Posted by: Sara S. | March 11, 2009

Q&A: Freeze, fry, repeat: How to cook through the recession

Cheap recipes are one good way to save money, but how should you approach recession cooking in general? Shelley Young, owner of The Chopping Block and a Monday conbtributor to our blog, answers some questions about money- and time-saving strategies to help you through.

1. In tight-budget times, what foods are best to stock the kitchen with?

Counter to what most people might think, fresh and frozen products can be more economical. Prepared, canned and processed foods can be less nutritionally dense and more expensive due to the packaging and processing costs.

There are many selections to be made in the produce aisle that are reasonably priced and keep for weeks or even months: potatoes of all kinds, butternut squash or any hard skinned squash, parsnips, turnips, beets, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, celery root, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes. Certain herbs such as rosemary and thyme last longer; try working with those more than, say, basil.

Buying fresh meats, poultry and seafood when they are on sale and freezing them is a great way to save money and enjoy high-quality meats. Meat freezes beautifully for months. If properly thawed in the refrigerator and cooked well, most people would notice very little difference.

If you have some meat in the freezer you can pull it out when needed throughout the week. If you purchase produce that lasts for weeks it will still be there and fresh when you need it. Supplement your shopping lists with a smaller amount of produce that expires quickly such as lettuce or fruit. Lastly, stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store where you will find the deals and nutrient dense foods!

2. I don’t want to break the bank over fresh produce, but I’d also hate to eat canned beans the rest of my lifewhat are some approaches?

Here is produce that doesn’t break the bank: squash, parsnips, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, turnips, carrots, and beets (really most everything except exotic peppers, tomatoes, lettuce). Frozen peas, spinach, corn, and artichokes can also be great.

3. Meat can tend toward expensivewhat are the best good and tasty substitutes?

Short ribs, chicken thighs, chuck roast, whole turkey, ground meats and sausages work well. A whole chicken will also be very economical.

I also suggest that you try quinoa as a protein choice. It is the perfect grain as it is a complete protein and inexpensive and quick to cook.

4. If I have some vegetables that are still edible but on the edge of going bad, and hate to waste money throwing them away, what catch-all dish is a safe bet?

Any one pot dishes such as soups, sauces, stews, pasta dishes and casseroles are a great way to utilize aging produce. Also, don’t forget about egg dishes! You can add all those veggies in an omelet.

5. What are your top recommendations for how people can save money?

•Cook! Cooking at home is less expensive, healthier and better on the calories than eating out. Learn how to braise, for example. Less expensive cuts of meat lend themselves to braising and are delicious, so learn how to do it. They also tend to be great leftovers.

•Buy things that have a long shelf life, see produce above.

•Plan ahead, cook for the week on the weekends and take your lunch to work. This takes planning, but will make a world of difference.

•Spend any extra cash you have on a good quality olive oils and vinegars, fresh cracked black pepper and good quality stock instead of bouillon cubes. Use your whole chicken or turkey to make stock and keep it in your freezer. It is worth every penny and elevates your cooking to the next level with no effort.

•Grate your own cheese, it tastes way better and you will need less and ultimately save cash and lose pounds!

What are some of your strategies? Leave a comment and help out other readers!



  1. This is all great information. I’ve been shopping this way for a while, because I want to eat well and economically, but there are some great tips in here! I’d like to add that people should really take advantage of their area ethnic markets. Chicago is hugely diverse, and there are a wealth of resources available here. Oils and vinegars that go for $8/small bottle in your local Jewel can often be found by the liter in ethnic markets (I’m thinking here of things like black vinegar, sesame oil, harissa, all of which I can get for a song at my Uptown and Edgewater area markets).

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