January 05, 2013

15 Helpful Food Tips: Save Money, Waste Less

We’ve all been there: Paying too much for a food item for the sake of convenience; feeling guilty at throwing away food that went bad in the fridge or fruit basket; possessing a vague notion that there are 15 tips out there that should be compiled by a blogger and that we should absolutely, definitely find and read (and then share on every social media channel ever invented).

I get it.

That’s why I recently called on my Facebook friends to share some of their favorite tid-bits of kitchen and grocery-shopping wisdom. I asked for creative ideas related to smart cooking, not wasting food, eating sustainably produced food, and/or saving money on good food. I’ve given credit below to the tip-givers (first names only—one must work to protect privacy in this digital age). (That last part was sarcasm, by the way. There’s no privacy in the digital age. You’ll know that if you’re Facebook friends with any high-schoolers.) A huge thank you goes out to those who provided helpful food tips for this post.

Oh, one more note: If we were to choose a golden child from the foods discussed in these tips, it would be beans. Beans got a lot of mentions. Beans are clearly a big thing, people. Take heed.

1. From Lindsey: Buy large quantities of almost-spoiled organic bananas that are on sale (because the supermarkets want to get them off their hands), and then immediately peel them, tear them into chunks, put them into large freezer bags, and pop them in the freezer. Then, when you want a smoothie, you’ve got frozen bananas waiting for you. As a bonus, the almost-spoiled bananas have a pleasantly strong banana flavor. They can also be defrosted and mashed for use in recipes such as banana bread or banana muffins.

Brown banana on table

2. From Robin: Eat beans as an entrée (lunch or dinner) twice a week. Make a big batch and freeze them in portion-sized containers. Take them for lunch or reheat for dinner. Beans provide cheap, excellent protein, they’re good for your bod, and eating them reduces your meat consumption. I just made a batch of black beans with half a ham hock that lasted me through four delicious meals.

Cooked dry beans in colorful bowls

3. From Mary Beth: Use dried beans. Cook them in the slow cooker, and then freeze in portions equivalent to what comes in cans. Four cups of dried black beans equals about 5 “cans.” This is much cheaper than buying cans each time you need them. Plus, the beans are easily on hand, with very little effort.

4. From Lindsey: When you chop green onions for use in a recipe, go ahead and chop ALL of the green onions, and then freeze the rest. Then when another recipe calls for green onions, they are there in the freezer.

Close-up of chopped green onions on cutting board

5. From Lindsey: Try to use bread that you haven’t eaten (and thus has gotten stale) in recipes like bread pudding or ribolliti (an Italian soup with stale bread in it).

Note from Shelley: Totally. And remember that bread puddings don’t have to be dessertsthey can be savory dishes perfect for dinner. French onion soup and homemade croutons are more good uses for stale bread.

6. From Lindsey: You can freeze avocados! They won’t spring back to life in an astonishing eat-me-in-slices sort of way, but they can be defrosted and used to make kick-butt guac. You can also freeze cheese and hummus.

7. From Shelley: Buy whole meats instead of select cuts of meat. I’m truly amazed at how incredibly cheap it is to buy a whole local, pastured chicken when you consider how much you get out of it (including the rich, delicious homemade chicken stock made with the bones and scraps). One whole chicken costs about the same as one package of organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts from the store (and just as I explained in my post about the best eggs to buy, an “organic” label on chicken isn’t the most important thing to look for anyways).

8. From Lindsey: Buy dry beans in bulk. Period. Cheap protein source and unlimited recipe potential.

Note from Shelley: Keep your bean purchases local if you can, too. Check at your farmers market to see whether any of the farms sell dry beans. Here in Corvallis, Ore., Matt-Cyn Farms offers more than two dozen varieties of gorgeous dry beans at the downtown market. These are three varieties I got from them last fall:

Three varieties of colorful dry beans from Matt-Cyn Farms

9. From Ben: I’m a big believer in using an ice cube tray to freeze lemon juice (if you have too many lemons, and they are starting to turn, but you don’t want to waste the juice), and also cubes of frozen pesto made from stuff in the garden. That way, in winter, you can just use a couple of the pesto cubes to make a sauce.

10. From Heidi: In terms of not wasting food,  I know that making menus, shopping for what is on the list, and including the leftovers in the menu saves a lot of food that might otherwise be wasted. I’m amazed by how much healthier and more cheaply I eat when I make a weekly dinner menu!

