affordable food en-US 25 Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/25-ways-to-lower-your-grocery-bill" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="grocery shopping" title="grocery shopping" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="190" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>After housing and transportation costs, food consumes more of the average household's budget than anything else. I've already looked at ways to cut <a href="" target="_blank">housing</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">transportation</a>. Now let's look at a few ways trim our food budget &mdash; and do it without tightening our belts. (See also:&nbsp;<a href="">How to&nbsp;Grocery&nbsp;Shop for Five on $100 a Week</a>)</p> <h3>1. Set a Budget, and Stick to It</h3> <p>These are the first and last words in cutting your grocery bill. It's all about goal-setting. You will never succeed unless you define what you are trying to do.</p> <p>The easiest way to start out with a grocery budget is to save a couple weeks' worth of receipts, calculate how much you usually spend on average, then subtract 10% from that amount. If you easily achieve that, you can go ahead and lower your budget even more.</p> <h3>2. Don't Shop the Same Store Every Week</h3> <p>Shopping multiple stores is key to paying less for groceries, but it's a strategy that many people balk at because it sounds time consuming. Here's the workaround &mdash; you don't have to shop at three stores <em>every</em> week, wasting gas and time running from store to store. Instead, be strategic. When your circulars arrive, find the best deals in the stores nearest you, then choose which store will help you save the most this week.</p> <h3>3. Use Coupons</h3> <p>From personal experience, I can tell you that coupons are worth the time they take to clip, print out, or, increasingly, load to a store card. <a href="" target="_blank">Safeway's Just for U</a> digital coupon program alone promises about 20% savings, and after using the program regularly I have found that it usually saves me more than 20%. Think of it this way &mdash; if you use just five $1 coupons per week on items you would have bought anyway, you'll save more than $250 per year.</p> <h3>4. Buy Clearance Items</h3> <p>Some grocery stores regularly put soon-to-expire meat in a special clearance bin, marked 30% or 50% off. Other good items to find marked down are deli items, dairy products, and at some lower-end stores, produce. Personally, I have never had a quality problem with such foods, since I always use them or freeze them immediately. But remember, if you buy something that does not taste good, any decent grocery store will give you a refund or replace it, even if the product was on clearance.</p> <p>Bolder shoppers don't just look for products marked &quot;clearance&quot; &mdash; they ask the butcher or other employees if they can have a discount on something that's soon to expire.</p> <h3>5. Look for Alternative Grocery Stores</h3> <p>Don't walk past a small neighborhood grocery, ethnic store, or dented-can store without checking it out. <a href="">Ethnic and neighborhood groceries</a> often have excellent deals on meat and produce, while the dented-can outlets and even drugstores can offer deep discounts on canned and boxed goods.</p> <h3>6. Try Amazon</h3> <p>Sometimes Amazon's prices for canned foods, cereal, and other pantry items are sky-high, but sometimes they offer steep price drops and coupon codes. <a href="" target="_blank"></a> is a good blog for getting alerts on great Amazon deals.</p> <h3>7. Participate in Meatless Monday</h3> <p>Meat is often the most expensive component of a meal. If you are used to serving meat at every dinner, try <a href="" target="_blank">going meatless just once a week</a> and see how much you save. You may find you want to add Tofu Tuesday or Steak-Free Saturday to your schedule as well!</p> <h3>8. Stop Wasting Food</h3> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Forty percent of all food produced in the United States is thrown away</a>. That's a whopping 20 pounds of junked food per American.</p> <p>You may not be able to control the amount of food that is thrown away at the farm and grocery store, but in your home, you can put a stop to the waste by making sure to use ingredients before they go bad, and by not putting too much food on your plate. One handy tip is to make a weekly meal of a soup or stew that can serve as a catch-all for any bits and ends of ingredients used throughout the week &mdash; you may end up with some surprisingly delicious concoctions.</p> <h3>9. Make Economical Substitutions</h3> <p>Make pesto with sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts. Replace expensive or out-of-season vegetables in recipes with the always-cheap carrots or cabbage. Substitute frozen berries for fresh. One substitution that doesn't usually save money anymore is <a href="" target="_blank">swapping powdered milk for fluid milk</a> &mdash; nowadays the powdered stuff usually costs more!