5 Smart Grocery Tips From a Food Network Star


By Lisa M. Gerry

NEW YORK (Learnvest) — “My money savvy comes from being raised in a family without money,” says Melissa D’Arabian, author of the best-selling cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners, which came out this August, and host of the Food Network show by the same name.

“My mom was a single parent putting herself through college and eventually medical school. We didn’t have money, so we worked around it, and I think that [mindset] just stayed in my blood.”

Five years ago, D’Arabian decided to quit her job in finance to become a stay-at-home mom. She’d just had twins, in addition to two other toddlers (now 6 and 7). During her first few years as a stay-at-home mom, her frugality came in handy. In fact, a YouTube video of her showing how to make homemade yogurt in her Texas garage (something she says saved her more than $150 a month) caught the attention of the Food Network. In 2009, she went on to compete in, and win, the fifth season of Food Network Star.

“I’m not against spending money,” says D’Arabian, who admits to loving manicures and professional waxing. “I am against spending money mindlessly. [My message] is about not letting the fact that we’re imperfect give us permission to stop trying.”

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Buying in Bulk

D’Arabian’s new cookbook is chock-full of recipes and money-saving tips. “It’s meant to help [readers] lower their shopping bills overall and become thoughtful, responsible consumers,” she says. “It’s about celebrating food, respecting our resources and feeling good about the food we’re putting into our bodies.”

D’Arabian shares some of her most helpful, thrifty tips:

1. Keep flavor enhancers in the freezer.

Bacon, fresh ginger, nuts, grated cheese and even leftover wine (for cooking) keep exponentially longer in the freezer than in the fridge. In her book, D’Arabian suggests storing these in resealable freezer bags (or, for wine, in ice cube trays) so you can easily add just enough to brighten, deepen or add a textural component to a recipe.

2. Tally your perishables once a week and create a five-minute menu plan.

The most expensive ingredient is the one you throw away, so take a few seconds to check through your crisper drawers and see what’s lurking in the back of the fridge. Let your inventory review drive your week’s menu. If all you have are odds and ends, make an anything-goes soup or pasta sauce. You menu doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.

RELATED: The Perfect Way to Stretch Your Leftovers

3. Never throw away a free source of flavor.

Ingredients that give you double the mileage are pure gold for budget cooks. “I make good use of squeezed lemon halves by freezing them in resealable freezer bags to zest in another recipe. You can also use the shells from shrimp to make a quick shrimp stock. Similarly, I buy celery with the leaves still attached – they’re a great substitute for parsley,” D’Arabian says.

4. Take an inexpensive “standby” favorite and give it an exotic makeover.

Meat loaf, meatballs, chicken soup and chili are all crowd-pleasing recipes that can easily take on a flavor boost with ingredients from your local ethnic supermarket. (Here’s why one economist says ethnic supermarkets are the best bang for your buck.) “Cilantro, curry powder, chipotle in adobo sauce, coconut milk and salsa are all easy add-in ingredients,” D’Arabian suggests. They can change the taste of a dish just enough to give new life to inexpensive ingredients without the family getting bored.

5. Try a clear-the-pantry week.

“When I do this, I easily uncover hundreds of dollars I didn’t need to spend,” D’Arabian says. Take a tour of your kitchen pantry and write down the major ingredients lurking around. Use the list to create a menu for the week. It’s a fun challenge to see how long you can go without buying food items beyond the few necessary perishables, such as milk and eggs.

Click here for five more tips and below for two of her delicious, affordable recipes:

More from Learnvest:

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