On December 21, 2016 by Kim
We polled our Facebook followers with this question: “Why do you freezer cook?” Answers varied of course, but over and over again we heard, “to save money.” Meal planning is at the top of the list for saving money on groceries. But we have some budget freezer cooking tips that will help you go even further to cut costs on freezer cooking day.
Hear what one member, Crystal, had to say:
“I freezer cook because it saves me time for dinners even if I don’t have to think about 1 dinner a week and it saves me lots of money. I got 28 dinners once for $140 I spent on ingredients! And absolutely yes newbies should join. My friend was interested in it and now we do it together once a month, each picking 4 meals, 1 soup & 1 breakfast. That’s 9 dinners a month I don’t have to think about! I just do a sandwich with the soup night. Plus we control what’s going into our meals.”
New to freezer cooking? Looking to cut your costs even more? We have budget freezer cooking tips to cut costs on your cooking day!
If you have ever done any freezer cooking or even just considered it, you are probably familiar with these obvious ways in which freezer cooking saves money. But just in case you are new:
- Less Ingredient Waste: You waste less ingredients when you have a plan to use them immediately.
- Fewer Grocery Trips: You save by making fewer trips to the store – less gas and less opportunity to grab extra unneeded items.
- Save Buying in Bulk: You save by purchasing in bulk most of the time.
- More Free Time: You free up more time in your schedule. Time is money!
- Less Convenience Food: You stay out of the drive-thru, restaurants, and freezer aisle, which we all know are a huge drain on the budget.
- Better Health and Care: You save money on health care because you are cooking at home and eating healthier food. (I do not have empirical data for this, but it stands to reason that healthier food = healthier family = less time and money at the doctor’s office!)
- Check out these posts in the archives on budgeting: 5 Ways to Save on Groceries, 20 Budget Friendly Freezer Recipes, How to Save Money on Real Food, Paleo on a Budget. And in case you think it is just us saying it, see here and here.
Now, here are some of the less obvious ways to cut costs on your cooking day and ways to take advantage of the resources here at Once a Month Meals to get the most out of freezer cooking.
When budget freezer cooking, first consider what type of containers you use. If you prefer disposable containers (i.e. zipper freezer bags, foil pans, etc.) your best bet is to stock up when there is a sale. You may find good bulk prices in stores like Costco or Sam’s, but often times the grocery store sales can be cheaper, especially when combined with a coupon.
Tips for Disposable Containers
Many of our staff and readers have also found that dollar stores often carry items such as foil pans, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap for low prices. Just watch out for bargain freezer bags as you don’t want to run the risk of loosing a meal due to breakage. The key is buy them and stock up when you see a good price. If you freezer cook regularly, you will eventually use them. If I ever see freezer bags or foil pans buy one get one, I throw them in the cart immediately. The last thing you want to do is have to buy them full price because it is cooking day and you have run out. (Ouch!)
Replacing Disposable with Reusable
Sadly, disposable containers will always have to be replaced. They save more time and space than they do money, when it comes down to it (and many have additional environmental and health concerns). For the truly frugal, this may be an expense you wish to cut out of your freezer cooking grocery trip (or at least reduce the number of disposable products you use). Choosing reusable containers can eliminate/reduce this cost overall, although there may be an initial investment.
However, the great thing about reusable containers is – well, they’re reusable! This means, you don’t have to be the first user. Yard sales, thrift stores, consignment shops, and online shops (Ebay, Amazon) often carry items like baking pans, casserole dishes, mason jars, Tupperware-type containers, etc.
See the following posts for additional tips on purchasing containers:
- How to Use Glass Containers for Once a Month Cooking
- Getting Started: Freezing Containers
- How to Cook and Package Single Serving Freezer Meals
- Our favorite reusable zippered freezer bags are Neat-os
Shop the Pantry
Now that you have your containers ready to fill, head to the pantry and the freezer. Take a quick inventory before you start planning your budget freezer cooking day. Did you score ground beef at a killer price and throw it in the freezer? Do you have summer produce packed away (frozen or canned)? Do you have an abundance of dry goods (i.e. pasta, beans, cans, etc.) that you can use?
Use What You Have on Hand
Using what you have on hand is the best way to save money when you are budget freezer cooking! it shortens your grocery list drastically, and it helps you use up lingering items. When we create menus, we try to save you money by basing our lists on seasonal produce and sale cycles at the grocery store. But any time you choose a menu and print the grocery list, you should shop the pantry first.
Or you can always create a custom menu based on what you already have on hand! In MenuBuilder you can search by ingredient keyword and also by tags such as menu type, meal type, and preparation method.
