Frugal Cooking is All The Rage

by Katy on March 18, 2009 · 14 comments


How to Feed Your Family

When my kids were in preschool, we fundraised for the school through Scrip. These face value gift certificates were sold at a profit to the parents to supplement the tuition we paid. There was big pressure on the parents to buy scrip.

The mandatory monthly meetings went a little something like this:

“It’s very important for everyone to buying their share of scrip. If everyone just bought nothing more than $400 per month in grocery store scrip, we’d make bah-blah-blah profit.” 

I finally raised my hand to point out that not everyone spent that much on monthly groceries. My family was actually only spending about $250 per month on groceries. (This was ten years ago, and food was a lot cheaper.)

The other parents were shocked that a family of four could be spending so little, and a few even came up to me to ask how we kept our food bills so low.

Because you see, there was next to nothing in the newspaper at the time about cooking inexpensively. And the internet was still a few years from being widely used.

Fast forward a decade, and information on how to shop and cook frugally is saturating the media. What used to be a small column on frugal cooking in our newspaper food section has spread into almost every article. Cheaper cuts of meat and beans seem to dominate most every recipe.

And that, my friends is a good thing.

My friend Glenn forwarded me an article about an English woman who has written a wonderfully titled cookbook called:

“How to feed your whole family a healthy, balanced diet with very little money and hardly any time, even if you have a tiny kitchen, only three saucepans (one with an ill-fitting lid) and no fancy gadgets unless you count the garlic crusher.”

This cookbook is in its fifth British printing, and the author Gill Holcombe even has a second cookbook in the works. I tried unsuccessfully to find it at my local library, but a quick glance through a few of the author’s recipes, such as fish finger pie dissuaded me from furthering my search.


Luckily, this cookbook is not the only resource for people wanting to learn how to cook healthy, frugal meals for their families. Sites such as and Cook’s Illustrated make it easy to find simple recipes that don’t call for bizarrely expensive ingredients.

And best of all, there are no more mandatory monthly preschool meetings. And the pressure to buy scrip is lessened in the elementary schools. 

What’s your favorite tried-and-true trick for keeping your grocery bills under control? Please share your tips in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Kat March 18, 2009 at 6:10 am

I’m vegetarian so nothing is spent on meat but otherwise lots of dried beans, lentils and produce that’s in season which is when it’s cheapest and best quality. I check the newspaper for relevant coupons but usually find that the generic is still cheaper.
I also shop a few ethnic markets. Dried beans are cheaper in bulk at the Indian Spice Market as well as whole spices and cabbage, chilies, herbs, cooking oil, bulk rice and more spices are cheaper and of better quality at the Asian markets. There’s also a Mediterranean deli/market store that has nuts, dried fruit and other vegetarian staples at better prices than the mega-mart. I use the Asian markets the most because they’re in biking distance and stop by the other two when I’m running errands in the area.


glenn March 18, 2009 at 7:55 am

I agree, the concept of that Gill Holcombe book seems better than the actual recipes.

My very favorite way to save money on grocery bills is eggs from our backyard chickens. They blow the doors off of store bought eggs. We eat them practically every day. We even save money on dog food by substituting eggs when we have extras.

Another favorite is eating home grown veggies. Few things are yummier than a fresh picked veggie from your own garden. This year we are planning to expand our garden quite a bit.

Canning your own produce has to be the greatest, tastiest way to save money possible. It’s pretty easy to keep yourself in staples such as tomato sauce, strawberry jam, and pickles that beat the heck out of store-bought, for practically nothing.

Canning is a great way to save money even if you don’t grow your own veggies. Seasonal fruits and veggies are at their best, and usually least expensive, when they are abundant at the local farmer’s market. If you get them when they cheap, abundant, and at their flavor peak, you can inexpensively can them to enjoy the whole year long.


steplikeagiant March 18, 2009 at 9:26 am

Do much the same as Kat…from scratch, veggie diet that relies on bulk items such as beans and rice. Also, my husband makes 2 huge pots of hearty soup/stew (lentils, root veggies, etc.) at a time and we freeze it and eat it 3 nights per week with rice or couscous. We also supplement with food we grow and food from the tail gate markets.


Jeanine March 18, 2009 at 10:28 am

I have no problem with buying “sell-by” date meat and day old bread.

Those two things alone save a quite a bit. Something else I have done, much to the chargin of my husband, is have one meatless meal a week. He >hates< it. He usually will par down on a serving earlier in the week and have some leftover meat.

I wish I had the time to bake from scratch; I just can’t see it with my current schedule.


Kate March 18, 2009 at 10:46 am

Shop on a schedule. I do a major shop every two weeks on pay day, and I make sure the pantry is filled with the staples (replenishing what we are low on) and the freezer has meat in it (I buy more of whatever is on sale). I still shop in between for fresh produce or if we run out of milk, but having a full pantry means you can always cook something.


Kristen@The Frugal Girl March 18, 2009 at 11:21 am

I’m laughing my butt off at the title of that book! It reminds me of the domain name for this website:

Sometimes, brevity is better. Actually, most of the time it is!

On topic, planning my menus is hands down the most helpful thing I do to save time and money.


Angela March 18, 2009 at 11:24 am

Maybe the cookbook was so popular because of the title, it’s pretty funny. But then again, those Brits like some pretty strange food- have you ever actually eaten a Shepard’s pie or mushy peas? Lest any Brits take offense, please know that I LOVE England and have spent a lot of time there.

