8 WAYS TO SLASH YOUR FOOD COSTS. YAY!

So, um, HAPPY FROZEN FOOD MONTH. Yes, there is too such a thing. And March is it. I guess whoever allocates this sort of thing decided that by March, after 4 long months of winter, we’re very, nearly close to stabbing each other. Therefore, a meal that can be prepared without a knife, and involves simply peeling back a thin layer of plastic is not only handy, it’s the criminally responsible thing to do.

Unless you consider TV dinners a crime against the palate.

Betty LOVES TV dinners. LOVES them. And if I’m going to expose my true self here, I love the instant mashed potatoes and spoon full of mystery cobbler that come with them. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a TV dinner but I still remember the weird and wonderful texture of those fake potatoes full of fake buttery flavour. Love it.

Of course frozen food isn’t just tv dinners. It’s frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, frozen pizza and all that other stuff in those coolers on the side aisle of the grocery store. The side aisle that I never seem to go into. I don’t buy frozen food yet my freezer is so full I wear boots when I open the door to it to ward off a broken toe.

So who cares that it’s frozen food month? YOU do! You care! Because the reason you clicked on this post is because you wanted to learn how to slash the cost of your groceries. And it all starts with Frozen Food Month. Actually it all starts with January and Oatmeal Month.  More on that in a minute.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that certain things go on sale in grocery stores at certain times. And you’ll try to remember when that is, but you can’t. For instance I know I can buy beef tenderloins for a REALLY good price about once a year but I have no idea when that is. So every month I stare into the meat shelf trying to telepathically connect with the beef, willing it to jump out of its styrofoam tray, grab me by the cheeks and say “MAY! MAY IS NATIONAL BEEF MONTH! I’LL BE ON SALE THEN!”

Paying attention to what “National” month it is, is one way you can slash your grocery budget, by knowing when the sales are and stocking up then.

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I’m not just making this shit up. I do all of these things.  (Yet I still have an astonishingly high grocery bill, so I’m not sure I’m fit to give advice)

Did you notice #8 on that list?  Shop the reduced produce section?  Do it.  Plan a meal around it.  It used to be that people avoided the reduced section of produce with their sad little bruised cauliflowers, but in the past year or so I’ve noticed it’s kind of become the hub of the vegetable section.  With all the talk about vegetables in the past while and the increase in weird looking heirloom produce, people aren’t as mortified by an apple with a single bruise on it anymore.

O.K., Here’s how a typical week here looks in terms of food.

Every Sunday I go through the store sales online and create my menu for the week around sale items. And cravings.  Also around cravings.  Like my recent spaghetti and meatballs craving for instance.

I then look at my menu and figure out what meals can be turned into OTHER meals.

So if I make a ridiculously delicious batch of Gramma’s Spaghetti and Meatballs on Monday, I’ll reserve a little bit of the cooked sauce and then plan to make Chicken Parmesan with that bit of reserved sauce.

If I make a hearty soup on Tuesday, I’ll know I can have a huge bowl of it, then with the bit leftover turn that into a meal by adding a big salad and bread to it on Thursday.

Get it?  Always rotating, adding and mixing up a lot of the same ingredients throughout the week.  Need to buy frozen corn to add a little to soup?  Plan to make corn cakes on another night.  This’ll stop the dreaded freezer-full-of-frightening things in a year.  You’ll use up the stuff you buy instead of throwing it into the back of the freezer where it will turn into a 17 pound chunk of ice with some sort of mystery food in the centre of it.

If things don’t go as planned  I always have that freezer full of extra meals that I can just grab.  Wanna organize your freezer? It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

When I head to the grocery store I have my list of ingredients and that’s what I buy.  Sometimes I won’t plan a meal for one of the days so I can be inspired by what’s in the store.  If you can’t stop yourself from impulse buying, make sure you have a plan for that item.  Like berries.  Whenever they’re on sale it’s hard to resist.  So we go home all excited about our pint of blueberries which rot in the fridge because we didn’t have a plan for them.  When you pick up that impulse ingredient you’d better pick up the rest of the ingredients that you need to go with it and make sure you use them.  (with blueberries for instance I’d make sure I had oatmeal, some sliced almonds and vanilla almond milk. When I got home I’d make a big batch of Oatmeal for the week and have Oatmeal with, blueberries, sliced almonds and almond milk every morning for breakfast)

Now we’re back to where we started.  National Frozen Food Month.  Print the guide that’s below so when the time comes you don’t have to scramble back to my website trying to figure out when the best time to buy crabs legs is.

