Friday, February 25, 2011
Food Budgeting: Building Your Supply
A while back I wrote about menu planning and how it helps us eat healthier, stay on budget, and not waste food. I got away from the Food Budgeting series for about a month, but I love writing about food and money since we all have to eat and most people are trying to save money.
My first tip in the menu planning post was:
Have a well-stocked pantry and plan your grocery shopping so you're not running out at the last minute for ingredients. Running out of food is an easy excuse to just call for take out. Also, incorporate what you have on hand into menu planning, if possible. Using your own supply of food always saves money.
(Click "Read more" below.)
I think the idea of a "well-stocked pantry" deserves a dedicated blog post, so here's what I know, what I buy, and how I evolved from a 22 year old with no pantry items besides salt and pepper to a 30 year old with enough kitchen creativity to make a meal out of almost anything.
When I lived alone in my first apartment I remember learning to cook. I always knew how to bake, but I hadn't been responsible for cooking my own real meals and I initally struggled. I made rookie mistakes like placing potatoes in boiling water to cook them (you should start potatoes in cold water), burning pancakes, and relying too much on processed foods. When I was 22 my only goal was to fill my stomach.
My first solo trip to the grocery store was a nightmare. In college, I only shopped for convenince items like cereal, Lean Cusine entrees, yogurt, and Jello cups. I relied on the dining hall for everything else. Now I had to stock my apartment with actual food, including the very intimidating spices and raw meat. Meat and spices were expensive and I had no idea what to do with them.
Everything I've learned about cooking has come from three sources: my family, food television, and cookbooks (and magazines). I learned the basics from my mom, grandmom, grandfather, dad and other family members who made foods I loved, but I branched out and created my own tastes by watching people on television experiment with foods I'd never tried. Believe it or not, I was an extremely picky eater until I was about 20. I never tried sushi, salmon, salad (!), fresh ginger, Thai food, risotto and a bunch of other yummy items until I branched out of my comfort zone.
Whatever your current comfort zone, make sure you have the food stock to support it. I know I like to cook Asian meals, so I always have soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriacha, hoisin, and sesame oil. If you're a baker, you need to have buttermilk, flour, sugar, brown sugar, pure vanilla extract, baking soda, and baking powder.
These are items I keep on hand. No, you don't need to buy them all in your next shopping trip. Actually, before you start building your pantry, you need to consider where you buy your food. That's the next topic in the food budgeting series.
Here's my list...
Meat, Poultry, and Seafood
I don't eat much beef, so I only buy it as necessary. I do, however, keep the following items in my freezer:
Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless and bone-in, skin-on if I can find them)
Shrimp (uncooked, peeled and deveined)
Pork loin and/or tenderloin
Even if you're not a baker, you'll need some of these items to make gravy, sauce, pizza crust or other items.
All-Purpose unbleached white flour
Corn (particularly in the winter)
Steam-in bag unseasoned, unsauced vegetables (very easy side dish)
Dry Pantry Items
Oatmeal (steel-cut or old fashioned)
White rice (I like basmati)
Pasta (medium shells, spaghetti, penne, etc.)
Sauces, Condiments, Oils, Etc.
Ketchup (I keep mine in the refrigerator)
Extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Red wine vinegar
Canned and Bottled Goods
Small white (cannelini) beans
Small red beans
Roasted red peppers
Tomato paste (I actually perfer it in a tube that you store in your refrigerator)
These items have a relatively long shelf life. I buy all others fresh as I need them.
Garlic (I buy mine peeled and store the whole cloves in the fridge)
This is what I use for cooking or eating 99% of the time. You'll never catch me with some margarine.
half and half (for coffee, mostly)
Sliced American cheese (from the deli section, not off the shelf)
Sharp cheddar cheese
Herbs and Spices
Kosher salt (not as salty as iodized salt, nice thick crystals)
Freshly cracked black pepper
A while ago a did a few listings of essential herbs and spices:
Gardening and Essential Fresh Herbs
Essential Herbs and Spices
I'm linking back to those old posts because I remember my frustration of buying a random spice for one recipe and not knowing when or if I'd ever use it again (hello $5 bottle of tarragon).
Okay, that was quite a list. You may not like, want, or need all of these items. I do promise you, however, if you find out what your basics are and they find their way into your pantry, you'll be more likely to eat meals you enjoy without running to the grocery store. I absolutely love food shopping, but I'm pressed for time (and money), so I have to be careful and where and when I shop. I've heard some bloggers say that they only grocery shop once a month. I can't live like that. I shop once a week and I enjoy every minute of my well-organized shopping trip. My next Food Budgeting post will be about choosing where to buy your food.
In the meantime... What are your staples and where do you buy your food?