How to Be Frugal In the Kitchen (Day One in Our “How to Be Frugal” Series)

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Although shopping smart is one of the primary ways that I am able to feed my large family for only $250 a month, being smart in the kitchen is also a vital ingredient in that equation. These are some of the best ways that I have found to be frugal in the kitchen.

In reality, being frugal in the kitchen doesn’t mean that people will be going hungry, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare foods that your family loves, but in many ways it simply means developing some simple money saving habits that can all add up to big savings over time.

I have come up with ten things I do that have really helped stretch our food budget. I am so excited to share them with you!

frugal kitchen

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1. Avoid convenience foods

I know this one can be hard, but if you are looking to be frugal in the kitchen you will need to limit your convenience foods or avoid them altogether. This would include things like pre-washed salads, already cut fruits and veggies, frozen meals, prepared foods from the deli, meal kits, and other foods that are packed for convenience. Don’t get me wrong, they are mighty convenient, but you are going to be paying a pretty penny for that convenience. These types of things will need to be purchased on rare occasions if you are wanting to see some big savings in the kitchen.

2. Regularly prepare casseroles or one-pot meals

Preparing foods with the meat, vegetables, and starches all mixed in together means that you are enacting portion control right from the beginning. When things are intermixed within a dish, you automatically feel more satisfied than you would if you had the same meal components all divided into separate places on your plate. Imagine if you prepared some grilled steak to put on a salad or in a stir fry as compared to preparing some grilled steaks for everyone to eat as the primary focus of the meal. I’m sure you can see how within a stir fry or on a salad, everyone would feel satisfied with a much smaller serving than they would otherwise “need” to feel satisfied. Anytime you control the amount of ingredients that your family receives, you are almost always going to be saving some money.

3. Serve foods buffet style

When you have all the parts of a meal ready to be served from a central area that is away from the table, everyone will take some food and then sit down. If they desire more, they will have to get up to get more. Usually, especially where kids are concerned, your family members will carefully weigh whether more food is really worth the bother of getting up. Again, you are not looking to starve anyone here, but when all the food is available on the table, people will graze on it simply because it is right in front of them. Of course, overeating often follows. You can take this one step further and fill the plates of your family members rather than have them get their own plates. I do this with all my kids under ten, primarily because it is just more time efficient. However, I know that I am saving money by doing this, too, since kids tend to take much more than they intend to eat.

4. In everything you make, even when following a recipe, you can be generous with the vegetables while cutting back on the meat

Oftentimes you can cut the meat in half in most recipes. It can be crazy how much meat people eat these days. Really, most dishes will be just as good with less meat and more of the other ingredients. Play around with some of your favorite dishes. In many cases, you won’t even miss all that extra meat.

5. Stretch things with beans and rice

We often stretch ground beef and turkey with beans or rice whether it is black beans, refried bears, or even kidney beans. Rice is also a great way to stretch both ground beef and turkey. Rice can be added in to several dishes just to make them more filling, and adding a variety of beans in to dishes that may only call for one type of bean is often a tasty addition. We frequently use black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans in dishes like chili.

6. Choose your protein wisely

Protein comes from much more than just meat. Eggs, tunafish, cheese, and several beans and legumes are also great sources for protein. We often need much less protein than we think we need, and there are plenty of inexpensive protein sources to choose from. Just make a mental mind shift in how you think about protein.

7. Eat a hearty breakfast

There is great wisdom in eating a hearty breakfast not only from a health standpoint, but also from a frugal one. When we start the day off hungry, we tend to grab things that are not only unhealthy, but that are more convenience type snacks when we do get around to eating. When we begin the day being only partially fed, we tend to be hungry all day and often end up overeating later. Again, you can see how this is not a frugal option. Oatmeal, eggs and toast, homemade breakfast casseroles, and breads are all great ways to eat a healthy breakfast on a budget. Starting the day off right is good for your body and good for your pocketbook.

8. Avoid recipes that call for unique and/or expensive ingredients

There are plenty of basic recipes that are yummy, too. So often the fancier recipes call for a tablespoon of something that is expensive to buy and oftentimes something that you will struggle to use again, therefore just throwing the rest away. Be mindful of the recipes you choose to make, keeping a budget in mind.

9. Cook and bake from scratch

It is amazing what you can make on your own these days and with access to Pinterest, nearly anything you want to know how to make you can find a recipe for in a flash. Cooking and baking from scratch does take time, but it really can make a huge difference in your food budget.

10. Cook and bake in bulk

This is a great way of making the best of both worlds – making things from scratch while not completely giving up the convenience element. I love taking care of the majority of my cooking and baking on the weekend. You can read more about what I do on the weekend in How to Set Yourself Up For a Really Great Week, but I make meals, baked goods, and various components of meals for the upcoming weeks. This is also one of the benefits of meal planning – you can more effectively cook and bake in bulk and ahead of time.

Whether you are just looking to decrease your food budget or are in a place where you need to stretch every penny you have, being frugal in the kitchen can be a major asset in accomplishing either of these goals.

Although we often want to be frugal, we don’t always know exactly how to do that, including in the kitchen. Following these ten steps or even just implementing a few of them will yield you amazing results that will really add up over time!

Are you looking to really take these concepts to heart, applying them in your every day life? If so, my ebook is just what you need!

How to Be Frugal: How to Be Frugal Online, In the Store, and In Your Home

This book is everything I’ve learned in 20 years of living frugal!

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  1. Thanks for starting this series! I’m always looking for ways to be more frugal and to just learn more.

  2. These are great tips!! I am really guilty of the “trying a recipe” and buying an expensive ingredient.
    This makes me mindful to avoid that pitfall.
    Also, just last week I made my usual beef enchiladas but used 1/3 ground meat, and puréed some leftover cooked beans and a small serving of leftover cooked rice and added that to the filling,
    It was not only not noticeable but really tasty I’ll actually make them this way from now on. Dried beans are approx $1/ lb that cook up to several cups while ground meat is like $4/ lb and cooks up to a scant cup. 🙁

    1. I think it is so easy to whittle away money here and there on these one time use ingredients. Isn’t it also amazing that oftentimes these simple changes end up being tasty? I love it!

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