Grocery-List-2
Click Here to get the printable version because you’re organized like that.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some spaghetti and meatballs to make.

71 Comments

  1. cathleen clark says:

    Wait am I the first to comment?
    Have hunter boots seriously think we were separated at birth. Short answer sweet love your blog!

  2. pat barford says:

    I love your Gramma’s spaghetti and meatballs. The recipe is always good for at least two meals it not more, though they never make it to the freezer. I don’t care as long as I only have to cook once.

  3. TucsonPatty says:

    I need to make my national frozen food month out of my own scary-ass freezer.
    It has been a hibernation chamber for about 3 years. I’m gonna ear it all – it’s been frozen solid and will be okay, I’m positive!

  4. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I am always on the look-out for marked down items so I would likely find the special sales for what ever month…Meat, veggies, fruit markdowns…I buy them all….

  5. MissChris SA says:

    Really? National food months?
    If it were not for the cold, I may have to consider moving to your neck of the woods!!

    Have a great day!

  6. Kathleen says:

    I love to prepare in advance, including for the freezer. I spend most Sundays cooking for the week (well at least Monday to Wednesday’s dinners) – things that will be okay just being refrigerated until then. I am lazy like that.

    Our local supermarket marks down fresh veggies every day, just before the home time rush. I love that the produce doesn’t go to waste.

    Have an awesome week, all.

  7. Bronwyn says:

    I can tell you about a food bargain I’ve found, as I’m in Australia and you wont be able to fight me at the meat counter for it. A major supermarket chain in Australia packs up “offcuts” of meat (eg beef, lamb, pork – separately) – and sells it for less than $10 a kilo. Sometimes it’s very fatty offcuts, so you are paying that cheap price but only getting half a pack of lean meat, which effectively doubles the price. But sometimes you get packs were it’s very lean meat eg when the butcher is trimming up frenched lamb chops and there is more loin meat than bones, so wholes slices of loin are “offcut”. If you have to chop the meat anyway to make a braise or curry, it’s well worth it. And I’m also not too shy to buy the meat when it is marked down eg on the day before its use by date. Most meat benefits from aging…..

    • Dee says:

      Hi Bronwyn: Greetings from frozen Canada! I’ve got friends in Queensland-can you give me a hint I can pass on?

      • Bronwyn says:

        Hi Dee, your friends wont have to look too hard. There are 2 supermarket chains in Australia – the one I’m talking about starts with a “C” and rhymes with “Poles”! But the meat situation is very hit-and-miss. I was as the supermarket today – nothing. But I’ll go another day and there will be something. All the best.

  8. Gillian says:

    I was thinking today that I’m that perpetually over-prepared and scattered person…..you know the one “oh! Right, I have that…..here. ….somewhere. Just a second” while furiously patting pockets and digging through bags.

    After I realized that I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared and organized?!? Then you come out with this post. Thanks!!

  9. Sabina says:

    Print and stick on spare freezer in the basement with really cool magnet 🙂

  10. Thera says:

    The other thing the mark down cart is good for, taste testing, especially with children.
    You can get cheap fruits and veggies to try out and if it doesn’t appeal, it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
    My daughter and I grabbed a dragon fruit the other day(for $0.25), not very tasty on it’s own, what do I do with it now?

  11. Jane S says:

    I always go for the marked down meat. It goes right in the freezer anyway, and I thaw it when I cook it. This also encourages me to try things I wouldn’t normally choose.

