Family Finance: Money-Saving Kitchen Tips

Jennifer Wray

Here’s the thing. Raising a child is expensive. It’s expensive for your wallet, and, arguably, for the environment as well.

With my son reaching his 15th month (and with continuing reminders of the problems of climate change, pollution and the like), I’ve been increasingly motivated to green-up my household. One place that seemed rife with low-hanging fruit (pardon the pun) is our kitchen.

In last month’s column, I discussed eco-friendly tips for shopping, storing, cleaning and more. This month, we tackle food: growing or buying it, eating it and using the scraps left over. 

Planting the Seed

Some people are real go-getters when it comes to gardening. I am not. My style is best described as “benign neglect.” In practice, that means I try to start with rich soil for my plants but otherwise take a hands-off approach. I love perennials, and if they can multitask, so much the better. So, my thyme, sage and chives do double-duty as ornamental plants in my front yard and as ingredients in my meals. (Sage and chive flowers are both beautiful and tasty accompaniments in a salad or as garnish on a plate.)

Starting from seed is an inexpensive way to begin a garden, and you can find packets at most grocery and hardware stores and nurseries this time of year. But my lazy-lady approach to starting seeds typically relies on volunteers—that is, the seeds of fallen produce such as tomatoes, or herbs like cilantro that have bolted. Another option for those who live there: Westerville Public Library’s free seed library.

I often hit up the farmers market for seedlings to start my garden. I can usually find organic plants for less than $3 apiece, and they’ve already gotten a great start on growing. Another option is to attend events such as the City Folk’s Farm Shop Seedling Swap (which was held May 19).

Later in the growing season, seedlings are your best bet for getting produce quickly. It’s safe to plant them after Mother’s Day, then water as needed, weed occasionally and hope for warm, sunny days.

Shopping Tips

With grocery shopping, I try to abide by the basics. I buy in bulk if it’s food we like that has a long shelf life. After all, if it’s going to go bad before we use it, it’s not a deal. I buy produce seasonally for the tastiest, cheapest fruits and veggies. And I try to try to stick to the list I made before entering the store. Meal planning helps ensure I buy only what we need and prevents impulse shopping. Mostly. (I am not immune to limited-edition Oreo flavors or small blocks of stinky cheese.)

Beyond that, I sign up for the grocery store loyalty program, and I always bring reusable bags (which also can save money at places such as Aldi’s or Lucky’s Market). Coupons can help reduce spending, but consider whether you would buy the item otherwise—if not, reconsider the purchase. I also use apps including Ibotta or Ebates to get cash back on purchases.

Get Scrappy

I love to cook and try to be mindful as I slice and dice ingredients to leave as little waste as possible, but scraps are still a reality. Think that garbage is, well, garbage? Think again. Kitchen scraps can have a second life in future meals—and so much more. Veggie scraps (preferably organic) are the foundation of a tasty low-sodium veggie broth, and in the summer, corn cobs can pack a major punch in a broth of their own. I’m also fond of taking scraps of tough foods such as asparagus or leek stalks, chopping them finely and adding them to soups. Past-their-prime fruits make a base for tasty smoothies, and who hasn’t taken a sad banana and made it into bread or muffins?

Want more examples of finding treasure in kitchen trash? How about using coffee grounds as fertilizer? Apple and orange peels can be the foundation for simmer pots that will have your house smelling great in no time. And eggshells can help you take your coffee to the next level.

Another option for food waste is composting—and if you live in Franklin County, you might be eligible for a $50 reimbursement when buying a compost bin through the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District. Compost isn’t just great for your garden. If we all did more of it, we could reduce the amount of material headed to the local landfill (SWACO estimates 12.8 percent of material in the landfill is food waste), which ultimately can help prevent future rate increases.

If you have interest in composting, but not the space, private companies can help. Compost Exchange offers its services at several local farmers markets, and sister company Innovative Organics Recycling offers curbside service in some Central Ohio neighborhoods, including the High Street corridor and all of Bexley.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.