Oct 12, 2010

Guest Post: 5 Ways to Save Money on Dinner

This is a guest post by new mom Kimberly Palmer, who is the author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back,which was published by Ten Speed Press this week. The following post has been adapted from the book. Kimberly will be hosting free book giveaways on her Alpha Consumer blog and Twitter feed this week.

Before my daughter was born, I spent hours cooking each week. I looked forward to it: First I would pick out complicated recipes, usually inspired by the Food Network, and then I would plan the menu and get the ingredients. Now that I’m a mom, I don’t have that kind of time for my cooking hobby any more. But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on saving money with home-cooked meals – I’ve just adjusted my strategy.

Here are five ways I save money – and time – on my family’s meals each week:

1) Treat roasted chicken like the new pasta. By that, I mean that roasted chicken can bulk up almost any dish, from baked ziti to tomato soup to homemade pizza. I recently made baked ziti using roasted chicken, pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, and cheese. The total cost? $15.33, for at least four meals. (It would have been cheaper but I opted for organic chicken breasts.) We not only had a great midweek dinner, but I now have an extra meal in the freezer for a night that’s
too busy for cooking.

2) Stick with online grocery shopping. It sounds indulgent, and in some ways it is – I pay about $6 per week to have my groceries delivered. But I save far more than that, because I can more easily find coupons and compare prices online, and I can also plan my meals for the week more easily, which prevents last-minute takeout emergencies. Most importantly, it frees up my weekends for fun family time.

3) Apply my grandmother’s lessons. While visiting my grandmother recently, I asked her what her favorite go-to dinner is. She shared her spaghetti recipe, a delicious combination of ground beef and red wine. And because she’s my grandmother, which means she lived through some tough times and knows how to stretch money, it doesn’t involve expensive ingredients. In fact, I usually have most of them in my cupboards already. Now, I’ve incorporated her spaghetti recipe into our regular rotation of meals.

4) Make substitutions that don’t taste cheap. Barefoot Contessa, who shares her excellent coffee-making technique in Generation Earn, has some great fish recipes, but she seems to often suggest using the most expensive cut of fish. Instead, I replace halibut with tilapia, or whatever white fish is on sale that week. For other dishes, eggs or beans can sometimes replace meat. In fact, eggs, which are still pretty affordable, despite their rising prices, can often create a meal on their own, in the form of a soufflĂ© or strata.

5) Celebrate our favorite pauper’s supper. [Cathy here: I love the term "pauper's supper" - It makes it sound like a special event.] Every family should have one of these – a cheap meal that you would never serve to guests but that family members love. For us, it’s something from my childhood: Grilled tuna and cheese sandwiches. Now, even my husband loves them, and when my 11-month-old daughter gets a little older, I plan to make her love them, too.

To learn more about Generation Earn, visit www.generationearn.com.

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