</p> <h3>10. Stretch the Meat</h3> <p>Instead of serving whole pieces of meat like steaks or chops, serve casseroles, stews, and other dishes with <a href="" target="_blank">chopped, crumbled, or shredded meat</a>. That way you can make it stretch and use it more as a flavoring than as a main source of nutrition.</p> <h3>11. Stop Over-Eating</h3> <p>Do you ever make a double batch at dinner so you'll have leftovers to pack in lunches, only to realize that the family all had seconds and there's nothing left? If you're tempted to eat more than you need, try packing away half the food <em>before</em> you put it on the table or putting half servings on your plate. If you're trying to lose weight, this strategy can kill two birds with one stone.</p> <h3>12. Look for Buy One, Get One Free Sales</h3> <p>These are often the best deals in the supermarket, offering a 50% discount on two products. Most other discounts are only 10 to 20%. If your store allows you to use two coupons on BOGO pairs, you can save even more. The ultimate savings is when they let you pair a BOGO coupon with a BOGO sale and take home two items for free!</p> <h3>13. Use the Cash Envelope System</h3> <p>If you find you're spending more than you want at the grocery store, many budget gurus recommend the <a href="" target="_blank">envelope system</a>. At the beginning of the week or month, put the amount of cash you plan to spend on groceries in the envelope, and ONLY take that cash to the store. No credit or debit cards. If you can, include a little extra in your budget to allow you to take advantage of great, unexpected deals like clearance items.</p> <h3>14. Use a Rewards Credit Card</h3> <p>There are <a href=";utm_medium=internal&amp;utm_campaign=article">credit cards that offer rewards on grocery purchases</a>. These cards give cash back or points for purchases made at most supermarkets. As long as you pay off your balances in full each month, there's no reason you shouldn't use a rewards <a href=";utm_medium=internal&amp;utm_campaign=article">credit card for your everyday purchases</a>, to put some money back in your pocket. (See also: <a href=";utm_medium=seealso&amp;utm_campaign=article">How to Save Over $1,000 Each Year Using Credit Cards</a>)</p> <h3>15. Sign Up for a Regular Produce Delivery</h3> <p>This may seem counterintuitive since many of the community-supported agriculture produce boxes are organic and more costly. But you may find that receiving a regular delivery of produce forces you to cook more veggie-based meals and cuts your spending on meat.</p> <h3>16. Chop Your Own Veggies</h3> <p>If it takes you four minutes to chop an onion, is it really worth it to pay for a tub of pre-chopped veggies? Only if you make a really great hourly wage.</p> <h3>17. Don't Depend on Your Groceries for Your Self Image</h3> <p>Are you shopping at Whole Foods because you really feel it offers the most nutritious and delicious food, or because you feel like you've achieved the status of someone who shops there? Guess what? Just like smart millionaires drive cars with lots of miles on them, smart upper-income families clip coupons (they're the highest-using group!) and buy nutritious, inexpensive foods.</p> <h3>18. Find Out Which Organic Items Really Matter</h3> <p>If you're concerned about pesticide residue on your produce, it pays to check out the <a href="" target="_blank">Environmental Working Group's list of which foods are most likely to be contaminated</a>. Thanks to this list, I know that springing for organic potatoes and apples is worthwhile, but I don't pay more for organic onions.</p> <h3>19. Investigate Buying Clubs</h3> <p>Does your neighborhood or church have a bulk buying club you can join? This is sometimes a good option, especially for people who want to shop for organic food or non-toxic household products.</p> <h3>20. Make Your Own Bread</h3> <p>One of the easiest things to make from scratch is bread, especially if you have a bread machine. Not only do the <a href="" target="_blank">ingredients cost less than a store-bought loaf</a>, but a fresh, homemade loaf of bread also brings more enjoyment to a meal than a bag of factory-produced slices.</p> <p>But what about <a href="">the cost of the bread machine</a>? No problem. I have picked up several perfectly functional models over the years for less than $5 each at thrift stores. Not convinced? With a &quot;no-knead&quot; recipe, you don't even <a href="" target="_blank">need a bread machine</a>.