Eating better and maybe even saving a buck

Monday, August 04, 2008

Posted by Mike of Mike's Table

Once the care-free days of college were over and the real world began, I encountered the grim realities of a monthly budget. With this in mind, I used to think I was being good by eating lunch at my employer's cafeteria rather than going out to restaurants. While that much is true, it didn't take long to realize that (1) the cafeteria food is awful and (2) I could still do (a lot) better. So, eventually, I started to make my own lunches. When confronted with this new weekly chore, I did what most people would do: I started visiting the deli so I could make sandwiches from the seemingly infinite variety of flavored, sliced meats.

This got me by for quite some time...until Thanksgiving rolled around. With every Thanksgiving, there's turkey (far too much of it), and so for the several days following Thanksgiving, there are many creative ways of repurposing turkey to get through the leftovers before anything spoils. All of us who have done this song and dance have surely had some form of leftover turkey sandwiches and we've all come to appreciate how these are simply some of the best sandwiches you could have all year--moist, flavorful, comforting, and...well, pretty cheap! Then, we all just as quickly run out of leftovers and never have it again until next year. Why?

As soon as I had to return to deli meat, I was disappointed and wondered if this is what I had been eating all along--it was so bland, loaded with sodium, and well...its kind of slimey (blech!). I wanted more turkey, and I mean real juicy, flavorful, meaty turkey! And so this began a new era of lunches for me--I swore off deli meat. I just kept buying turkeys, roasting them, shredding the meat (no thin, slimey deli slices for me!), and freezing them in week's-worth-of-sandwiches sized portions, defrosting a bag each weekend as I needed. Using one bird, I could have sandwiches for 4-5 weeks--talk about minimal effort and cheap! Of course, eventually, one just might get tired of turkey (and they can be a bit harder to come by throughout the year), so then I simply switched to roasting whole chickens (which cover about 2 weeks of sandwiches for me).

This whole process is amazingly simple--rub a bird with some oil/butter, salt, pepper, and whatever other seasonings suit your fancy, roast it until cooked through in a roasting pan (much easier than disposable tins, I promise!) in your oven, let cool a bit, and then shred up every last bit of meat, promptly freezing what you won't get to right away. In total, this probably costs you about 30 minutes of your focused time in the kitchen (not even once a week), saves you money (compare $/lb for a bird vs deli meat), and tastes so much better than deli meat. Multiply this by every working week throughout the year, and this adds up. All you need to do each week is thaw out the meat and assemble your sandwiches as you normally would.

This got me thinking about my other meals and how I could not only improve them, but save money in the process. Why not make my own granola bars for breakfast rather than buying pre-made, for instance? Or starting a simple herb garden rather than shelling out $2+ for a small bunch every week? Using the frequently roasted bird carcasses/drippings as a base for stock rather than buying by the can? Or eating with the seasons and local specialties in mind? Buying chicken thighs instead of boneless breasts? Whipping small amounts of leftover cream to use as whipped cream rather than buying a big can I'll never get through? So many admittedly small things, but done all together, the savings really do add up week to week.

Do you, reader, have any tips or tricks for things you fall back on in the kitchen to make your food money go further? I'd love to hear from you.

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This Post was written by Mike from Mike's Table


I'm new to your blog and am enjoying going through past posts. This one struck a chord here. We just finished baking a turkey in our b.b.q. and loved all the leftovers for summer sandwiches. My family loves turkey, mayo, and leftover cranberry sauce on whole wheat. Yum. We also save money by roasting up a nice lean roast and slicing it with our electric meat slicer really thinnly. These sandwiches are great with roast, mayo, mustard and a dash of horseradish. Turkey stock made with onion, carrot, and celery, is yummy used in pasta salad mixed with a bit of pesto and a little mayo. The stock lets you use a lot less mayo. Thanks for your great blog!

Anonymous said...
August 4, 2008 at 1:00:00 AM GMT+2  

Mike - a lovely post and really hit the nail on the head. I do a lot of roasted chickens too - always marinated or spiced in different way.

My tips - roasted chicken or turkey is also great for mini quiches or tarts which can be conveniently packed in a lunch box with a green salad.

It does not have to be poultry. I do roasts - beef and pork and they are the best. I am thinking for example the osso bucco (yes i am still drooling over it) you made would make gorgeous next-day sandwiches.

Meeta K. Wolff said...
August 4, 2008 at 12:13:00 PM GMT+2  

Lovely...follow the seasons, that's what I do and we eat like royalty every day of the year..!

August 7, 2008 at 7:06:00 PM GMT+2  

Great post, Mike.
Cooking was my weekend fling until I gave up fulltime employment to work from home. Now that I cook every day it never ceases to amaze me how well we can eat for so little.

We're pretty DIY - yoghurt, bread, ketchup, etc so savings are always a given.

But I do:
1) Cook in bulk - 2 loaves; one to eat, one to freeze.
2) Look for bargains. Bruised fruit are always cheaper, and perfect for jams and preserves.
3) Nose to tail eating. We roasted lamb shanks for dinner, and then made stock from the bones for the following day's soup dinner.

Dee said...
August 8, 2008 at 10:27:00 AM GMT+2  

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