I don’t know about you, but as a busy mother of 3, I am ALWAYS looking for ways to save time and money!!! I have tried many different strategies with varying levels of success. Below is a list of 7 tips and tricks through which my family has found success in gaining extra time AND saving money!
1. Measure out extra batches of dry ingredients when baking and store them in mason jars.
As a food allergy sufferer, I begrudgingly do a lot of baking at home just so I can eat like a normal person. There are two main reasons that I dislike baking. The first is because I don’t like to bother with measuring things when I’m cooking. The second, and more prominent reason is because of the GIANT MESS it makes all over the kitchen!!! No matter how careful I am, I always end up wearing flour, as well as getting it all over the counter, the floor and dirtying just about every mixing bowl, spatula and measuring cup I own. (I am also not a fan of doing dishes!)
That’s why I started pre-measuring out my dry ingredients for future baking endeavors and storing them in mason jars, like these. I’d rather clean up the mess once a month (or less, depending on how many jars you stock!) than have to do it multiple times every week. Plus, it makes it so much easier to whip up future batches of goodies more quickly when the time-consuming and messy part is already done, AND you won’t have all those dishes to do afterward! You can even use a dry erase marker to remind yourself of what to add in order to complete the recipe if you don’t want to have to dig out your recipe book when it’s time to start cooking.
These would also make great and inexpensive gifts for family, friends, teachers, etc.! Just stick on a label or tie on a tag with instructions to finish the recipe. You can even add a festive ribbon or decorations to it to make it more special.
2. Make a double, triple or quadruple batch and freeze the extra.
When I bake my gluten free bread, I usually make 4 loaves at once. I keep 1 loaf in the fridge and store the other 3 in the freezer until I need them. I usually get away with only having to bake this about once a month, which is a HUGE time saver!!! It also saves us money on our energy bills because we are only using our oven for a quarter of the time we would otherwise be using it! Double win!!!
I ordered a really large (wide and shallow) mixing bowl online, and I absolutely love it!!! It has made baking in large batches such a piece of cake! (No pun intended!) 🙂 I use a hand mixer to combine my ingredients since the bowl will obviously not fit into a stand mixer. Because the bowl is shallow, the dough mixes together really easily. It may be difficult to do in a deep bowl.
Baking in large batches is definitely not limited to bread! I often make gluten free oatmeal muffins and store them in the freezer (2 muffins per bag.) Just put them on a plate and microwave them for 30-60 seconds (depending on the wattage of your microwave) and you have an instant healthy and satisfying snack or a breakfast on the go! This has saved me soooo many times when I didn’t have time to cook for myself! It’s one of my favorite go-to snacks! I also do the same thing with cornbread and omelet muffins!
This method is great for preparing dinners as well! If you’re making a casserole, make two and freeze one. Making some chili? Double the batch and freeze half of it for another night. You’ll have a stock pile of ready-to-bake dinners in the freezer in no time! Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put a hearty and satisfying home-cooked meal on the table on a busy weeknight? With ready-to-go dinners in the freezer, it’s as easy as turning on the oven and popping it in with absolutely NO PREP whatsoever!!!
3. Prep and freeze your onions and garlic.
Did you know that you can actually freeze your garlic and onions??? Well, you can, and if you’re looking to save time and money, you DEFINITELY SHOULD!!!
I use my food processor (which I ABSOLUTELY LOVE, by the way!!!) to mince up large batches of onions and garlic (individually, not mixed together.)
Then, I scoop it into ice cube trays and drizzle some olive oil over the top. The olive oil will keep the garlic or onions from drying out in the freezer and also makes it super simple to use when you are ready to cook with it. Just drop a cube (or a few!) into a saucepan to melt it and add the rest of your ingredients, or throw it in at the end of your recipe if you want a stronger flavor. (I usually only fill the garlic cubes halfway.) I have also added these cubes to some of my slow cooker recipes, and they work great in there as well!
Once frozen, I put them into large freezer bags and store them in the freezer until I need them.
This is also such a money saver as well!!! How many times have you bought onions or garlic and had them sprout and/or dry out before you had a chance to use them up? Or maybe they got squishy or rotten. It used to happen to me almost every time I bought some! It is so much more economical to buy in bulk, and this way none will go to waste when you do!
If you want to save EVEN MORE money, you can grow your own onions and garlic and save some for seed to plant the following year. Just make sure that the seeds you buy are an Heirloom variety, and not a Hybrid. Onions are biennial plants, meaning you have to leave them in the ground for two growing seasons in order for them to produce seeds. I planted more onions than I wanted last year and left some in the ground to get seed in this upcoming season.
For garlic, using the cloves as your seeds is usually the best way to go. Plant more than you need for one year, and save the extra to plant the following year. Each clove of garlic should produce one bulb of garlic when planted. The number and size of the cloves in each bulb will depend greatly on the variety of garlic that you are growing.
If you are not a gardener, no worries!!! You can still save tons of money (and time!) by stocking up on onions and garlic when they go on sale at the grocery store and getting them all minced and frozen while they’re nice and fresh!
I can’t even tell you how FANTASTIC it has been to be able to have delicious and nutritious garlic and onions constantly on hand for cooking without having to dirty my knife and cutting board, get my hands all sticky and smelly and make my eyes water and burn! I never have to worry about whether or not they will be fresh when I need them! This is by far one of my FAVORITE FOOD HACKS!!!