  12. Mary W says:

    This is a TV show waiting to happen. I buy this extremely expensive item that I’ve never tried before, make the meal that caused the purchase, it is good but now what about the rest of it? Like spices. Can’t someone come up with 10 recipes per spice that are different and good, breakfast and dessert and lunch. Or dragon fruit like Thera commented. Or that expensive jar of whitish looking nut paste that I was going to use for a Jewish dessert – my daughter-in-law opened it, tasted, put it back on the pantry shelf where I later found it spoiled up there. I had been waiting to find some more recipes to use it up. It was $7.99 for a little bottle and I don’t remember anything more than a recipe sounded so good, SHE tasted it and left it to rot, and I wasted money. Even in the crafting world, great product needs to be shown how to use before most of us buy it and then begin using it and wondering what we did before. That is why recipes and food shows are so good – they expand our horizons (and waistlines) and why I love your blog – full of wonderful ideas AND how to do it. You should do a series on less known foods and spices and provide several recipes for them. I use Chinese 5 spice in my oatmeal, for instance.

    • Karen says:

      That’s a great idea Mary W! I’ve been wanting to do that very thing with a few ingredients but never thought to consider spices! ~ karen

      • Lynn says:

        That really is a good idea! Karen, do you have a recipe donation site? Or maybe have spice boards and anyone with a good recipe that includes it could post it on the board. Veggie and fruit boards as well? This could be a nightmare…… I like the concept though

        • Pam'a says:

          I discovered that at Allrecipes.com, you can input (or exclude) ingredients and search for recipes. HUGELY helpful when you’re sitting there with that extra fennel bulb, some leftover ham, and your husband hates cilantro (exclude that one).

          Oh, and p.s. When you say “National,” which nation are you talking about, Karen?

        • Pam'a says:

          Bah. Ignore. I didn’t read down far enough before I asked!

  13. Susan D'Achille says:

    Hi Karen,
    I thought I was the only one that knew about the 8 rules to save money but apparently not! Number 9 which I just added is the best in which you can price match sale items in all of the grocery store flyers that you receive and bring to one store that participates in that service. Here in Ontario, Canada, No Frills, Superstore, and Walmart are the participating stores. Just make a list of items from each flyer, bring the flyer into the participating store and show them where in the flyer the item is. You receive the best deals without driving all over creation.

    • Dagmar says:

      Hi Susan, I completely forgot about doing that. It works extremely well. I have found that there is only one down-side to getting some amazing prices (we got the 1kg of Kraft peanut butter for 1.99!? Crazy, right. We bought something like 50.) So my home looks like a warehouse now.

  14. Korrine says:

    For weight loss purposes I started meal prepping in January, and the side effect has been HUGE savings at the grocery store. I make 2 dinners so I can alternate nights (I plan for 5 nights a week) and I eat the same things for breakfast and lunch every day. I thought I would get bored but I leave myself 2 nights to either go out or make something fresh and the other meals are so easy and take no work or decision making, so I am loving it….and I am loving the $$$ I am saving too.

  15. Marilyn says:

    Another tip is to shop early and get the bakery and meat deals! Our store reduces meat and baked goods every morning , we have people who only shop for all of the reduced items !

    • Karen says:

      Good to know! I love making my own little baguette crisps, (like the Ace bakery ones) and reduced baguettes are perfect for them. I *always* try to find the reduced baguettes. Didn’t realize that the reducing of prices happens in the morning. 🙂 ~ karen!

      • Dagmar says:

        I’m a little confused too. Are these items left over from the night before, that are just not sold? Because it seems rather odd to reduce something fresh baked

      • Erin says:

        I would say it depends on the store. Here in Vancouver, the Safeway stores reduce their donuts at 7pm for instance.

  16. Melissa says:

    Oh, tv dinners. When I was a kid, these were reserved for when the babysitter was coming, and we could go to the store with mom to pick one out. First choice was the dessert – if it was a good entree but had banana pudding as the dessert, forget it! Had to have chocolate pudding or brownie. Then you could consider the entree part.

    And need I mention, these were cooked in the oven, because microwaves were for scientists.

  17. Katie says:

    Do these National Food Months only apply to Canada?

