In these days of a failing economy and few jobs, American families have been told they must ‘tighten their belts’...ponder where THAT saying came about...I’d say it has everything to do with going hungry. It’s a little offensive to think someone could flippantly tell someone to be ok with their family going hungry.
That said, there ARE a number of ways to eat hearty and healthy and eat more economically. They require an initial investment, but will save time as well. A couple of hundred dollars spent up front will save you money, work, freezer space and improve your health most likely, as you will be eating healthier. Less processed foods=better nutrition.
My own particular situation is not nearly as difficult as many of yours, because I live on a large ranch and raise a great deal of our own food. But freezer space is still at a premium and so is time, as animals don’t take care of themselves and neither do vegetable or herb gardens. They require a great deal of time every day.
So here are some things that even someone who lives in the city can do. You can store food in a pantry, a closet, an extra room, or even a garage where you could put shelves no matter where you live.
A large pressure canner along with the jar lifter, magnet, funnel, rack and a pair of rubber gloves as well as some canning jars (often found very cheaply at yard sales) is one of the best investments you can make. Even if you freeze foods, it costs money to run that freezer and they are taking up space that could be better used freezing something else. Besides, there is such an event as a power outage, or freezer failure. Once food has been canned, it costs $0 to maintain. Just stick it on a shelf until you need it. I highly recommend the Ball Blue book, or even better, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. The latter one has 400 different recipes as well as all the basic information you will need for pressure and water bath canning.
So here is the thing. Every time you roast a chicken, roast 2. Save the bones and carcass to make and can your own chicken stock for making other stuff. Every now and then I pull all the chicken carcasses and left over veggies and make a gallon or so of stock with it.
Debone the second chicken and make soup with it. One chicken will make about 6 quarts of canned healthy, delicious homemade soup for a quick meal whenever you need it. Soup is a really good way to stretch the grocery budget.
If you have enough soup canned, then pull off the meat and process just the meat for enchiladas, or tacos or another dish. It will save you the time of roasting or cooking the chicken and is a LOT cheaper than buying frozen chicken breasts. I prefer not to have to thaw everything before I use it. IN addition to that, I don’t tend to lose things in the pantry the way I can lose them in the freezer.
Anyway, like I said, save all your roasted vegetables. The leftover bits of onion and carrots can go in the stock pot with the carcasses when you are ready, instead of throwing them in the garbage (ours usually go to the chickens, so they still aren’t wasted...) put them in a freezer bag marked for stock. Same with beef bones and such.
This will cut your cooking time down considerably and free you up to do other things.
With stews, double or triple the recipe and can what is left the next day. Again, here is a homemade meal you now only have to prepare once but it will feed you well, several times.
Same with chili.
I figure if I spend a day making soup and canning it the following day, (mind you, we also have it for dinner that particular night so the making of it shouldn’t really count...) I could easily put 36 quarts of soup on my shelves in a little more than a weeks time. That would allow me to have soup all winter and still have enough for company. Of course, I won’t, but its nice to know I could. But in 3 days this week,I have a dozen jars canned and another 6 or more quarts ready to can. That’s on top of milking EmmaLouMoo, feeding critters, and all the other stuff we do everyday. Its really not that time consuming...once I have the jars in the canner, I have 100 minutes before I have to come back and turn it off. I can find lots of entertaining things to do for 100 minutes.
I can take a walk down in the old milk pasture...
I can take a nap with Cletus and EmmaLouMoo...
or I can wait patiently for Lamby to come tell me she loves me...
or I can watch Stickman, the crazy rooster and his psycho hens walking on the rock wall...
Then come screaming back to the house to make sure I haven't been gone too long.
Some of the soups I am currently canning are: Chicken Tortilla Soup, Lamb&Barley Soup, Cheesy Chicken Chowder (which I add the roux and cheese to after reheating) Potato Soup (same thing with the roux) and Clam Chowder (again, the roux can go in quickly when its reheated). That gives us 5 different soups for lunch or dinner.Add to that Venison, Lamb and Beef stews and Chili. All I will have to do is pull out a wad of Boule dough and either make bread bowls out of it, or just bake it as is, for a hot fresh loaf to go with dinner, or maybe just some cornbread to go with my chili, although I love making Frito Boats...that delectable dish with corn chips smothered with chili and sour cream, green onions and melted cheese that you get at the Little League games. Real gourmet stuff.
Without much effort I can have 60 or so meals on the shelves ready to go.
It gives a whole new meaning to fast food!
Those are the main things.
If you have a lot of fruit make jam or marmalade with it.
Almost anyone can grow tomatoes. If you live in an apt, and have a balcony you can grow them in a container. (This, from someone who had not a single ripe tomato in the garden last year due to a lousy spring)
Canning your own tomato products will save a lot. It’s plenty easy to make your own spaghetti sauce to can, put up diced, stewed or other tomato products that cost way too much to buy. I can bruschetta, ketchup and other products we use all the time and pay good money for, that cost only pennies to make at home, not to mention they taste better and are healthier. I make up my own pizza sauce and I might just be canning instead of freezing that soon.
Homemade BBQ Sauce, like many sauces is easy to make and can yourself. I do believe the canner will easily pay for itself the first couple of months you put it into action, even without a vegetable garden. You can always buy stuff at a farmers market if you need to. Home canned is ever so much better than commercial and there is no comparison to the flavor and quality control of ingredients. I say go for it. It took me a few years to figure out how much easier my life could be, if I just spent a couple of weeks putting food by. If I can do it, you can too. You can. You really can can.