</p> <h3>21. Try Costco &mdash; With Caution</h3> <p>Costco can be a boon to your budget or a major stumbling block, <a href="" target="_blank">depending on how you work it</a>. It's a great place to get budget wines, if that's on your list. Personally, I don't have a Costco membership at the moment, but I do appreciate it when a friend with a membership picks up something for me like a large package of flour or baking soda. (See also: <a href="">Costco's New Credit Card Gives More Cash Back to Shoppers</a>)</p> <h3>22. Drink Water</h3> <p>Not only is it almost free and healthy, but, unlike a certain popular carbonated beverage, <a href="" target="_blank">two gallons a day won't kill you</a>.</p> <h3>23. Look at What the Rest of the World Eats</h3> <p>Next time you're heading to the grocery store, first look at these pictures of a<a href=""> week's worth of food for families around the world</a>, taken by Oxfam. It just might help you realize you don't need to pile the cart high to enjoy nutritious meals.</p> <h3>24. Layer Your Discounts</h3> <p>It's not just about finding sale prices and coupons. These days, grocery stores also offer occasional basket coupons in their ads or by email, allowing customers to save $50 off a $50 purchase, or so. Then there are the benefits that come after you buy, like <a href="" target="_blank">Catalina coupons</a>, which print out after you pay and can take $1, $5, or more off your next purchase when you buy select items. Some stores, especially Target, are also offering store gift cards if you purchase certain items.</p> <p>If you really want to save, combine a coupon, a sale price, a Catalina offer, and a basket coupon all in one trip.</p> <h3>25. Skim the Best Deals Off the Top</h3> <p>Every store offers a limited number of &quot;loss leaders&quot; each week. &quot;Loss leaders&quot; are the deals so good the store may be losing money on them. Their plan is to use these discounts to draw you into the store, where you will proceed to pay full price for lots of other stuff. You can thwart their plan by stocking up on the loss leaders without buying the full-priced stuff. The key is to stock up on whatever's on sale each week, and then next week you can draw on your stockpile in the freezer and pantry to avoid having to buy those things at full price.</p> <p><em>How are you saving money on your grocery bill?</em></p> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">This article is from <a href="">Carrie Kirby</a> of <a href="">Wise Bread</a>, an award-winning personal finance and <a href="">credit card comparison</a> website. Read more great articles from Wise Bread:</div><div class="view view-similarterms view-id-similarterms view-display-id-block_2 view-dom-id-6"> <div class="view-content"> <div class="item-list"> <ul> <li class="views-row views-row-1 views-row-odd views-row-first"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">13 Ways to Cut Costs on Holiday Feasts</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-2 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">8 Hot New Food Trends — The Frugal Way</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-3 views-row-odd"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Trader Joes vs. Costco: What&#039;s a Better Place to Shop?</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-4 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">9 Ways You Are Sabotaging Your Weekly Grocery Budget</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-5 views-row-odd views-row-last"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">10 Affordable Alternatives to the Grocery Store</a></span> </div> </li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> </div><br/></br> Food and Drink Shopping affordable food Bulk buying grocery budget lower grocery bill Thu, 07 Mar 2013 11:24:32 +0000 Carrie Kirby 967858 at Which Salt Is Best? <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/which-salt-is-best" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Table salt" title="Table salt" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="188" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>The salt that we consume is mostly composed of <a href="">sodium chloride</a>, and any other color or flavor that you get from it, other than saltiness, comes from either impurities or additives. That's salt, in summary.</p> <p><a href="">Salt is a necessary part of our diet</a>, so important that it has been used as pay (the word &quot;salary&quot; may come from the Latin word for salt), and wars have been fought over access to salt mines. Whether harvested from the ocean or underground mines, we can't live without salt.</p> <p>The taste of salt is one of five tastes (salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami) that the human tongue can identify without the help of the olfactory system. But salt does more than simply make our food taste salty; salt enhances the flavors of the various ingredients in our food. When you add salt to, say, a pot of chicken curry, it not only tastes saltier, it reacts with the curry powder to make the curry taste different. Salt can even temper spicy food. Don't believe me? Sprinkle some table salt on a slice of fresh jalapeno and notice how easy it is to eat without your mouth busrting into flames. (See also: <a href="">8 Natural Ways to Make Water More Flavorful</a>)</p> <h2>What Kinds of Salt Are There?