Photo: The Food Network
“My money savvy comes from being raised in a family without money,” says Melissa D’Arabian, author of the best-selling cookbook “10 Dollar Dinners,” which came out this August, and host of the Food Network show by the same name.See D’Arabian’s grocery tips >
“My mum was a single parent putting herself through college and eventually medical school. We didn’t have money, so we worked around it, and I think that [mindset] just stayed in my blood.”
Five years ago, D’Arabian decided to quit her job in finance to become a stay-at-home mum. She’d just had twins, in addition to two other toddlers (now 6 and 7).
During her first few years as a stay-at-home mum, her frugality came in handy. In fact, a YouTube video of her showing how to make homemade yogurt in her Texas garage (something she says saved her more than $150 a month) caught the attention of the Food Network. In 2009, she went on to compete in, and win, the fifth season of “Food Network Star.”
“I’m not against spending money,” says D’Arabian, who admits to loving manicures and professional waxing. “I am against spending money mindlessly. [My message] is about not letting the fact that we’re imperfect give us permission to stop trying.”
D’Arabian’s new cookbook is chock-full of recipes and money-saving tips. “It’s meant to help [readers] lower their shopping bills overall and become thoughtful, responsible consumers,” she says. “It’s about celebrating food, respecting our resources and feeling good about the food we’re putting into our bodies.”
D’Arabian shares her 10 most helpful thrifty tips, as well as two tasty recipes she loves.
Head to the produce aisle first, and focus on what's in season.
The idea of produce as a budget-buster is completely a myth if you know how to shop, she tells us.
Most importantly, disregard out-of-season options (like peaches in January).
In fact, D'Arabian tells us that the produce aisle is one of the few places where cheaper usually means better quality, because the riper the fruit, the more the store wants to unload it.
Also, food that is in season locally costs less. That's why you pay so much for weird, genetically modified fruits and veggies shipped to your grocery store from another country.
So, load up your cart there first with what's on sale and in season.
D'Arabian doesn't think about how much it costs to get a plate of food on the table, but rather about the price per nutrient.
For example, you may be able to get two packages of ramen noodles for a dollar, whereas a one-pound box of whole grain pasta with flaxseed, legumes and protein will cost $2.29.
While it's true that ramen noodles might be the cheapest thing out there in terms of volume, as a strategy for nourishing your family, you'd still have to find protein, fibre and nutrients for the meal elsewhere.
Bacon, fresh ginger, nuts, grated cheese and even leftover wine (for cooking) keep exponentially longer in the freezer than in the fridge.
In her book, D'Arabian suggests storing these in resealable freezer bags (or for wine, in ice cube trays) so you can easily add just enough to brighten, deepen or add a textural component to a recipe.
The most expensive ingredient is the one you throw away, so take a few seconds to check through your crisper drawers and see what's lurking in the back of the fridge.
Let your inventory review drive your week's menu. If all you have are odds and ends, make an anything-goes soup or pasta sauce.
Your menu doesn't have to be fancy to be effective.
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