    • Karen says:

      No, no Katie! It’s North American. In fact, shopping by holiday is helpful too. So if you’re celebrating Memorial Day or the 4th of July, all kinds of BBQ items like meats and condiments will be on sale. ~ karen!

  18. Mel says:

    My tips are to shop the perimeter of the store, so the produce, seafood and meat departments and avoid the aisles as much as possible. Processed food can be pricy, not just on your grocery bill (it is full of salt, sugar and chemicals and isn’t very nutrient dense so you wind up eating more or being hungry again sooner) but also it ends up costing more in the long run in terms of health care costs and sick days from the effects of processed food consumption. My other tip is to start cutting down on your meat consumption. Start with meatless Monday and go from there. Try for a few days a week. There are so many delicious vegetarian options! I love grocery shopping and cooking though so I’m kind of an odd duck.

    • Mick (Michele) says:

      YES! Go with, and stick to, a list. Shop the perimeter-I say stores hate to see us coming thru the door b/c they won’t be making $ off us. I’m retired, also I don’t have little ones under foot, so it is easier for me to be able to ‘cook from scratch’, but I’ve always had cooked (brown) rice, vegetables and a protein ready to throw together a meal. Check out @ store can be an eye opener for me. Over flowing shopping carts of boxes, cans, bottles, totaling many times the $30 avg I’ve spent (I wonder how much of over flowing cart is eaten?). Change is easier in small steps.

  19. SuzyMcQ says:

    Little bit of left over spaghetti sauce? Use it on pizza. Add a little bit of cinnamon, just a dash. It’s a game-changer!

  20. Might I also suggest that if you can invest in a home vacuum-sealing system. Holy crap, has that machine saved me a ton of money! I buy stuff on sale and then vacuum seal and freeze it. Added benefits of the vacuum sealing being that frozen foods last waaaaaaaaaaaay longer than ever – I just thawed and cooked some fish filets that have been in the freezer nearly a year, and they were fabulous! – the amount of space the packages take up is WAY less than various containers, and it’s easy to see what you are grabbing at a quick glance, so less chance of painful visits to the open freezer door.

    • Cred says:

      If you go waaaay back, you will see that Karen has a video of how to use a Foodsaver (under DIY tutorials) and it got top billing in her post 10 Kitchen Tools that will Make you a better Human Being than Everyone Else (again gotta go back 6yrs- it’s under kitchen tips). I love Karen’s kitchen tools and tips posts.

  21. Ev Wilcox says:

    Does US have National Food Months?

  22. Jennie Lee says:

    She’s not kidding about broken toes, folks. A friend of mine dropped a frozen turkey on his foot once, and broke his foot. I think the worst part was having to tell everyone about how it happened.

  23. Julie says:

    Hi Karen
    I’ve often seen you mention having frozen lasagna when you’re in a rush. I just can’t understand it. If I put a frozen block of it in the microwave, I’m gonna be fiddling with it for quite a while to get it thawed and heated through. I’m pretty sure I could stop at a drive thru more quickly. Not to say I wouldn’t have frozen lasagna…just not on the spur of the moment!

    • Karen says:

      I’m not sure what you do with your frozen lasagna but I have mine in individual food saver bags. I throw the entire bag into a pot of boiling water (which both thaws it and heats it up). That’s it. Done. Also if isn’t completely spur of the moment and you know you aren’t going to have time to make dinner by the afternoon you thaw the lasagna first and then just reheat it at dinner time. ~ karen!

      • Julie says:

        Well! Never thought of the food saver bags (tho I guess I’d have to buy one lol). But I can see that that would be quicker. Normally I’d freeze it wrapped in plastic, then thaw overnight and heat in the oven for an exceptionally long time. Or heat in the microwave, but I’m not nuts about the results. I will tell Bill that my friend Karen says we have to get a Food Saver. Although he is growing weary of my friend Karen’s recommendations.

      • Marilynn says:

        I did this 40 years ago with leftover pork roast on a bone. The meat came off the bone and the juices made a good graveyard for hot pork sandwiches. I forgot I even did this until this reminder (I was poor back then…)! Thank you! MK

    • Erin says:

      I freeze lasagna in plastic Ziploc bags. Then take it out, drop it in a frying pan, add just a touch of water to lubricate the bottom and simmer it for maybe 10-15 minutes. Who needs a microwave???