</h2> <p>Until recently, most Americans lived rather contentedly with the idea that there was one kind of salt &mdash; table salt. It's easy to use, cheap to buy, and always on the tabletop at Denny's. Of course, if you peruse the salt section of any grocery store, you'll see more and more salt choices added to the shelf every day. What are all of these salts good for? And what is the difference between them?</p> <h3>Table Salt</h3> <p>Table salt is the cheapest<strong> </strong>and most readily available type of cooking salt. No matter what tiny podunk town you live in, your corner gas station probably sells cardboard containers&nbsp;of&nbsp;Morton's salt. Table salt is highly refined, with very few impurities, and as such, is the saltiest tasting of all culinary salts. It often has added anti-clumping chemicals, like <a href="">sodium aluminosilicate</a>. Table salt's small granules are easily dispensed through a salt shaker and dissolve quickly in water.</p> <p>Table salt is also generally iodized, meaning that it has had <a href="">iodine</a> added to it. Iodine is a necessary chemical that our bodies use to process nutrients. An iodine deficiency can lead to goiters, which occur when the thyroid gland swells up. It's a problem that has been largely eliminated in the United States since iodine was introduced to table salt. Although the processing of salt removes minerals and other impurities, it does not make the salt &quot;unnatural&quot; or dangerous, the way that, say, heavily processing corn and soy to remove all of the fiber makes them less healthy for human consumption.</p> <p>Table salt is nice and cheap, as low as $0.40 per pound.</p> <h3>Kosher Salt</h3> <p><a href="">Kosher salt</a> is referred to as kosher not because it is processed in accordance with Jewish law (although there really isn't a way to process salt that is offensive to Jewish law), but because it is used in the koshering process. In the koshering process, kosher salt is sprinkled on meat to draw out the blood, blood being considered an impurity. The shape of kosher salt crystals allows a more efficient dehydrating of surrounding materials. Kosher salt is sometimes (correctly) referred to as &quot;koshering salt.&quot;</p> <p>Kosher salt is often favored by chefs because of its shape &mdash; it is composed of flakes, rather than the very small granules that you will see in table salt. This makes it easy to pinch, if you are the type of cook (like my husband) who likes to keep a small bowl of salt by the stove. If you add kosher salt right before eating, the flakes don't dissolve quickly enough, and you will find a slight crunchiness followed by an explosion of salty flavor when you bite down on the salt flakes.</p> <p>Kosher salt is more expensive than table salt, but still relatively inexpensive compared with sea salt. Kosher salt is approximately twice the cost of table salt, occasionally more.</p> <h3>Sea Salt</h3> <p>Sea salt is, once again, sodium chloride, but instead of being harvested in underground mines, it is harvested from evaporating pools, either in salt lakes or from the ocean, hence the name. Sea salt frequently contains minerals and other impurities that give it a grayish color and flavor distinct to its region. Fleur de sel is a variety of sea salt that is harvested during the peak of summer and often has a higher mineral-to-salt content, and a briny, ocean-like flavor/scent. Sea salt's shape can vary from fine powder to large chunks to shavings.</p> <p>Because so much sea salt is harvested by hand, it is more expensive than kosher and table salt, although the price varies dramatically, depending on the source, brand, packaging, and market audience.</p> <p>The cost of sea salt varies quite a bit. I've seen it for as cheap as $1.30 per pound and as much as <a href="">$17 per pound</a>, depending on the source, packaging, and intended audience.</p> <h3>Himalayan Pink Salt</h3> <p>There are a number of things to keep in mind about Himalayan pink salt, and the most important is that the hype surrounding it is just that &mdash; hype. The way that Himalayan pink salt is sold, you would think it was harvested by meditating Buddhist monks in the purest, most untouched areas of Nepal, but most pink salt actually comes from Pakistan, a decent distance from the Himalayas. Food writers and &quot;alternative&quot; medical practitioners love to <a href="">wax rhapsodic about pink salt</a>, its &quot;curative&quot; properties, and its use in traditional &quot;healing.&quot; Mind you, none of the medical claims about pink salt have any non-biased published data to back them up. For example, you might hear that the salt was &quot;crystallized miles below the surface of the Earth, protected from modern day polution.