If you have followed this blog, you will know that I put a strong emphasis on homemade and cooking from scratch. The reason is not quite as simple as saving money. True I save a substantial amount of money by home canning, making homemade convenience foods and cooking from scratch but one primary reason for doing so is healthier food not laden with excess salt, sugar, HFCS, as well as artificial food additives and preservatives. I like being able to put unique foods (eg. vegetable powders, fire roasted sauces, jams, chutneys, and etc) on the table that can't be bought in the grocery stores. There's also that sense of pride at becoming more self-sufficient with less dependence on the grocery stores. So the big question is, 'Do you save money by doing all of this?' because most folks are seeking to reduce their foods costs. The second big question is, 'Doesn't it take a lot of time?' because the food industry has so engrained the concept that cooking from scratch takes a lot of time in order to push their instant, heat & serve and convenience foods on consumers.
I'm a numbers cruncher so I do know what our home canned, homemade convenience foods and cooking from scratch costs. The costs include everything that went into making that product for the pantry or freezer as well as the cost per serving for meals. For example, a 4 L bag of corn for the freezer costs: the gas to drive to the farm, the zipper style bag, the cooking fuel for blanching and the water for blanching and cooling PLUS the hydro from the moment that bag of corn goes into the freezer until it is used to keep the corn frozen. This is one reason why I prefer home canned foods over home frozen because once canned, there is no hydro used for storage. Actually, there is a cost for storage that most do not consider. If you convert a bedroom into a pantry and that bedroom is one eighth the size of your house, then one eighth of all expenses related to running your house (eg. heating, utilities, maintenance, taxes, mortgage, etc) are being used to maintain that space for storage. The same applies if all you are using is a closet.
The main way to save on preserving and stocking a pantry is to get the raw ingredients for the least amount of money possible. There are ways to save on the produce, meats, poultry and fish being put up for the pantry and freezers as well as for fresh cooking from scratch. Home grown produce will save you money. If you garden, consider trading your excess with friends or neighbours for something you need. I trade produce from my garden for perch from a friend who loves to fish. He doesn't garden and I don't always get as much fishing in as I would like to so it is a win:win for both of us. Another of my friends makes amazing banana cake that is sure to come our way for a jar of my home canned salsa. If you know a farmer who raises livestock, they may consider raising a cow or pig for you if you pay for the feed. Many municipalities are now allowing backyard chickens that when producing will lay an egg about ever 14 hours so four chickens can give you a lot of eggs! If you have access to a water supply, locally caught fish is yours for the time it takes to fish. Wild game can be another money saver if you have access. Beef and pork are best bought in bulk where the price over all cuts of meat per pound is greatly reduced. It is also wise to take advantage of good sales on produce and meats. Produce in particular should be bought locally and in season. I put up enough to get from one growing season to the next and then some just in case the next growing season isn't very good. Supporting ingredients like flours, pastas, sugars, rices and beans are best bought in bulk as they have long shelf lives. Other ingredients like pectins and ClearGel are best bought online if there is no local source. I always watch for free shipping!
Many food suppliers are making their products available online as well. I can order Digby scallops delivered to my door, next day service at half the price they are going for in the grocery stores. Cheeses and spices can also be found cheaper when ordered online. Now, some specify that you have to order a certain amount to get free shipping so if I don't want to spend that much, I go in with someone else just to be able to get free shipping. Just as in brick and mortar stores, online stores offer customer loyalty discounts and promotions so I always watch for those as well. If ordering fresh foods like scallops, they do want you home for the delivery to protect against spoilage but it can be a real cost savings ordering foods this way.
Bulk food stores can save you a lot of money as long as you stick to the basics and avoid impulse buying. We have two bulk food stores in our area that I only shop at once I have a list of needed ingredients. These stores save considerably on basic spices, salts, sugars, teas, coffee and so much more. The reason being, is you can buy just what you want so you don't have to pay $4 for a spice that you only need a teaspoon of. Just buy a couple of teaspoons of it knowing you can always buy more if it is something you end up liking.
When it comes to cooking from scratch, there are many ways to keep the costs down to $1 to $2 per serving which is well within the range of frugal eating. Cooking from scratch even if you don't do any home food preservation is the number one way to save your food dollars. You don't need expensive ingredients to cook low cost, healthy and tasty meals. If you are really trying to save on your food dollars focus on homemade soups, stews and casseroles. Waffles, pancakes and eggs are great money savers as well especially if using a basic batter. Sandwiches and salads are usually inexpensive as well.
Cooking from scratch is not as time consuming as the food industry would have us believe. A basic cake made from scratch or a homemade cake mix takes no more time than one made using a store bought mix. Cookies from homemade refrigerator dough take the same time to bake and are just as easy as store bought but they are considerably less expensive. A homemade version of any of the 'Helper' boxed store bought versions is just as quick to make as the store bought. For the most part, many meals can easily be made at home without consuming a lot of time. In addition to that, there are time saving appliances (eg. slow cooker, microwave) and cookware (eg. pressure cooker) to reduce the time needed for cooking. Some foods by default take more time to prepare than others. These include fermented foods (eg. sauerkraut, fermented pickles), yogurt, cured and/or smoked meats, dehydrated foods (eg. fruit roll-ups, dried fruit snacks, jerky) but the cost and flavour savings more than offset the timing of which you can be doing something else while the food is in process.
A surprising number of meals can easily be made in 15 to 30 minutes, completely from scratch simply from ingredients from your pantry and/or freezer. Longer cook methods can still take low prep then cooking in the oven or stove top but quite often you can be doing something else while the meal is cooking. Consider, if you order a pizza that takes 40 minutes for delivery, you can actually make homemade pizza using homemade frozen pizza dough in about 20 minutes. Going through the drive-tru can tie up 20 to 30 minutes of your time plus the extra driving and you still have to set the meal up at home but in that total time of an hour or less, you can easily put a healthy, homemade, cooked from scratch meal on the table.
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.
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