I Haven’t Bought Groceries This Year, but I Have Plenty to Eat

shopping-cart-1275480_640While most people are resolving to spend their Januarys getting out and being more active, I have resolved to stay in as much as possible. I like to start my year by having a No-Buy January, including groceries. The last time I went shopping was December 30. To be fair, I did do a fair amount of shopping at the end of December. I spent $70 from Dec. 29-30 but most of that stuff was used for a party I threw. To be fairer, it’s only mid-January so I’ve only gone two weeks without going to the grocery store. This is my third week.

In 2017, I spent on average $35/week on groceries but as I live alone and make my food from scratch, I still have a lot of food leftover. (Also, I shop at Costco because it’s the closest grocery store to me). By now, I’ve exhausted all the prepared food in my freezer. I do still have quite a few proteins left – a few chicken breasts, ground beef, shrimp, bacon and salmon. I can still feast like a king even though I haven’t been to the grocery store in three weeks! For veggies, I have onions, garlic, frozen peas and spinach and some fresh carrots. For fruits, I have frozen strawberries and dates and frozen bananas. I buy a 10-pound bag from Costco and just eat carrots constantly. I cut off any mold and keep plugging along. Good thing I am a rabbit when it comes to carrots.

For grains, I still have rice, chickpea pasta and quinoa left. I have multiple kinds of flour – cake, bread, multipurpose, semolina, coconut and rye. I have raw popcorn kernels and homemade hummus for snacks. I have a full pantry of spices, salt and pepper and oil. I have some vegetable stock I made recently with saved vegetable trimmings that I keep in my freezer.

Here are the things I could make:

  1. Simple dinners of grain+protein+veg
  2. Smoothies with strawberries and bananas
  3. Bacon-wrapped dates
  4. Popcorn topped with olive oil, sea salt and rosemary
  5. Tempura shrimp and carrots (a fave)
  6. Pancakes/waffles with bacon
  7. Scones
  8. Chocolate chip or white chocolate cookies
  9. Crackers with hummus
  10. Strawberry banana muffins
  11. Strawberry banana pie

Worse to worse, I still have ramen in my pantry as well. I also have half a chicken pot pie I made that I’m still finishing. I probably don’t need to go shopping until February! Likely, I’ll buy some eggs and lemons from the convenience store.

But I don’t need to go to a proper grocery store or deprive myself in my meals. This practice has saved me $140 this month, plus the time spent going to the grocery store. Plus who wants to go to the store in the middle of a bomb cyclone?

What do you think of a no-buy January?


Make These 5 Easy Items from Scratch to Save Mega Money

The philosophy that saves me the most in my grocery budget is to shop less. It saves money, but more importantly, it saves time.

If you buy processed, pre-made products, once you’ve finished them, you’re out of food. If you buy raw ingredients like flour, yeast, sugar, butter and salt, you can continue to make meals for weeks. For instance, if you want a nice loaf of bread, that can cost you $4 at the store. Once you’re done with that loaf, you have no more food. But if you buy $4 in flour and $4 in yeast, you can make 6 loaves of bread (and if you store the yeast in the freezer, you will never run out). In addition to the obvious cost savings, rather than making six grocery store runs, you only need to make one.

I’ve only picked items that are really easy and cheap to make. They require few ingredients, very little time, and no advanced techniques. The only equipment required is a blender, a slow cooker or a mixer. It’s easier to use a stand mixer for some of them – but they can all be made

They also all taste much better and fresher when make from scratch. No longer will you have to live with the almond butter you bought 6 months ago. You can make it ready to order and have the freshest almond butter there is, while saving money in the process.

1. Stock/broth

Making stock and broth are super easy, basically free. Plus Michael Ruhlman in his book Ratio (an absolute must-read) has stated that he’d rather use water than store-bought stocks, because of the lack of flavor in them.

