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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Think Green (Cooking)

Frugal Kitchens 101
Two weeks ago I started the series comprising four posts on how to save money on groceries by thinking green. So far I've discussed ways to save on the cost of acquiring food and packaging. Today I will be discussing the very important factor of overall food costs, cooking. Quite often the cost of cooking is not taken into consideration when talking about food. Part of the reason for this is the cost of cooking is hidden as part of your utilities bills or your rent rather than something that is in black and white that you can see when you buy your groceries. However, to get that food on the table it does cost money in terms of cooking. What you think is a budget priced meal could actually be costing you more to cook it than the cost of the ingredients. Reducing cooking costs for meal prep is one area where you can have a dramatic impact on the overall cost of your food.

Let's consider cooking an $8 roast. There are several methods to cooking a roast including roasting (oven, countertop roaster, grill), slow cooker and pressure cooker. My costs for each based on our current energy rates are:

  • oven - 31¢/hour
  • countertop roaster - 9¢/hour
  • natural gas grill - 10.3¢/hour
  • slow cooker - 4¢/hour
  • pressure cooker - 24¢/hour
On the surface it looks like the slow cooker is the cheapest appliance to use but consider it takes 6 to 8 hours in the slow cooker the actual cost is 24¢ to 32¢. In this case the cheapest method is using a pressure cooker on the large burner (24¢/hr) that will cook the roast in 45 minutes or (3/4)(.24) or 18¢ followed by the counter top roaster at 2.5 hours 22.5¢. However, if you are running the AC the natural gas grill at one third the cost of electricity here is by far the best choice because it keeps the heat out of the kitchen. Ok, so we are talking pennies or are we. Consider if you use the oven or countertop roaster and cook 2 roasts at a time. You will use the same amount of electricity as cooking one roasts but now you have one roast for dinner and one to slice up for sandwiches or as planned left-overs. Sounds good right? Well if you add in vegetables or even potatoes with planned left-overs you are now maximizing the cost of cooking and reducing the cost overall for cooking. So the first rule when cooking is to multi-task by cooking more than one meal at a time. This is especially important when using your oven. For example if you bake 2 loaves of bread in the afternoon take advantage of the pre-heated oven to cook a complete dinner in the oven that night. Better still cook extra for planned left-overs.

Over cooking is a sure fire way to waste food. Burnt food simply does not taste good and there really is no way to remedy the fact that it is burnt so it ends up being tossed wasting both the food and the cooking fuel used. The best remedy for this is to be attentive and ever ready to adjust the temperate while cooking. However, there is another way that food is overcooked resulting in less than desirable results and that is boiling vegetables. Boiling vegetables really is a poor way of preparing them as a lot of their nutrients is lost in the water. Quite often the vegetable water it tossed down the drain rather than being saved to make vegetable stock. It takes a lot of energy to boil a full pot of water with vegetables as well. A better option for cooking vegetables is to steam them to al dente to keep a higher level of nutrients or roast them along with meats. Grilling vegetables also gives lovely results without adding a lot of cost. Ultimately eating raw vegetables saves the most in terms of cooking costs so always look for ways to serve raw vegetables with each meal.

During the hot summer months when the AC is on look for ways to cook outdoors or omit cooking entirely to keep extra heat out of the house. Use your grill as an oven or as a grill but always cook on it with planned left-overs in mind. Sandwiches, salads, wraps and cold soups make wonderful hot weather foods that eliminate cooking entirely. Eliminating cooking especially in the hot weather is not only going to save you the costs of cooking but also the cost of cooling your home. Dishes that require minimal cooking such as potato salad and pasta based dishes can also save a lot of money so adjust your eating habits according to the seasons.

Think Outside the Box: The obvious way to save money on cooking is to simply not cook. In some areas of the world or if you eat only raw that might be possible. For most of us eliminating cooking costs is not going to be practical but the costs can be greatly reduced. One thing you may want to consider is solar cooking. Solar has long been used for dehydrating foods (eg. sun dried tomatoes) so you might want to experiment with that. A more enterprising use of the sun that I heard of during the y2K scare was to use your car as a cooker/dehydrator. Consider how hot the interior of a car can get on a hot summer day. It is more than hot enough to warm some foods as well as dry some foods. I've also heard of people cooking foods on their car radiators while traveling. I cannot comment on either of these methods as I have not used a vehicle in this fashion. Another idea that is gaining popularity is cooking using a solar oven. These can be purchased or homemade. There are several online resources. In northern climates these will likely only be useful in the summer months. Another way to reduce your cooking costs is combine cooking with heating. If you heat with wood using a fireplace or woodstove, cook soups and stews on either. If you don't heat with wood another option is to use a wood fired kitchen stove. This will provide heat while giving greater cooking options. Foods of course can also be cooked outdoors using wood fuel if you have a good supply of wood. Again this is not practical during the winter months in northern areas.

next week: Think Green (Meatless Meals)

1 food lovers commented:

Cascia said...

Very interesting information. I had no idea that there even was a way to cook green. Thank you for sharing!