4 Ways to Trim the Fat from Your Food Budget

Even before the economy took a nose dive, many of us held a secret desire to return to simpler times, when meals were home-cooked, made from scratch with fresh ingredients – often home-grown. Spaghetti with homemade pasta and sauce; a tall glass of fresh, homemade lemonade and a plate of freshly baked – from scratch – cookies on the porch on a summer’s day.

With our hectic schedules, long hours on the job, stressful commutes and numerous family responsibilities – that desire seemed all but unattainable. Who had that kind of time?

Now we are tightening our belts, cutting out frills and adjusting to the “new normal,” but that doesn’t mean that it’s all bad news and that we have to do without. The current economy is also an opportunity to get creative – and even to achieve that desire to return to basics.

Here are 4 suggestions for reducing your food expenses while also enhancing your creativity, family experience, your health and quality of life!

Grow your own vegetables and herbs

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: you don’t have the time. You don’t have the garden space – or any garden at all. If you think you have a black thumb, no need to worry.

These plants can be grown hydroponically, meaning without soil. Hydroponic nutrients are dissolved in water and fed directly and automatically to the roots. No messy soil, no bugs and no disease to worry– and in addition, your growing season can be year round.

Hydroponically grown vegetables are robust with much more flavor and offer a higher yield. In addition to saving money on food costs, hydroponic gardening is affordable and growing your own vegetables offers a chance to learn a new, self-sustaining skill.

Hydroponic gardening is less labor-intensive than outdoor gardening, but it’s still a good project the whole family can be involved in. There are many websites that offer step by step guidelines for beginners.

Grind your own meat

With a meat grinder designed for home use, you get to decide how much fat you want your ground meat to contain. You also get to ensure that your meat is handled in clean conditions with clean utensils.

You can find a good, reliable butcher and get meat on sale, or you can go online and find a farmer to buy from directly. Local Harvest is a great resource with a search feature that shows you where you can buy meat and fresh produce direct from local farms, whether you live in Kansas or Southern California. Don’t forget that your local farmer’s market is also a great resource.

Make your own gelato at home

What is gelato? Gelato is Italy’s idea of what ice cream should be: dense, super-rich, velvet-textured and intensely flavored. There is nothing else quite like gelato, but you don’t have to go to Italy for it – you can make it at home with a gelato makers.

Master chef Mario Batali recommends using whole milk for cleaner, more vibrant flavor and overripe fruit, which may not be appealing for eating – but the intensity of the flavor of blackening bananas, over-soft peaches and bruised cherries is perfect for a spectacular gelato.

With the price of ice cream cones averaging between $3 and $5, making your own gelato is a cost effective and fun way for the whole family to enjoy a cool treat on a hot day. An added benefit: gelato usually contains less fat that ice cream. Buon divertimento! (Enjoy!)

Clip coupons

  • Couponing has grown in popularity thanks to rising food costs and dampening economy. However, there’s a trick to successful coupon-ing: organization, strategy, planning and timing.
  • Plan your shopping trip carefully to avoid having to make multiple trips when one will do.
  • Make a list of items your family uses and stick to it, avoiding the lure of impulse items.
  • Arrange to do your shopping on the days your grocery store offers sales and double coupon days, and check the Internet for additional coupons you can print out.
  • Keep your coupons in a coupon wallet, according to date of expiration.
  • Always use loyalty cards which offer reduced pricing.
  • Lastly, when you shop, try to go alone, leaving young children at home. This will allow you a chance to concentrate, compare and get your shopping done quickly, efficiently and stress-free.

Making meals from scratch, especially with home-grown vegetables and home-ground meat, is safer and healthier as well as cost effective. Pre-packaged meals and fast foods contain additives, high sodium and fat content –in addition to costing more at the check-out stand and costing you more in health care than good old-fashioned home-cooked meals. Get the whole family involved, and everyone gets a chance to explore foods and flavors, learn a new skill in self-sufficiency – and build family team spirit!

This article was contributed by SimpleItalianCooking.com, an Italian website which features free Italian recipes which are simple to make and easy on the budget.

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