  24. Benjamin says:

    When is National Brussel Sprout Month?

    • Grammy says:

      I see what you did there.

      • Benjamin says:

        Thanks for noticing Grammy. Thinking probly Karen loves my comment too, lol. I’m making chopped bacon, shaved asparagus and shredded Brussel sprout slaw with a ginger soy vinaigrette for dinner. Yum !!!

  25. Marty says:

    This is going in my file folder under: How to Prepare to Move to Canada if Trump Wins. Thanks for the info.

  26. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Another food saving hint . . . grocery specials around here (southern Ontario) tend to run from Friday to the following Thursday. If you go on the grocery store’s website (No Frills, Fortinos, Sobeys) on a Thursday, you can find the current week’s flyer and the next week’s flyer. That way, if asparagus is on special for $2.99 next week, you can avoid paying $4.99 this week. It also helps to avoid the urge to smack either yourself or someone at the store. Not that I would ever do that. Ever.

  27. Josephine says:

    Another hint shop on a full stomach as you are less likely to buy impulsive items. It works for me anyway. Thanks for the tips Karen.

  28. Renee says:

    My kids always got a kick out of it when I said we were having “clearance meat” for dinner! I cut lasagna into serving size pieces to freeze, and then I just put em on a sheet pan in the oven covered with foil. Now this takes a while, but there is no prep either.

  29. Helen Whaley says:

    A reduced produce rack sounds wonderful! I love me some fruit and veggies, especially on the cheap.
    But I’ve never seen such a thing. My husband neither. Are they as rare as unicorns here in Maryland or am I just sale-blind?

    • Merrilee says:

      I live in PA so can’t speak about your store specifically but it’s usually just a small shelf or sometimes a cart where reduced items are placed. I’ve seen bread and baked goods, very ripe fruits like bananas, and so on. Like Karen says, who cares if there’s a tiny mark on the apple! (if all else fails, if you don’t see one just ask!)

      Karen this reminds me of when I was in grad school- my husband used to drive to the grocery store at midnight because that was when the meat went on sale and we couldn’t afford full price! Ahhhhh memories! Now we don’t *have* to shop the reduced section but I still LOVE to find a bargain!

  30. Shauna says:

    I definitely do the eat one thing, but be prepared to use it for other meals throughout the week. I will often buy a whole chicken – roast it, have chicken, rice, roasted broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots for dinner. Take all the meat off the bones, reserve a bunch of the meat, make chicken stock with the bones, carrot pieces, etc. With that, make chicken tortilla soup the next day for dinner. If there’s any chicken leftover, I might make chicken tikka masala and use the leftover rice from the first meal, or chicken enchiladas with a side of soup, or maybe chicken nachos with the remaining tortillas. With the vegetables that I used to make the stock (after removing all the bones of course), I reserve a cup of the stock, and stick an immersion blender in the pot and make a really good base that I use to make beef stew in a crock pot. The list just keeps on going:)

  31. Marna says:

    Wow where have I been? I had only heard of frozen food month, I’ve been around a long time too! LOL. I use to be so organized, made my lists from ads, cut my coupons, went on the best days etc. I use to have both cashiers and customers remark about how much I saved, even in a drug store. But then I worked full time, married with 3 boys and had to figure out how to do it all and save money. I started growing food when I was about 9, so I am still doing it, just limited now. I love having some of my own fresh herbs. Now with the wonderful list you shared, I will be sure to save more, my husband is looking at total retirement soon. Thanks 🙂

  32. gabrielle says:

    I am not sure you have ever shopped at the grocery store that rhymes with “Square’s”, but in my town, the regular produce is stocked with rotten veggies and the discount rack leaks fluid. Must be some Canadian mafiosa front!

  33. Bargain produce section? We certainly don’t have those in California. All the ugly stuff gets dumped in the trash. Which is why there is a whole movement of “freegans”; people who live off of grocery store dumpsters.