&quot; Well, yes, but most mined salt is. You might read that it is the &quot;purest salt on Earth&quot; &mdash; if it were pure, it wouldn't be pink. You might read claims that the people of the Himalayas have prized this salt for thousands of years, and that it is known for its healing properties. I defy you to find anyone who lives in the Himalyas who has heard of pink salt.</p> <p>It's salt. Mined salt. And it's pink because it has iron oxide in it. Not enough iron to keep you from being anemic, but enough to make the salt pink. That's it &mdash; iron. So it's not really pure &mdash; the whole reason that table salt is so salty is because <em>table salt is the purest salt you can find</em>; the purer the salt, the sharper the taste. Table salt has had impurities and minerals removed from it, which is why it is so white and lacks any additional flavor other than saltiness.</p> <p>Other writers are prone to saying things like this: &quot;Himalayan salt can be a natural and chemical-free alternative to traditional table salt.&quot; Never mind that salt IS a chemical, statements like this are simply idiotic.</p> <p>Himalayan salt prices aren't as high as some of the more gourmet sea salt costs. You can buy <a href=";utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=product&amp;zmam=1000941&amp;zmas=18&amp;zmac=110&amp;zmap=202361">12 oz. of Himalayan salt in a mill for $6</a>, which is a little over $7 per pound.</p> <h3>Smoked/Flavored Salt</h3> <p><a href="">Smoked and flavored salts</a> are popular <a href="">gifts for foodies</a> &mdash; very few things seem to make a man with a BBQ happier than a jar of specially smoked salts. Smoked and flavored salts can really enhance the flavor of meat and vegetables, especially if applied right before eating.</p> <p>There isn't anything terribly special about the chemical composition of a flavored salt granule. It's just sodium chloride that has been coated with flavor or mixed with other ingredients to provide a flavor other than saltiness. You can save yourself a pretty penny by <a href="">making your own flavored salts</a>, but there are lots of interesting versions out there to try. At my local grocery store, I counted 15 different flavored salts, everything from green tea salt and smoked salts to lemon salt and even merlot-flavored salt (an intriguing purple color).</p> <p>Of course, one of the cheapest and most delicious flavored salts has been around for a while &mdash; garlic salt. Garlic salt is made of salt, powdered garlic, and other herbs. It's a real life-saver in a pinch when the homemade marinara you made from hot house tomatoes tastes a little bland.</p> <p>The cost of flavored salts varies widely &mdash; garlic salt is among the cheapest (you can even <a href="">make your own garlic salt</a> if you are feeling industrious), but I saw flavored salts selling for as much as $10 an ounce at my local store.</p> <h3>Salt Substitutes</h3> <p>There are a number of salt replacement mixes available on the market, many of which contain potassium chloride, which is meant to mimic the flavor of salt without actually providing an increase in sodium consumption. However, <a href="">potassium chloride is hard on the kidneys</a> and isn't always a great substitute. Salt substitutes perform poorly in taste tests, although reviewers on Amazon seem to appreciate <a href="">NoSalt</a>.</p> <h2>Which Salt Is Healthiest?</h2> <p>Salt is something we need in our diets. Of course, many of us get too much salt, which can lead to hypertension and other health problems, so it never hurts to cut back a little. But if you are going to choose a salt, is there a type of salt that is better for you than any other? That depends &mdash; are you iodine deficient? If you are, then table salt, which has iodine added to it, is your best bet.</p> <p>There are some who would claim that the minerals that remain in gourmet sea salts are good for you, and while that's technically true, <a href="">the amount of these minerals found in sea salt is minuscule&nbsp;</a>&mdash; not enough to make a difference in the nutritional value of salt. So, when choosing a &quot;healthy&quot; salt, your best bet is to buy the salt that you enjoy the taste of, and use it as sparingly as possible.</p> <h2>Which Salt Is the Most Affordable?</h2> <p>Pound for pound, table salt is still the cheapest salt that you can buy, and it offers a dose of iodine that keeps your thyroid working well. Kosher salt is slightly more expensive, but tends to score very well in taste tests.</p> <p>The cost of salt can vary from $0.36 per pound to a whopping $36 per pound! That's a 100-fold increase!</p> <h2>Which Salt Tastes Best?