Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How to Grocery Shop During a Recession

A good cook will never starve. A bad one will.

The days of inexpensive food are over. The global demand has caught up with us and in the midst of a worsening economic crisis. Already it's changing our shopping and eating habits.

For example, canned meat production, such as SPAM, has never been greater. It’s exactly what a bad cook will eat, but not a good one. For about the same price, the good cook would have bought chicken or turkey parts (back, necks, gizzards) and prepared a lovely soup with veggies. (Never throw away scraps from onions, carrots, etc. Freeze in a bag and use when you make a soup stock.)

If you’re like a millions others, you no longer just whiz to the grocery store to fill up your basket with favorite brands without even looking at the price. While most generic brands are quite acceptable, some aren’t. Be wary of generic rice and grains. They can be old and have a certain “musty” taste. Always shop with store’s flyer of items on sale.

A simple loaf of a decent white bread is now as much as an artisan loaf baked at your grocery store! But a bag of bread flour is only four dollars and from it you can make your own. Trust me, your family will worship you and it's easier than you think, especially if you have a bread machine.

The variety of meat at many local grocery stores dwindles since people can’t afford the rising prices. Sales of ground beef have increased. Beef stew meat, too. Both have never been better since they use good cuts no one can afford to buy before they expire.

Many stores now have an “expiration bin.” Meats half-priced because they expire that day or very soon. Not a bad deal. As in Asian cuisine, meats need to be used for flavoring. Think chop suey.

One of the best bargains around are smoked ham shanks and ham hocks. They pack a lot of taste for soups and stews. Begin a collection of casserole recipes. They are nutritious and filling.

If you live in a rural area, shopping options are at a minimum. Ask friends who are members of big-box stores to pick up items for you and to even share. A half-gallon of olive oil, for example, is a bargain and can easily be split with another person. The same is true for dry goods and meat and poultry in bulk.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a grocery gift card for your birthday or Christmas. You can use it to “splurge” on things you normally wouldn’t purchase, such as shrimp, cheese and wine.

Be wary of purchasing food from dollar stores. But that is where you should buy cleaning supplies, laundry products, wax paper, etc.

Plastic grocery bags make great garbage bags, are perfect to use for flouring chicken and meats. Place one on a counter to easily catch vegetable peelings. Use them instead of saran wrap to cover leftovers. Try to be selective and use your re-usable grocery bag as often as possible.

Cooking takes time. Do prep work at night so it’s easier to begin the next day. Involve the family. As my great-aunt used to say, “Many hands lighten the load.”

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