Toss some water, animal bones or vegetable clippings (carrot peels, onion skins, ends of veggies, etc.) and bay leaves (you can buy these in bulk at ethnic grocery stores) into a crock pot and just set on low for several hours. I make a bunch and freeze it for the future. If you’re getting all Martha Stewart-y and organized, you should write the date and name of the stock/broth on each container, but it gets used up quite rapidly.

You can use them in soups, to add extra flavor when cooking grains, for sauces, etc. It’ll make your food taste so much better if you use homemade stock.  Plus you’ll save the $4/pop it costs to buy the stuff from the store.

2. Pie crust

People are always amazed that I make my own pie crust but it’s so easy. Crusts can be made with butter or lard (butter is cheaper but lard last longer) and only require flour, salt and water (and sugar if you want a sweet pie). Mix it in the stand mixer, put it in the fridge and take it out when you’re ready. Easy-peasy.

3. Nut butter

All nut butters generally are made from nuts, oil, and salt blended together in a blender or food processor. If you buy raw nuts in bulk, you can make your own fresh nut butter right before you need it. With almond butters costing as much as $8/jar, it’s quite expensive to buy premade.

This same basic technique (if putting stuff in a blender counts as a technique) can be used to make toum, a delicious garlic “butter.” Garlic, oil, lemon juice, salt and voila! Deliciousness!

4. Hummus

I had this hummus I really loved – and it was discontinued and I’ve never been able to find it again. No other hummus ever met its match – until I started to make hummus by myself.

I make my hummus from dried chickpeas (even cheaper than canned). Soak the chickpeas in water overnight in your slow cooker. Then rinse in the morning and add more water, salt and baking soda. Cook on low throughout the day. When you get home, blend the chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. You can also add tahini, but I’ve noticed that the difference isn’t extreme and tahini is very expensive. I like to add a ton of garlic (an alarming amount really). Garnish with pepitas and more olive oil. Dig in!

5. Bread

I use this recipe from Steamy Kitchen, Bread So Easy a 4-year Old Can Make It, and it’s true! I’d never made bread before but I stir flour, yeast and water together and just let it sit. Instead of the arduous task of kneading, it spends a long time sitting there.

There are so many more things that you can also make from scratch to save at the grocery store. Generally, baked goods are pretty easy to make (super easy if you have a stand mixer), taste as good or better as store bought and much, much cheaper. I’ve never had much luck at decorating cupcakes though, so that’s my weak spot. Otherwise, muffins, simple cakes and cookies, pancakes, waffles, etc. are great for saving money if made from scratch. Plus I enjoy substituting alternate flours and oils for these baked goods to be a little lighter (I’ve had mixed results). Other ideas that are cheap and easy to make – popcorn, spice mixes, tempura batter.

What items do you always make from scratch?

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 8.56.46 AM.png

Seven Strategies to Kill Your Excuses for Not Cooking at Home

It’s funny how New Year’s falls during one of the coldest and darkest parts of the year. Great time to get into exercising when it’s so cold and dark, all you really want to do is curl up under your blankets in bed, right? But one resolution that does make more sense to start when it’s cold and dark is to cook at home more often. Last week, the cold was so bone-chilling that I wanted to cancel my dinner plans at this hip new restaurant so I could go straight home.

But cooking at home seems like a lot of work, right? Not so. Use these tips to make cooking at home as easy or easier than ordering out.

1. Make eating out more difficult.

More and more articles about resolutions note that relying on willpower is the quickest way to fail. We have limited amounts of willpower and we should reserve those for the big time decisions – like resisting drugs and trans fats.

Instead, you have to shift the burdens to make it easier to achieve your goal. So first things first, delete your credit card number from Seamless. Then delete your Seamless password. You can even go an extra step and change it to something you don’t remember before deleting it, making it that much harder to log in and order your favorite meal. Delete the app and delete any takeout phone numbersfrom your phone .