Even though I’m sure it’s probably healthier to shop every day for the freshest ingredients for that evening’s meal, I think the way we save money is mostly through buying in bulk and shopping less often. I was shocked when I started realizing how much friends paid for groceries, mostly by not planning ahead and not having any sense of how much things should cost.

Some of my top ways to save money:
1. Have a list.
2. Don’t buy convenience or packaged foods- they are SO expensive, not to mention unhealthy.
3. My husband shops at Costco about once a month for staples like canned tuna, canned salmon, and spaghetti sauce.
4. Buy produce in season and compare prices at various markets. Farmer’s markets can also work as long as you don’t buy more than you need.
5. We don’t eat red meat and I cook a lot of meals with either ground turkey or no meat at all. Beans and lentils are very cheap, and I love to make soup. None of the soups I make- tomato, carrot, lentil, vegetable, etc.- have meat.

I don’t use coupons, but I do use store cards, which save a lot. I stock up on things that are on special, as long as it’s a staple and I know it won’t go to waste.

Since I joined The Compact and started reading your blog, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to food waste, and that’s also saving money. When you have too much food in your pantry and refrigerator, you tend to lose track of it and some of it ends up getting thrown out.


Angela March 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

That’s funny, while I was composing my wordy comment, Kristin slipped in with her “brevity is better” comment… Ha!

I forgot to mention one thing- I can’t imagine that anyone reading this blog doesn’t know this- but NEVER buy spices in the jar at the market. Anything that costs $5 or $6 costs 99 cents at an import store like World Market or an ethnic market.


Julie March 18, 2009 at 7:55 pm

I have to add yet another vote for vegetarian, scratch cooking/baking, meal planning/seasonal eating/well-stocked pantry. I almost never shop at Costco because our family is so small. I do most of our shopping at the local co-op because I get a 10% discount coupon each month and obviously buy as much as I can then. I do buy 99% organic, which costs more, because my son seems to be sensitive to food additives, artificial colors/flavors etc. And I feel like I’m doing my part toward the planet by creating a bigger market for organic food. We have also cut down drastically on food waste, inspired by Kristen and Katy and everyone else who posts about it.


glenn March 18, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Another thought… I try to eat mostly organic, because I prefer my food not to be sprayed with poison before I eat it, but the lists that include which foods are the most dangerous and which are safest to eat nonorganic can be handy and moneysaving. Here is one such list:

Another trick is to buy de facto organic. A lot of times you can find spray-free fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market that aren’t certified organic so they are cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about pesticides.


Jeanne March 19, 2009 at 5:04 am

We live frugally and have a wonderful, fun life. My siblings envy us because we don’t have to work a 9 to 5 job, can work freelance and from home, and we enjoy every day as it comes with peace of mind.

Here are my tips for frugal grocery shopping:
1. Buy only what is on sale and know the average price for an item at multiple stores.
2. Invest in a big freezer and pantry space.
3. Buy big cuts of meat when the price per pound is right. When you get home from the store, cut them into meal-sized portions, label and freeze. I buy big hams on sale for 99 cents and slice them into packs of 3 slices each (we have 3 adults living in the house). The scraps are put into a bag for the dog. I got 20 packets of ham out of an 18 pound ham. So I spent $18 and each meal’s meat is about 90 cents.
4. Avoid convenience foods like packaged potato mixes, etc. Make your own.
5. Grow what you can and what makes sense. If you can grow your own and it is better (better tasting, better variety, etc) then do it. It’s really not that much work (see my blog) and it is good exercise.
6. We shop at 2 stores per week. We use coupons.
7. We do not buy “fancy stuff” unless a coupon and sale brings the price down to the average. For example, spaghetti sauce averages $1.25 per jar around here with $1 a great sale. We bought a Newmans’ own sauce on sale. It was regularly around $3 a jar, but with the sale and coupon the price came down to $1.25 so we bought it.
8. Make a meal list every week and stick to it.
9. Make a list of meals your family likes so you can rotate the meal list.
10. Don’t be afraid to buy stuff that is marked down. Our stores have bread marked down on Manager’s Special at ridiculously low prices and it tastes fun. We have also bought marked down donuts, cakes, and even salmon! The bread saves us quite a lot – normal price $1.25 – $1.50 and marked down as low as 70 cents.


LeAnna March 19, 2009 at 9:31 am

Another vote for vegetarianism, seriously. Does any food get cheaper than dried beans? And long-term, pretty sure I’ll be saving on health costs, too. Just sayin’.

Also, I try to only really go grocery shopping once every 2-3 weeks. Weeks between, it will be a quick stop for produce. I find it keeps me from buying junk I don’t need. Keeping to a list is a lot easier if it’s a fairly long one and you’re with a toddler who will only tolerate the store for 30-40 minutes. Gotta get DONE! Not peruse the ice cream section.


Marj March 19, 2009 at 10:24 am

Cooking from scratch is the biggest money saver we have.
Our veggie garden this year will yield many freezable items and lots of fresh salads.
Jeanne hit upon nearly all the things I do. Glad to know LOTS of others are out there.
Hip-hip-horay for frugal cooking.


Pennie March 19, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Frugal cooking = good eats!

I find that frugal cooking actually saves me time…how simple is a pot of chili and some cornbread, or a bowl of spagetti w/sauce and a tossed salad after all?

Definitely agree with growing your own–even if its just container tomatoes or a row of peas. So tasty and satisfying. Yes to bulk, coupons, sales, and infrequent shopping.

Probably the best thing for our household has been the ability to identify the 10-12 (or so)favorite dinner menu items and then just rotate through those, with an eye to incorporating left-overs and eating in season.


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