</h2> <p>Finding a delicious salt is entirely up to the individual palate. Slate's Dan Crane performed a <a href="">taste test of various salts</a> on two separate occasions, pitting a salt substitute against table salt and several fancy salts. Although he doesn't say so explicitly, it appears as though the taste testers were aware of which salt they were tasting, and exposed to the salt containers as well (as such, I imagine some of the tasters might have been swayed slightly by the lovely <a href="">packaging</a> on the more expensive gourmet salts). Despite this, kosher salt tested very highly, especially when taking cost and lack of pretty packaging (compared with much more expensive salt brands) into account.</p> <p>Cook's Illustrated ran a series of <a href="">salt taste tests</a> as well, and the results were mixed &mdash; table salt did well in baking, sea salt did well when sprinkled on roasted meat, and all salts performed the same in the taste test involving chicken stock. This doesn't suggest that all salts are the same, but as the writers at Cook's Illustrated suggest, it makes sense to keep pricier salts on the table, since their texture and flavor is more easily detected if added right before eating.</p> <p><em>Do you have a particular type of salt that you like best? Do you buy salt based on flavor, cost, or some kind of combination?</em></p> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">This article is from <a href="">Andrea Karim</a> of <a href="">Wise Bread</a>, an award-winning personal finance and <a href="">credit card comparison</a> website. Read more great articles from Wise Bread:</div><div class="view view-similarterms view-id-similarterms view-display-id-block_2 view-dom-id-4"> <div class="view-content"> <div class="item-list"> <ul> <li class="views-row views-row-1 views-row-odd views-row-first"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Eight Natural Ways to Make Water More Flavorful</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-2 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">25 Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-3 views-row-odd"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Foraging: Not Insane, Useless, or Impossible</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-4 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Dilutions of Grandeur: Stretch Your Food at Every Meal</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-5 views-row-odd views-row-last"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Cheap Ways to Add Big Flavor to Your Food</a></span> </div> </li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> </div><br/></br> Food and Drink affordable food flavorings professional seasoning products salt Mon, 02 May 2011 10:36:36 +0000 Andrea Karim 531554 at Dilutions of Grandeur: Stretch Your Food at Every Meal <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/dilutions-of-grandeur-stretch-your-food-at-every-meal" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Measuring Cup" title="Measuring Cup" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>When I was kid, the chocolate milk mom served always looked suspiciously pale in my glass. It was as if somewhere between the carton and the table, the ratio of chocolate (good) to milk (not-so-good) had been tampered with in a very unholy way. Of course, now I understand that mom was exercising one the fundamental methods of frugality &mdash; dilution.</p> <p>Today, so many of our foods and beverages are rich &mdash; so overly sweet, overly sour, or overly salty that diluting them seems more a matter of taste than a matter of money. Let&rsquo;s take a look meal-by-meal at how a little creative diluting can stretch your food budget without sacrificing taste or nutrition. (See also: <a href="">Organic Groceries on a Budget</a>)</p> <h2>Breakfast</h2> <p>Fruit juices and flavored waters can be taken down a few notches on the sweetness scale by adding one part water to every two parts of the original drink. Dilute a 6 oz. glass of chocolate milk with 2-4 oz. of skim for a lighter, cheaper, and ultimately healthier drink. Super-sweet (and super-expensive) brand-name cereals or granola can become &ldquo;deluxe topping&rdquo; for less-expensive bran flakes, oatmeal, or even yogurt.</p> <h2>Lunch</h2> <p>Adding extra beans to chili or a cup of rice to tomato soup or stews can stretch a meal while stretching your budget. Even everyone&rsquo;s old college friend, <a href="">ramen noodles</a>, can be added to a variety of dishes to make meals more substantial and far less expensive. Dilute two parts iced tea or lemonade with one part water for better-tasting drinks without the sour-face.</p> <h2>Dinner</h2> <p>A dear friend of mine was raised by his Polish grandparents during the 1980s and 1990s. He remembers his grandmother&rsquo;s approach to serving meat during meals: Back in the lean years of her youth and early marriage, meat was used as flavoring in other dishes rather than as the main course itself. Cuts of beef, pork, and chicken were essential parts of generations-old recipes that used more expensive ingredients to flavor less-expensive but nutrient-dense foods.