JEFF TIEDEMAN: Eating on the cheapTake a bite out of tight finances by saving at dinner table.
Money is an everyday concern for a lot of people. And much of it is beyond our control.
Prices at the gas pump usually get the most attention. The cost of a gallon of gasoline has risen more than 60 cents in the past 14 months. (Grand Forks motorists now are paying $3.20 a gallon. And according to one oil analyst, spring and summer should see “the second-highest prices in our lifetime.”)
Then, there’s the cost of a college education. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s budget calls for tuition increases at the state’s four-year schools. And this past year, Minnesota college hiked their tuition by 4.5 percent.
Health care premium increases are another area that affects people’s pocketbook on an almost yearly basis.
There’s one way to save money that’s within everyone’s power — and that’s at the dining room table. But it takes planning, time and a lot of discipline.
I can honestly say that we rarely have a meal at home that costs us more than $5 to $10. And I’m not alone. Several of my exercising friends agreed that it’s not that hard to serve meals on the cheap, especially if you pay attention to specials at the supermarket, have a backyard garden and raise vegetables in the summer (canning and freezing some of them) and watch your portion sizes. (The latter also can help to fight the battle of the bulge.)
To give you an example of how this can be done, we had a meal just the other night that consisted of salmon cooked on the Foreman grill, baked potatoes, corn and raw carrots. The fish — wild-caught sockeye — was on sale at our neighborhood grocery store, two of the three vegetables were home-grown and all of the food, when eaten in moderation, is extremely healthy. And as usual with most of our meals, there were leftovers, which provided both Therese and I a meal the next day.
Another way to stretch your food dollar is by making soup. Rarely a weekend goes by when I don’t make a pot of soup. It usually serves as a main supper course (along with a salad and some crusty bread) the day I make it. And I normally eat soup for lunch two or three days during the week. (Check out hot soups for cold days at www.grandforksherald.com/event/tag/group/Life/tag/food/.)
Here are a few more tips that can help you trim your food costs:
— Establish a theme (fish, slow-cooker, etc.) for each day of the week and shop accordingly. Down the road, make a month’s worth of menus based on stockpile shopping.
— Make extra of whole courses or meals that can be stored or frozen and cook commonly used ingredients (dried beans, pasta, chicken) in large quantities for multiple uses.
— Plan ahead for meals that can use ingredients from the night before.
— Draw up a grocery list before you shop.
— Track your food costs every week so you can settle on an affordable budget.
— Use coupons only when a product is on sale and buy multiples for freezer or pantry.
Of course, all of us love to eat out once in a while. And it’s hard to keep the price of meal to less than $10, especially at night, when you rarely can find a cheap entree.
But by keeping food costs down at home, you’ll be able to afford that prime rib, seafood or pasta dinner the next time you go out.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.