11 Steps to Gourmet Cooking on a Budget
Redefine Gourmet Food
Most people associate very expensive products such as caviar or truffles with the term “gourmet food”. However, for food to be “gourmet” it does not need to be expensive or exotic. Anything can be gourmet as long as it is what we like to call honest food. That is, fresh, locally produced, in season, preferably organic, unprocessed or minimally processed, and free of harmful chemicals and toxins. It's simply the best quality food, not the most luxurious or rare.
Everyone is on a budget, but to make your money really count you need to start eating smart.
1. Buy Unproccessed Foods: Processed food is convenient, but it is also expensive. For the price of a frozen entree, you can easily cook a delicious (and healthy!) meal from scratch, and even have leftovers for the next day. While the initial cost of purchasing pantry staples such as flour, sugar, spices, pasta, and rice may seem like a lot, these items will last you for a long time whereas a frozen pizza only feeds you once.
2. Cut Back on Expensive Ingredients: Cutting back on meat, soft drinks, and highly processed foods is the easiest and healthiest way to have more money left over for making truly gourmet meals from scratch. Instead of spending money on cheap, fatty cuts of meat for every meal of the week, cut back to eating meat once a week but invest in a high quality lean cut. And rather than wasting money on soft drinks, spend the money on ripe, in season fruits and vegetables. The same goes for chips (indulge in some delicious cheese once a week instead) and cheap candy (enjoy a bar of quality dark chocolate once in a while rather than mindlessly nibbling on high fructose corn syrup laden candy bars every day).
If you're food budget is tight, it is essential to have a smart weekly meal plan.
3. Buy Local and Seaonal: Plan meals that are centered around local/domestic, in season foods, which are typically cheaper than exotic foreign products that have to be shipped halfway around the globe. This is especially true for fruits, vegetables, and cheeses.
4. Use One Ingrediet for Multiple Dishes: Stretch your dollars even further by planning several meals around one chief ingredient. For example, buy a whole chicken and use it in multiple dishes. The same concept works also well for vegetables. For example, carrots can be used in anything from soups to pasta sauces, stir fries, and salads.
5. Avoid Ingredients You Won't Use Again: Plan meals with a few simple ingredients that you will use again. For example, don't plan a dish that requires five different exotic spices that you will never use again.
Supermarkets are designed to make you spend as much time and as much money there as possible. Outsmarting the marketing strategies of grocery stores is one of the easiest ways to save money.
6. Always Use a Shopping List: The most important rule when it comes to food shopping is to never, ever enter a grocery store without a list. Always make a list of the items your really need before you leave the house. Check your pantry to make sure you aren't buying something you already have at home.
7. Focus on Your List: When you enter the store, focus on your list. Don't get sidetracked by fun displays, or by getting lost in the maze of shelves.
8. Know Your Grocery: Get to know the layout of the store so you can easily find everything you need without having to wander down every aisle. Spend only as much time at the store as you really need for purchasing the items on your list. Wandering around will only lead to temptation and hence unnecessary spending.
9. Don't Fall for Samples: Don't fall for the friendly smile of the lady offering you a sample of the latest cookies – she is only there to make you feel guilty for having taken that free sample, so you end up buying a bag of cookies you had never planned on.
10. Shop After Eating: To keep unwanted food purchases to a minimum, time your shopping trip after a meal if possible. That way, you will be full and less likely in the mood for food. Avoid by all means shopping for food when you are hungry, such as before lunch or dinner, or after exercising.
11. Buy From Farmers, Coops, and Markets: Instead of spending top dollars at the supermarket, buy from local farmers, food coops, or farmer's markets. Buy larger quantities and split your purchase among friends and family.