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Cooking on a Budget

Thursday, October 24, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

As a broke grad student, I've been trying to be more careful about not wasting any food, so I've been doing a lot of cooking in advance, cooking and freezing, etc. One of the things I now have on my hands is a half a loaf of stale bread. Do you have any ideas on what I could do with that and with other leftovers I don't want to throw away? Are there other quick and easy cost-saving measures I can take while still eating well?

Signed,
Cooking on a Budget


Dear Cooking,

One of the best cost-saving measures is cooking at home rather than buying pre-made frozen meals or eating in restaurants, so you're already on the right track! Depending on where you live, where you shop for groceries can also save money. In Center City, Trader Joe's and Superfresh are much more cost effective than DiBruno Bros. or Whole Foods. Then again, if you have the time to do it, comparison shopping can tell you a lot. You can find out which stores are having sales on particular products and when. If you have access to a car, you can save a lot by driving to stores outside the city or even to the Pathmark on Gray's Ferry for bigger, but less frequent, trips. If you pay for a car-sharing service, it may be worth the cost for FreshDirect or Peapod, which charge flat delivery fees rather than an hourly rate. Depending on who you live with and your ethics of car-sharing, you could split a BJ's membership with roommates (or others) and stock up.

Making things from scratch is almost always cheaper than buying premade, and usually it's tastier and healthier, too. Baking bread is a great example. But baking bread also takes a lot of time, so you need to decide on your priorities. Homemade vegetable soup is way better than any premade variety, and making soup actually doesn't take much more time than heating up something out of a can or box. Homemade burritos are also delicious and super easy.

When you have random little bits of veggies left in your fridge, they're great to use in soups, stews, quiches, casseroles or omelettes. Leftover and possibly about-to-be-overripe pieces of fruit can be frozen and later thrown into smoothies. I often get stuck on random almost-too-stale-to-eat snack foods, but even these can be spiced and baked and tossed together as a homemade "party mix." As for your stale bread, my favorite thing to do is to make croutons which, yes, can be eaten on salads or out of the bag. Cut the bread into cubes, toss with oil, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried or fresh parsley, and salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer and bake at a lowish temperature for a longish time. If that's not your style, depending on how stale it is, French toast is always an option. I've also heard of the possibility of making breadcrumbs and freezing them for use in future recipes, though I've never tried this myself.

One of the best ways to eat well is to eat with other people. Philly is big into potlucks. I think that's because no one has to spend too much time or money, or eat the same same baked ziti by themselves for an entire week. Shabbat is, of course, a great time to invite people over for a potluck, but other nights of the week are, too. Seeing what other people bring can also inspire you to try new flavors, recipes and ingredients. Nothing beats talking about food around the dinner table, so invite your guests to share their favorite cost-cutting/good-eating tips. Even on a budget, you'll be full of good food and good ideas and surrounded by good company.

Be well,
Miriam

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