HERB GARDEN
Fresh herbs aren’t cheap and they don’t last very long either, which is why you should do your best to preserve them if you can’t use them right away. Herbs have such a big impact on flavour in the kitchen and they’re one of the healthiest ways to season a dish. While not all of us can afford the luxury of having a backyard in which to keep an herb garden, at the very least we can grow them in containers. The best herbs to grow in containers include:
There’s nothing quite like snipping off a fragrant sprig of rosemary in the dead of winter to sprinkle over roasted garlic potatoes. It smells divine! I found this adorable wood planter kit that can help get you started with your very own herb garden if you don’t have one already.
P.S. If this tip resonates with you, check out my post on modern victory gardens.
#8: LABEL EVERYTHING IN YOUR FRUGAL KITCHEN
If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, then you’ll know all about the virtues of labelling everything that goes into the fridge. Not only does it help others identify what’s held within, but it also dates it. I’m the kind of person that saves containers, whether those are glass jars or empty yogurt containers. Yogurt containers are especially important to label, otherwise, everyone (yourself included) will think it’s yogurt, or it will sit forgotten. When you’re taking stock of what you have, labelled food items in the fridge will serve as a key indicator of what you have to work with.
On that note, you don’t have to label absolutely everything. That would be silly! I’m talking about things that are either opened or prepared. If you only need half a can of coconut milk for a recipe, label the leftovers. If you’re putting in a freshly made batch of hummus in the fridge, slap a label on it. Leftover brussels sprouts in a yogurt container? Label it. Labels don’t need to be fancy either. I use masking tape and a sharpie. That’s it, that’s all.
#9: LEARN HOW TO MAKE A WHITE SAUCE
When I was working on putting this list together, I asked my husband, Big Papa, what his favourite frugal kitchen rules were. Two of them had already made it here, but the third one caught me by surprise, “Learn how to make a white sauce”. I didn’t understand how this could be a frugal kitchen rule, but then a couple of days later, I didn’t know what to make for dinner. I took an inventory of what I could use but was left uninspired until Big Papa’s words came back to me. A white sauce saved the day and I made a shrimp pot pie.
White sauce, also known as béchamel, is made by cooking equal parts butter and flour together in a saucepan and then whisking in milk. The flour and butter (called a roux) will thicken the milk into a sauce, which should then be seasoned. It can be used as a pizza sauce, for pasta, casseroles, gratins, and even for classic sandwiches like the Croque-monsieur.
#10: PLAN A MENU
I know, I know. Who has time to plan a menu? But think about it. Planning a menu gives you peace of mind throughout the week because you know what you’re making for dinner and it lets you plan ahead. If you have chilli on the menu for Friday, you know to soak the beans on Wednesday night and to cook them on Thursday when you get home from work. Dried beans are cheaper than canned, so that’s one example of how planning a menu can save you money.
Additionally, you know what you need to buy for the week. When you go into a grocery store with a list, it’s easier to stick with what you need and forego everything else. Just remember to eat before going to the grocery store! Having a kitchen battle plan laid out for the week takes away the stress and if you know what you’re having, you’re less likely to eat out.
BONUS RULE #11: MAXIMIZE ENERGY
Did you know that during WWII, women on the home front had to do everything in their power to conserve fuel? They had baking days where they would cram their ovens full of food and invite their neighbours to join in on the oven action. Can you imagine? I’m not saying that you should implement a weekly baking day (although, you could!) but I am suggesting efficiency. When you’re roasting a chicken or baking bread, why not toss in a few sweet potatoes or a head of garlic for the week?
THANK YOU FOR POPPING BY THE KITCHEN!
Do you do follow any of these frugal kitchen tips at home? Is there one that I missed that you swear by? I would love to learn from your own experiences and favourite frugal rules, so be sure to leave a comment and let me know! By the way, there’s one other way you can stretch your dollar in the kitchen. Have you ever quartered a chicken before?
SHOP THIS POST
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Love and gratitude,