How We Do It
For example, you open the pantry and find canned tomatoes, canned beans, and potatoes. In your freezer you have ground beef and frozen corn. I searched each of these keywords, selected dinner as the meal type, and came up with this custom mini menu in about 15 minutes:
- Super Bowl Chili Recipe
- Santa Fe Chicken Packets
- Sweet Corn Pot Pie
- Slow Cooker Tomato Soup
- Shepherd’s Pie
*Note – MenuBuilder will automatically double each of these recipes, so you would get 10 meals out of this custom mini menu.
Meat typically makes up the largest portion of the grocery budget. There are a few ways to deal with this, the first being cut it out completely. We have a wonderful selection of vegetarian recipes and menus from which to choose.
Buy in Bulk
For many, stores like Costco or Sam’s are a go to for bulk purchases. Their prices tend to remain the same from week to week. So be sure to compare that expected price to the deals in your local grocery store before you make a purchase. Grocery store prices are generally higher, but they often offer deeper discounts and offer an even greater savings for buying in bulk. Ever see those little stickers that say something like, “buy more, save more”? Check those out!
We also are big Aldi fans around here! Check out this post from our friends at Kitchen Stewardship comparing Aldi prices to Costco!
Another kind of sticker to look out for is the “manager’s special” ones. Many stores will reduce the price of their meat when it is nearing the sell by date. It is usually the same day every week, so check in with the manager in the meat section and try to shop on those days. You can freeze these purchases and use them on a later cooking day. Or plan cooking day around the sales. Check out this helpful video on how to process those bulk purchases when you get them home.
If you are willing to head off the beaten path to the grocery store, there are more savings to be found. A friend of mine recently introduced me to Zaycon Foods. This fairly young company sells high quality meat in bulk to consumers directly from the farm or processor. This cuts out the grocery store overhead and ensures freshness. The sales rotate, but I have purchased boneless skinless chicken breast at $1.99/lb. and grass-fed ground beef at $4.99/lb. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen prices like that in the grocery store for a long time, even the sales!
Go to the Source
Last, go directly to the source! Locate a local farm or vendor and talk to them about bulk prices. Talk to friends and family and see if they are willing to go in on the purchase with you (a whole cow is a lot of meat). Check out our Get Real series for more information on purchasing farm fresh meat. Check out sites like Eat Wild to source local meat, dairy, eggs, and more.
Making bulk purchases obviously carries over to other items. You can check out bulk bins and stock up on pantry items when they are at rock bottom prices. Some stores will even let you purchase by the flat and give a discount. But since meat is such a big tag item, it is best to start with finding low prices and high quality in this department first. When you find rock bottom prices, cook our Ground Beef Mini Menu or our Chicken Mini Menu or create your own menu of favorites!
You are using what you have on hand and buying in bulk, but what if you still need to make cuts? This is where you can get creative. Pull out your grocery list and see if you can:
- Combine Items: For example, are there two different types of flour or cooking oils? Could you get away with using the cheapest one in all of the recipes?
- Swap Out Seasonal Produce: Seasonal is almost always cheapest, especially if you shop farmer’s markets. We create menus based on seasonal items, but when you are choosing favorites for custom menus, keep the seasons in mind. If an item on your list is too expensive, consider swapping for something in season.
- Reduce or Swap Out Meat: In recipes such as casseroles, soups, or stir fries, you can often reduce the meat to 3/4 or even 1/2 of what is indicated and still end up with a delicious meal. Just bulk up the cheaper grains and veggies. Another option is to swap in beans or a cheaper cut of meat. For example, buy a whole chicken to boil and shred instead of buying boneless, skinless breasts.
- Swap Out a Similar Item: Google is your friend. So is Facebook. Members, come start a conversation in the Community! “Any one ever substitute X for Y in the recipe for Z?” “Any suggestions for X ingredient?” “This spice is $10 a bottle, and I don’t have any. What can I substitute?” Taste new things and experiment. Recipes have an infinite number of variations, and sometimes the best are the ones that come from necessary creativity!
- Leave it Out: If a certain ingredient will break your budget, just see if you can leave it out. Remember that all Once a Month Meals menus are customizable! You can delete a whole recipe from your menu or swap it out for a more budget minded favorite. If you have a recipe with an expensive grocery item, decide whether or not you will really miss it. This works most of the time. But be careful when you are baking as often times leaving out an ingredient can have more of an effect on the final product. (i.e. Do not leave out baking soda or cut the flour in half when you’re making muffins!)