One great way to reduce your grocery bill is to look over your past month of grocery receipts and look at what your most expensive items were. Then you can think creatively about how to reduce the cost of what your’e spending on these items.
Snack foods are generally products that are highly marked up and are packed with salt and preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients. By switching to home-made snacks, you are not only going to reduce your grocery bill, you may very well reduce your waistline as well. Not to mention that it’s better for the environment, because you can just re-use your own packaging (tupperware, mason jars) at home. Here are some examples of how you can replace your favourite snack foods. I’ll start with my favourites:
Hummus – I can’t believe how marked up chickpeas are. I prefer Presidents Choice garlic hummus, and even though this is the best deal around (especially when you buy the family size) it still goes for about $5 a container. Instead, make your own hummus – it’s dirt cheap, consisting mainly of chickpeas, tahini paste (buy a jar and it will last forever), lemonjuice, garlic, olive oil and s&p (the majority of which you probably already have in your kitchen).
Salsa – Why is salsa so expensive? It consists of a few basic ingredients and is easy to make. Here’s how you can make it easily at home. Chop tomatoes, jalepeno, onion, cilantro, garlic (all to taste) and mix in lime juice, a teaspoon of olive oil and s&p. Let it sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours and presto, you’ve got a delicious salsa waiting for you. (Note: you can also add chili powder.)
Guacamole – Why anyone would bother buying the expensive, pre-packaged stuff is beyond me. You’re missing out on the best part – mashing the avocado! For some reason, I love preparing avocados. They’re just so… fun! And tasty. All good guac needs is to be mashed with some lemon juice, s&p, and garlic. I usually include a tiny bit of olive oil too, especially if the avo is just on the edge of being ripe enough. Minutes later, and for the cost of about $1 (depending if avos are in season) and you’re done!
Roasted Garlic - Cover a head of garlic in tin foil – you can add a little olive oil on the top if you want, but you don’t need to – and sit it in the oven at a high temp, between 350-400, for oh, about 45 minutes. When you unwrap it, you’ll find gooey, tasty garlic, that is easily and delightfully spread on crackers or crispy pita chips. That is another great, cheap snack!
Popcorn - Forget those pre-packaged microwave popcorn pockets that are woefully bad for the environment when you can do it yourself. Here are a couple of suggestions. Buy your popcorn at the Bulk Barn or another bulk store – since you don’t pay for packaging you can get a big bag of popcorn for pennies. Then you can use a popcorn popper (these are super cheap nowadays; as my sister pointed out to me recently, you can pick one up at any department store or at a garage sale – but as garage sale season has now passed, I would recommend ebay or simply seek out a handmedown from friends or family members.) But Alton Brown has kindly shown us that we can make microwave popcorn at home, using brown paper bags. You can buy a stack of $100 for $1 at the dollar store. Put in the popcorn in the bag and fold the top a couple of times; seal it with two staples (not more, not less). Microwave it as you normally would and then add your butter or other toppings.
Chips & Queso – It’s a very guilty pleasure but I love this gooey cheese. It costs at least $4 in the store if my memory serves correctly. One night as a university student desperate for a naughty snack, I came across a cheap alternative and realized it tasted just as good. Searing in a near empty fridge, I found Cheeze whiz, and mixed it with some chopped banana peppers (the pickled kind in the jar.) I microwaved it until it had melted and was hot (it doesn’t take long, so watch it carefully and stir thoroughly) and found it entirely reminiscent of my name brand fave.
Babaganoush – This tasty Indian dish doesn’t have to cost you more than one eggplant. Here’s an example of a good recipe for it – it’s easy!
1 1/2 lb Eggplant
3 tb Lemon juice
1 ts Salt
2 ts Minced fresh garlic
3 tb Sesame tahini
– (optional: substitute
– yogurt or sour cream)
1/4 c Chopped parsley
1/2 c Toasted pine nuts (I think this is optional so simply delete if you’re like me and never have pine nuts in your home)
2 tb Olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick eggplant all over with a fork.
Bake whole until tender (about 30 minutes). Remove from oven, halve
and scoop out the flesh. Blend in a food processor with the lemon
juice until smooth. Mash the salt and garlic together and combine
with the eggplant, along with the tahini. Cool and stir in the
parsley and pine nuts. Before serving, drizzle with the olive oil.
Serve as a dip with tortilla chips or triangles of flat (pita) bread.
(Adapted from The Victory Garden Cookbook)
From: The Cook’s Garden catalog, Spring/Summer 1993 (page 20)
Tortilla Chips – Don’t have chips hanging around for salsa? If you have left over tortillas, you can turn them into chips by brushing them with olive oil and brushing them with oil and chili powder and then baking them on a greased shet in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. If you have stale pita, you can use them for the same purpose.
If you are using your salsa for fajitas, you may also want to see some recipes for tortillas at Frugal Zeitgeist.
Veggies, beans… these are far cheaper than packaged snacks and sauces. You control what goes into your food and your food tastes fresher, too!
Please share with me your favourite home-made snacks!