4. Make yourself some homemade chicken broth… FOR FREE!!!
When you are planning to make chicken for dinner, try boiling it instead of grilling, frying or baking it. By doing so, you can get FREE chicken broth every time you make chicken!!! (And for us, that’s a lot!)
The best part is that you control what goes into your chicken broth! I can’t stand when I look at a label in the grocery store and there are ingredients listed that bear absolutely no resemblance to real food! I feel a whole lot better about feeding things to my family that I know are not chemically processed or pumped full of fillers. I don’t even remember the last time I bought chicken broth from a store! It is sooooo easy to make from scratch and almost completely hands off when done in a slow cooker!
I just throw in my chicken (usually straight from the freezer), fill the slow cooker about 3/4 of the way with filtered water and add some seasoning. I usually cook it for 4 hours on high, but if you have more patience, you can do 8 hours on low. I use different seasonings every time, and I never measure what I’m putting in. This batch had bay leaves, garlic and herb seasoning, lemon juice, salt, pepper and those wonderfully convenient garlic and onion cubes that we just talked about!!! See? You’re finding uses for them already! 🙂
And don’t forget, you can always add more or different seasonings to the broth AFTER removing the chicken if you want your chicken dinner to have a different flavor profile than your broth.
After your chicken is fully cooked, take it out and enjoy it for dinner! The broth can then be frozen or canned in a pressure canner. This is the one I use. It is not safe to use the boiling water canning method when canning meat products!!! Learn more about canning here.
If your chicken had bones, remove the bones before eating. You can use them to make another pot of stock! Two for one! If you don’t have the time to make a second batch immediately, you can freeze the bones in a freezer bag and save them for another time.
5. Plan your menu around what’s on sale and what’s in season.
Stocking up on food when it’s on sale is kind of a no-brainer when you’re looking to save money. Just this past year we got a REALLY amazing bargain on a used refrigerator/freezer that we purchased from a furniture rental store. Now that we have a second fridge with freezer, it makes stocking up a whole lot easier! And, it’s a great place for me to store all of my produce during gardening season until I can get it all canned or blanched and frozen!
I usually try to plan my weekly dinner menu around what’s on sale each week. I browse the weekly ads that come in the mail, and if I can’t think of a way to use the ingredients that are on sale, I just head to Pinterest for some inspiration! You’d be amazed at how much money you can save when you stock your fridge and freezer with sale items!
Buying food while it is in season will almost ALWAYS save you money! Not only that, but the food will also be at its absolute freshest because it hasn’t been stored in a cooler for months or shipped from across the country or from overseas.
In addition to saving you money, these two tips are also likely to help you diversify your diet. You will probably end up eating a wider variety of foods if you stick to what’s in season and/or on sale. That’s good news for your pocketbook AND your overall health!!!
6. Grow your own herbs.
Fresh herbs are one of those things that are very inexpensive to grow, but SUPER expensive to buy at the grocery store!!! Herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley and sage all grew really well in my garden last year! (I live in Western Pennsylvania, zone 6a.)
Again, if you’re not a gardener, just stock up on fresh herbs when they are on sale, or buy some at a local farmer’s market. But if you are able to grow them yourself, it may be the biggest money saver for you yet! Fresh herbs have a very short shelf-life after being harvested, which is what makes them so expensive to buy at the store. However, an inexpensive packet of seeds can produce more abundantly than you could ever imagine, and pay for itself more than 100 times over (and will provide infinite amounts if you save the seeds each year!!!)
If you don’t have a yard or a garden, herbs can be grown indoors in a sunny location. Just realize that they will not get nearly as big in a pot as they would in the ground, and they will probably require plant food to stay healthy. Whether in the ground or in a container, this is the organic plant food that I use, and I LOVE IT!!! My basil plants were each about 3 feet wide and over 3 feet high when I planted them in the ground! I had one plant from the same packet of seeds that I kept in a large pot on the back porch , and it only grew to be less than 1/3 of that size.
Having fresh herbs around in the summer is great, but did you know that you can also freeze your extra to be used all year round?! You can chop up a big batch in your food processor, scoop them into ice cube trays, cover with olive oil and freeze (just like your onions and garlic!)
I like to make pesto cubes that I can just throw into the slow cooker with some frozen chicken, and dinner is done! I keep my pesto simple: basil, oregano, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and salt. It tastes great on pasta, too! My family loves it!!!
7. Buy smaller produce.
Here’s one that may not have crossed your mind before. When buying produce such as apples, bananas and oranges that are sold by weight, buy the smaller ones. Chances are that if you eat a piece of fruit that is average size instead of the jumbo-sized ones that you find at some stores, you are still not going to eat more than one. Since you are eating a fewer number of ounces at a time and buying the produce by weight, you end up saving money!
You may not think that this would save you very much money, but trust me!!! I used to buy the super jumbo sized fruits, and now that I buy smaller ones instead, the difference in my grocery bill is incredible!!! A lot of times, the smaller ones are sold in bags of 3, 5, or 10 lbs. Buying the bags of produce instead of buying the pieces individually will save you even more money!
Well, there you have it, folks! My 7 tips and tricks to help you save time and money when cooking (or eating!) I hope that this information is as useful to you as it is to me! Take care!
Have questions or comments? I would love to hear them! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org