</p> <p>Dilution is simply about using less and wisely stretching what you have so it lasts longer. Sharing is another way of exercising the same basic principle &mdash; diluting contents or reducing portions so smaller amounts can be enjoyed by more people. When I travel with friends, I often suggest splitting the price of a 12 oz. coffee and asking if the barista will put 6 oz. in two separate cups. You might be surprised that this usually works without any trouble at all. We each get a more reasonably sized cup of coffee, pay less, and waste less.</p> <p><em>What are some ways you exercise a little friendly dilution without your kids catching on?&nbsp;What are the best recipes you&rsquo;ve come up with that use these same principles to stretch your food budget without sacrificing culinary kudos? How does the art of dilution apply to other areas of your household?</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">This article is from <a href="">Kentin Waits</a> of <a href="">Wise Bread</a>, an award-winning personal finance and <a href="">credit card comparison</a> website. Read more great articles from Wise Bread:</div><div class="view view-similarterms view-id-similarterms view-display-id-block_2 view-dom-id-1"> <div class="view-content"> <div class="item-list"> <ul> <li class="views-row views-row-1 views-row-odd views-row-first"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">25 Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-2 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Life Without a Microwave</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-3 views-row-odd"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">7 Surprising Cooking Hacks That Save Time</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-4 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Kitchen Hacks: I Can Make This in That?</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-5 views-row-odd views-row-last"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Which Salt Is Best?</a></span> </div> </li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> </div><br/></br> Food and Drink affordable food kitchen hacks stretching your dollar Wed, 23 Feb 2011 13:48:14 +0000 Kentin Waits 493918 at Simple Ways to Save on Catering Costs <div class="field field-type-link field-field-url"> <div class="field-label">Link:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="" target="_blank"></a> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/small-business/simple-ways-to-save-on-catering-costs" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="catering" title="catering" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="166" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>A catered meal I once had at a charity cycling event, served by pleasant and helpful staff, made a big impression on me. My entry fee to the event entitled me to a buffet lunch presented by this caterer in addition to the usual pre-ride breakfast and snacks along the route. The meal, which included choices for meat and vegetarian entrées, was elegant and satisfying.</p> <p>What intrigued me the most, though, was the caterer's back story. The organization had started as a buffet restaurant staffed primarily by volunteers as an experience-based training center, and then evolved into a catering firm to lessen the day-to-day demands on volunteer hours. All proceeds from the caterer fund charitable activities. So when a friend was planning an office luncheon, I recommended this catering service. The prices were extremely reasonable, the food was fresh and imaginatively prepared, and the service was excellent.</p> <p>These experiences illustrate that there are some simple ways to save on catering if you have the time to do some research. &nbsp;Start by exploring these sources of catered meals:</p> <ol> <li><strong>Non-profit caterers</strong>, which may offer complete catering services as a training ground for aspiring chefs and foodservice professionals.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Culinary programs</strong> at area colleges and universities, which may offer full-service catering as well as delivery of complete meals for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Many schools focus on restaurant-style service only, but some offer catering as part of the training curriculum.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Meals-to-go companies, </strong>which sell fresh and frozen prepared entrees, side dishes, and desserts, and sometimes offer box lunches and traditional catering services as well. These companies may be national chains or run independently. The quality is generally very good to excellent, though creativity in menu design may be limited. Consider serving these prepared meals as a cost-effective alternative to full-service catering with individual servings. You can plan a full menu by supplementing entrees and side dishes with fresh bread and desserts from a local bakery.