    Sigh. Canada-1, California-0.

    • Karen says:

      Really? No reduced rack for vegetables? I just picked up a cucumber today from it. And that’s where I get my corn all the time. The odd time there’s a mouldy kernel or some of it’s looking a bit wrinkled. But I just pick the 2 out of 6 that are perfect and feed the rest to the chickens through the week. All for the grand price of around 0.99. 🙂 I had no idea there were stores that didn’t have them! ~ karen

    • Laura Bee says:

      And France for the big win: “France is making it illegal for supermarkets to throw away any food that is considered edible. The European country’s parliament voted unanimously for the new law, which will force grocers to either donate the food to charity or make sure that it is used as animal feed.”
      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/05/22/france-is-making-it-illegal-for-supermarkets-to-throw-away-edible-food/

  34. Amy in StL says:

    I’ve never seen a reduced produce rack here in St. Louis – at least in the two major chains we have. We have bargain stores like Savealot and Shop and Save but those stores tend to have freezer burned food and overripe produce… and weird brands. My friend who works at a local grocery store says they throw out all food that is going bad. Kind of like Petco, throws out all pet food that is close to expiration instead of donating it to charity like Petsmart.

  35. Penny says:

    National food days? Or weeks, even months? You piqued my curiosity, so I Googled like a boss and found out all the food-related stuff here in the UK, and my goodness, there’s a lot of it! Unfortunately, many of the days seem to have been somewhat randomly assigned with no real connection to seasonality or healthy eating. F’r’instance, we have Pie day, Sausage day, National Chip week (fries, to you) and Chocolate day. Confusingly, January was designated both Dry January and Ginuary, with a different cocktail for each of the 31 days!
    I work in a local convenience store, though, and our retail promotions don’t seem to have any sort of connection to these National Days, they’re really sensible. In January we had half-price offers on cold and flu remedies, tissues, fruit juice and soup. This was perfect timing as when the kids went back to school they all got the same homework assignment; take your classmate’s sniffles and infect your family.
    I’m with you on #8, Karen. I regularly make and batch-freeze meals concocted entirely from reduced items.

  36. Kelli says:

    So where is this magical “reduced price produce” section you speak of? I have NEVER seen a reduced produce section in any grocery store here in Texas; reduced/day old bakery goods, yes, but never produce. We usually just have to paw our way through whatever is out, and even if the stuff is ripe, it’s still regular price. Is this a Canadian grocery thing? Seriously, if I’m not seeing this in stores here in the U.S. someone please clue me in!

  37. Laura Bee says:

    I love the reduced racks. We were eating $1 cauliflower last week! Meats are usually 30% off & other items in store 50% off. I need to start menu planning. Try some new ideas. Even if my daughter would eat meat pies or tuna casserole everyday.

  38. calliek says:

    The reduced rack is one of my favourite tricks too. I often get huge bags of mushrooms for a dollar – primarily white button or cremini but sometimes I’ll find King oyster or portobellos on the discount rack too. I can’t possibly eat them all fresh so slice them and saute them lightly in butter and then freeze them. Easy to add to any dish that you will be cooking, like pasta sauce or stew.

    Here in Toronto we also have tons of green grocers (like convenience stores which sell primarily fruit and veggies) and most of them have reduced racks too. One in particular sells baskets of random things for a dollar so I usually check out what on that rack first. Sometimes it’s things that will keep like onions, root veggies, or apples. Sometimes it’s more perishable things like a mix of different berries – those I only pick up if I have the time to process them. I’ve learned the hard way that bargain raspberries quickly turn into a big mushy fermenting mess!

  39. magali says:

    You make oatmeal ahead of time? Do you just warm it up with some extra milk when comes the time to eat it? Oatmeal is the one thing I always compost if I make too much of it because I feel like it will turn into a hard brick.

    • Karen says:

      Yup. I make a big bowl on Sunday or Monday and keep it in the fridge. Scoop out whatever I want to eat, add some reg. milk or almond milk and nuke it for a minute. It’s perfect. You can freeze oatmeal too! ~ karen

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