Also delete your Opentable app and password. Then, throw out all your takeout menus. Now it’ll take a few more steps to order takeout, and I hope those extra steps will frustrate you enough that you are nudged into the kitchen. But it’s not enough to make this option less enticing; you also have to:

2. Make cooking easier. 

Make your kitchen inviting. Put a beautiful rug on the floor. Bring your laptop in so you can watch TV or listen to music while cooking.

Then clean your kitchen. Run the dishwasher. You can even buy plastic flatware and plates, if dishwashing is your most ardent obstacle. Have multipurpose cleaner and rags so you can clean while you cook, and not leave yourself with a huge mess at the end that will discourage your cooking in the future.

I hope you also have a crock pot and some pots, pans, utensils and knives. Also it’d be great to check that you have oil, salt and pepper.

3. Give yourself no choice. 

To develop a habit, you have to force yourself to do the habit consistently. You cannot have “I’m really tired” or “I deserve this” allowed in your vocabulary. Cooking becomes easier, not when you have the perfect conditions of energy and time, but when you are so used to cooking that it doesn’t seem like a huge obstacle even when you’re tired. Because you’ve already met that obstacle and overcome it. Each time you say yes to cooking, the obstacle of fatigue gets smaller. Soon, it becomes ridiculous to think of being too tired to cook because cooking is on autopilot. What’s really fatiguing is figuring out your Seamless password.

So commit to cooking every day for a month. Even a week is pretty good. Develop the habit.

4. Normalize it.

My mom always cooked at home for us, even though she worked a full time job and had an hour long commute. She’s the role model I have for cooking so it never even occurred to me to order takeout.

It can be easy to slip back into takeout habits if you think everyone is doing it. But if you can find support from people who cook regularly, you’ll push yourself to be average among them. Maybe you are ok not excelling above and beyond what regular people do but no one wants to fail at something seemingly everyone around them can and does do.

5. Have easy meals ready.

Ok, it’s totally fine if you make ramen or frozen pizza. I do it too. Ramen is delicious. I would eat it every week if I thought it wouldn’t kill me. If you’re not used to cooking, you won’t be that adept at making improv meals and you don’t want to blow your cooking streak with takeout. So having a failsafe is a good idea. If you have ramen, you have no excuse not to eat at home because all the ingredients are in the package.

Additionally, easy snacks will help your hanger. I don’t usually get too tired to cook, because now that cooking is a habit, it’s almost automatic. But I do get so hungry that I can’t think straight. Having a quick meal is a lot easier than waiting for delivery. Having some nuts ready can clear your mind to tackle the process of figuring out what to eat.

6. Take the easiest first step.

Go for a quick win and just start the process. Whether it be taking out the foods you want to cook, putting a pot of water on the stove to boil or chopping some veggies.

Breaking the problem down to bite-size steps makes it seem less overwhelming and once you take the first step, you’re already a bit engaged in the process.

7. Have a purpose.

Ok so you’ve done all the above. But you’ve had a long day. You’re tired. You ate all your snack foods. You’ve figured out your Seamless password and are ready to pull the trigger. Your last ditch effort to cook at home? Think of a purpose.

For me, I cook at home because it’s healthier. I know exactly what’s going in my food. My weight has remained relatively stable for the past 20 years (I lose weight but I never gain any). I have good energy and good sleep. My skin is always clear. I BM like a rock star.

Maybe you want to learn to cook to impress your significant other. Maybe you want to save money that you can use to go to a really fancy restaurant later on. Maybe you just want to prove to yourself you can make a change in your life.

Whatever it is, think of an image that represents this goal. Maybe a thinner you. Maybe a healthier, more energetic you. Maybe it’s you at this fancy-schmance restaurant living it up with some great wine. Whatever it is, think of this image, sear it in your mind and tuck it away for when your’e discouraged.

Of course, having food in your kitchen and knowing how to cook are also important components to cooking at home but we’ll cover those in the future.

What tips help you to cook at home?