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Specialty grocers and grocery chains </strong>also sell prepared items, similar to meals-to-go companies. Very often they have excellent luncheon items such as chicken salad and potato salad in addition to standard catering items (e.g., deli trays). Cull out the best and most creatively prepared foods (southwestern chicken salad is a favorite of mine, for example). Call ahead to make arrangements so that the staff can prepare a large batch for your event.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Restaurants</strong> often sell menu items in large quantities. Save money by buying these larger portions and then controlling portion size when you serve meals to guests. Many restaurants also have catering businesses that are worth investigation.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Bagel shops and sandwich shops </strong>often provide catering for breakfasts and lunches or offer deals that work well for business breakfasts or casual lunches.</li> </ol> <p>Your research should involve product sampling, one of my favorite parts of investigating potential caterers. Try some meals-to-go or food from the grocery's deli when you have a hectic work schedule, ask for the caterer's name at the next luncheon you attend, and dine at a variety of restaurants. At the same time, notice service standards so that you can make sure that lower-cost sources don't skimp on service levels. And don't skip the obvious step: Check prices to verify that your business will save money by using one of these approaches compared to traditional alternatives.</p> <p>It's also important to think about all aspects of an event when you are planning a catered meal. If you are throwing a holiday party for a handful of employees, then you may be able to buy various menu items and set up a casual, self-service line in the office kitchen. If you are hosting a dinner with key decision-makers from a major client, then you may opt for a full-service caterer in an offsite space. Either way, estimate both the dollars and hours required to achieve expectations without ruining your budget.</p> <p>Food accounts for just a slice of the total cost of an event. Other cost components include venue rental, set-up, and decoration; food presentation; food and beverage service; and clean up after the event. You may need to handle these details yourself, make assignments to your employees (who may or may not have expertise in hospitality), or hire outside help.</p> <p>Ways to save money in these areas include:</p> <ul> <li>Use your own facility, reserve common areas in your office building or neighborhood, or rent space in a public park or community center.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Bring your own serving platters, table linens, dinnerware, etc.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Ask an employee to plan and execute décor within a set budget as part of a project.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Plate meals and prepare beverages prior to arrival of guests (allowing you to control portion sizes and avoiding the need for servers).<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Clean items in the facility or take items home for clean-up.</li> </ul> <p>And finally, remember that there are times when you need to focus on putting the finishing touches on a client presentation rather than polishing catered-meal presentation.</p> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">This article is from <a href="">Julie Rains</a> of <a href="">Wise Bread</a>, an award-winning personal finance and <a href="">credit card comparison</a> website. Read more great articles from Wise Bread:</div><div class="view view-similarterms view-id-similarterms view-display-id-block_2 view-dom-id-2"> <div class="view-content"> <div class="item-list"> <ul> <li class="views-row views-row-1 views-row-odd views-row-first"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">250+ Tips for Small Business Owners</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-2 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Best Credit Cards for Small Businesses</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-3 views-row-odd"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">5 Ways to Build Business Credit When You&#039;re Self-Employed</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-4 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">How to Grow Your Solo Business Without Hiring Employees</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-5 views-row-odd views-row-last"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">4 Inspiring Stories of Normal People Building a Thriving Online Store</a></span> </div> </li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> </div><br/></br> Entrepreneurship Small Business Resource Center affordable food catering meetings small business Fri, 12 Nov 2010 16:35:47 +0000 Julie Rains 268607 at