Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Nowhere is that truer than in the kitchen, where investing in a few key pieces of hardware can help you cook better, faster, and cheaper. And anything that makes your food taste better and gets it on the table quickly can lessen the temptation to order budget-busting take-out.
[In Pictures: 10 Kitchen Tools That Will Save You Money.]
Kate Deriso, a therapist and holistic nutritionist in Sterling, Va., knows this lesson better than most people. She grows her own alfalfa sprouts, brews specialty tea so she can skip Starbucks, and has a freezer full of leftovers. She and her husband rarely eat out because they've determined that they can make better meals, such as her one-pot chicken and olive dish. The couple spends no more than $150 a week on groceries for all three of their daily meals.
Deriso's well-stocked kitchen helps her save money because she has the tools to bake a one-pot dish, grow her own sprouts, and make tea in a fancy pot. Those are just a few kitchen gadgets that can save you money. Others include cheese graters, microwaves, hand-held blenders, and food-storage containers.
Take a slow cooker, for example. While the initial purchase might set you back about $50, it allows you to make hearty winter soups and stews with a handful of vegetables, broth or stock, and meats. If it replaces restaurant trips, the purchase will pay for itself after only a few meals.
Similarly, setting up a five-plant herb garden will cost you about $30 in seeds and soil. But each time you pluck a few sprigs for your next pasta sauce or fish dish, you save about $3—the cost of herbs at the grocery store. In 10 meals, you'll have made good on your investment.
Hand-held blenders, which run around $30, make it easier to create your own soups, smoothies, and baby food. Soups and baby food freeze especially well, so you can make a big batch at once and put the rest away for a rainy day. You'll save at least $2 a meal, so the investment will pay for itself after 15 uses.
Don't forget to invest in some inspiration. Cookbooks can help get you out of a meal rut and encourage you to try new flavors. Comprehensive cookbooks such as Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian can help save money, since they're relatively simple and rely mainly on ingredients you probably already have at home. Watching cooking shows on television, which often teach basic skills such as how best to chop garlic or how to roast potatoes, can also be useful.
In addition to making these investments in your kitchen, try applying these six tips for saving money on food while still eating like a king:
Plan ahead. Shopping with specific meals in mind for the week ahead makes it easier to buy in bulk and repurpose ingredients, like turning Sunday night's roast chicken into Monday night's pizza topping.
Do it yourself. Homemade hummus and pizza dough not only save cash, they can double as a fun activity to involve kids in the kitchen.
Rediscover eggs and beans. Compared with meat, eggs are cheap and full of protein. They can be quickly whipped into a dinner frittata, brunch strata, or quiche. Beans, meanwhile, bulk up pasta and sauces, turning what would otherwise be a side dish into the main event.
Go meatless. Meat is often the most expensive item on a shopping list. If you can eliminate it, or at least reduce it, you'll save. You can substitute other protein-heavy foods, such as beans or tofu.
Use what's in the fridge. Home cooks stuck with extra eggplant or flounder can avoid wasting food by using websites such as Allrecipes.com and the FoodNetwork.com to search for dishes based on the ingredients they have at home.
Cook big. Consider making soup, chili, and other big dishes that will yield leftovers or even go into the freezer for a future meal. To spruce up the dishes and make them even bigger, add pasta or rice.
The bottom line? Spending more time in the kitchen this season can help you keep more money in the bank.