11. From Hannah: I put a lot of my cooking scraps into a big freezer bag to make soup stock about once a month. I save onion skins, carrot tops, spinach leaves, you name it!

Note from Shelley: Hannah, I do this, too! I got this tip from a friend a few years ago. When I have any meat bones (for instance, bones from cooking a whole chicken) and I’m not ready to make stock, I throw those in the freezer as well. Anytime I want to make homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock, etc., it’s so simple. Just toss some of your freezer scraps in a big stock pot, add water, and simmer for a few hours. Strain the finished stock and put it in freezer-safe containers, and freeze. Following these methods, no one should ever have to buy overpriced stock or broth of any kind from the store.

12. From Robyn: Buy food from bulk bins and store it in glass jars. This allows you to minimize packaging waste and buy only the amount of food that you need, ensuring that it won’t go bad before you can use it.

Note from Shelley: Great tip. Many stores will allow you to bring in your own glass jars or other containers to fill up at the store. Before filling the jars, get their weight (this is generally called “tare weight”) so you don’t have to pay for the cost of the containers at the check-out. Every time I go to our co-op, I bring all sorts of jars, containers, and bags to use for bulk goods and produce.

13. From Robyn: Do a weekly meal plan, leaving one or two meals at the end of your week that are frozen and/or made from food that can carry over into next week’s plan if needed. That way, if you end up having leftovers or going out to eat, you aren’t letting food go bad in your fridge.

14. From Lindsey: Make your own hummus. Do so really cheaply by using organic dry chickpeas (let them soak overnight and boil), 3-ish tbsp of tahini, some lemon (or lime juice) (juice of one fruit), some water, some olive oil, some cumin, and (the secret ingredient) hot sauce. Delicious hummus with a very low per-serving-size cost.

Making hummus in a food processor

Note from Shelley: I love making hummus and using dry garbanzo beans instead of canned is a must for me; it saves money and I don’t dig the idea of consuming anything out of a can because of the chemicals that have been shown to leach into foods from can linings. It’s important to note, however, that hummus should never (never) be made without ample amounts of fresh garlic. Lindsey, I love you, but: garlic.

15. From Lindsey: We shop at discount markets to save money on organics. In Colorado, Dacono and Loveland both have excellent discount markets (stores that carry recently expired/damaged carton/random foods). It’s so cheap and easy to get quality gourmet cheeses, Organic Girl salad, Wallaby organic yogurts, etc., there. Also, they carry what would normally be really expensive teas that they can get away with selling for $1.50. I have some great Oregon Chai caffeine-free chai from there. Yum!

Do you have any helpful food tips of your own? How do you save money on good food? Please comment and share!

Banana photo by Flickr/Michael Bentley; cooked beans by Flickr/cookbookman17; onions by Flickr/iriskh; dry beans by Shelley Stonebrook; hummus by Flickr/izik


  1. I always put garlic in hummus (and everything else save chocolate cake)! Plus hot sauce (Tapatio or jalapeño Tabasco are best). In my excitement to write out the hummus recipe, I neglected to mention the garlic!

    Here's another thing I forgot to mention: for perfect texture, put the lemon juice, tahini, and garlic in the bowl of the food processor first. Blend it until it gets a creamy texture. If it starts to stick together and look more like halvah, add some water. After the cream consistency is reached, add the chickpeas little by little through the tube, with the food processor running. It's important to add them little by little! Then, add some olive oil, salt, cumin, and hot sauce to taste.

    A fantastic variation on hummus is curry honey hummus, the recipe for which can be found here: http://www.edibleperspective.com/home/2010/2/15/recipe-time.html (scroll down a little bit to reach it). I'm pretty sure this lady tried the curry hummus at The Mediterranean in Boulder. The recipe rocks! (But be sure and use the hummus-making technique as outlined above! Also - Thai red curry paste = totally not necessary.)

  2. Bugbee, are you *sure* you aren't just backtracking now that I called you out on your garlic faux pas? Just kidding: I trust that your love for garlic is legit. Thanks for posting your hummus technique and the recipe variation you like!

  3. It's worth a while to pick the best vegetables in the supermarket because it will last longer. The advice of buying foods from bulk bins is also a great idea especially when you are on a budget. Always make sure that the foods you are buying will last long and still give you enough nutrients.

  4. Really, i loved to read this whole post very much. What were the tips and guidelines in practicing freezing foods? I think I knew the all answers here in this article.

  5. I really like your writing style and how you express your ideas. Thank you.

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