Just like much else in our lives, the new normal brought in by the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our relationship with food dramatically. As we’re cooking more at home, the need to trim down the grocery bill is being felt now more than ever. That’s because we’re no longer just cooking staple meals but also gourmet delights.
Think back to when the lockdown was first announced in India in March. Nearly everyone you knew channelised their inner chefs to quell the boredom of being confined to their homes. All our social media timelines were flooded with images of Dalgona coffee, freshly baked bread loaves, cakes, pies and what not!
Today, even though restaurants, cloud kitchens and home delivery services are swinging back in action, the reservations about how safe it is to eat out or order in weighs on many a mind. When you see basic safety norms of wearing masks, practicing social distancing and maintaining good hand hygiene being flouted six ways from Sunday, those concerns are hardly unfounded.
If you’re a food lover, like me, you know what an agony it has been to stay safe at the cost of a regular dose of guilty indulgences. So we do the next best thing – slog it out in the kitchen to quell our cravings for burgers to momos, butter chicken to pizza, shawarmas to biryani. While the tickling taste buds make those hours spent in the kitchen well worth the effort, cooking these delicacies also sends your grocery bill shooting through the roof.
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5 Tips to Cut Down on the Grocery Bill
After months of trial and error, I have finally managed to put in place a system that offers a win-win – delish delights on your table without burning a hole in your pocket. Here are 5 tips that have helped me cut down on the grocery bill without compromising on taste, which you can implement too:
Recipes are not set in stone and it’s completely all right to wing it a little to work with the ingredients you have or can access easily. Whenever you’re preparing a new dish, think of the recipe as a broad ‘road map’. Use your understanding of taste palettes to see how you can substitute an item that’s neither in your pantry nor readily available in your region.
Let’s say you’re preparing a steak Fattoush Salad with Chicken and Crispy Pita Chips. The recipe says you need a few sprigs of parsley for garnishing. Now, parsley is neither readily available in India nor extensively used in our regional delicacies. If you buy one from a gourmet food store, you’d have to get at least one bunch. Most of which will end up drying in the refrigerator.
Instead, try using coriander leaves that are very similar in texture. Or you can leave this element out completely. The lack of one garnishing ingredient isn’t going to impact the flavour much. You can even get a packet of dried parsley leaves instead, which has a longer shelf life and can come in handy when cooking Italian.
Use Less Processed Meat
Yes, I know those salamis, sausages, ham and bacon strips are to die for. Heck, what is a Sunday breakfast without a generous helping of bacon and eggs! But these are neither good for your health nor your wallet. So, make a conscious effort to cut back on processed meat as much as possible from your list of grocery essentials. Use its fresh counterpart instead.
For example, I love using some juicy, grilled sausages for my pink sauce pasta recipe. But a 250 gm packet of chicken sausages costs more than 1 kg for fresh-cut chicken. It makes sense to use the latter, both for the sake of savings and making healthier food choices.
As I have discovered, marinating and stir-frying fresh chicken cuts with copious amounts of garlic, ginger, leeks and spring onion adds a whole other dimension of flavour to my pasta recipe.
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Work with Left Overs
Letting leftovers sit in the refrigerator until they’ve gone too stale to be salvaged is one of the biggest mistakes that contribute to food wastage and inflated grocery bill. Let’s say you cooked rice for lunch and almost half the portion is left over. Instead of whipping up something from scratch for dinner, why not just chop a few fresh veggies, toss them in a wok, along with a drizzle of soy sauce, ketchup, and some vinegar. Then, add in the cold rice fresh out of the refrigerator and you have Indian-style fried rice for dinner.
Food waste averted. Besides, everyone in the family – you included – is going to love it way more than the regular dal, sabzi, and roti.
Plan and Shop
If you rush to the nearest grocery store or turn to your favourite app every time you’re planning to cook something new, you’re bound to draw up a grocery bill that throws your monthly budget out of gear. Instead, set a monthly budget and shop for grocery essentials in bulk for the entire month. Factor in all the indulgent recipes you’re likely to try your hand at, in addition to the routine meals, look up the ingredients, and add them to your list before you go shopping.
That way you won’t have to go shopping for that one sauce or spice at the last minute and end up with a cart full of items you don’t really need.
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I always preferred shopping for grocery essentials online. Ah, the comfort of building up your cart from home and not having to wait in serpentine checkout lines or lugging heavy bags. During the pandemic, portals like Big Basket or Amazon Pantry have become my go-to choice more than ever. If you shop online long enough, you realize that these platforms run special discounts from time to time. It makes sense to keep your grocery list for the month ready and an eye out for these special offers. And shop as soon as an offer comes into effect to avoid risking items being out of stock. That in itself can cut your grocery bill substantially.
You can make additional saves by leveraging tools like shopper.com. You can add their extension to avail of automatic discounts. Besides, they also have a host of coupons for stores like Big Basket, which you can further bring down your grocery bills by up to 15%.
Sounds lucrative? You can learn more about their discount offers here. Similarly, they have Amazon coupons that can be used for additional saves of up to 40% when shopping grocery essentials from the e-retailer’s Pantry.
Staying home doesn’t have to mean depriving yourself of good food for the body and soul. Until you’re ready to eat out again, put these tips to use and turn your kitchen into a hotbed of delicacies without an inflated grocery bill!