Can you believe Labour Day is just next week? Faster than a blink, parents everywhere will be sending their kids back to classes, and the daily scheduled routine will take the place of carefree summer days. Any busy parent can testify that squeezing dinner hour into the Monday to Friday work-school slog can be a challenge - and pricey too, when there's a tendency to lean toward quick convenience foods to save time. Here are some ways to keep your costs down for school night dinners throughout the school year - and free up some extra cash for extracurriculars (or a begged-for pair of the latest sneakers).
Cook Up A Storm, Serve In Seconds
The reality is fast food and packaged food cost more because someone else put in the sweat equity on that pizza, sandwich or full meal. You can save by eating in as much as possible (bring your lunch!) and cooking from scratch at home too. Soups and homemade salad dressings are huge money savers. Strapped for time? Pick a more relaxed day and cook up enough for prepacked meals you can freeze and roll out over the week.
Shop The Outside Walls
Do you tend to spend too much on convenience snack food? Remember the outside wall rule: produce, dairy and bread all line the outer walls of the grocery store. It's the inner aisles that are full of the packaged goods you really don't need. Never stroll these aisles aimlessly; just dash in to get a pound of coffee or a bag of pasta and get out again without being tempted.
Look Past Brand Names
While you may think you can only eat one brand of ketchup, is that really true? Grab whatever's on sale or try the no-name brand. And if chunk tuna is on sale and you really prefer flaked — get over it.
Eat In Season
This time of year, the produce is going wild, so you have your pick of fresh, local, affordable fruits and vegetables. But the selection will go way down and the prices way up in a few months. So learn how to cook a squash and a cabbage and lose your love of tropical fruits during the long Canadian winter.
Cut Back On Meat
Your grocery bill will double if you nab a steak. If you love meat, go for things like bone-in chicken (way cheaper than boneless) and more affordable cuts of beef. Save the meat for special occasions and get creative with vegetarian cooking — it's a lot more affordable.
While it's a great idea to buy in bulk, that doesn't mean you should on principle. Always have a plan to polish off any perishable items - those giant jars of pickles and sauces won't last forever, and there's no savings in tossing what you don't end up using.
Also, if an item is on sale that you've never tried, don't go nuts and stock up and find out later that you don't like it. Buy what you will eat over the next week or so, with a few canned and dried goods to spare, and avoid overdoing it. And every once in awhile, clean out the cupboards and freezer and eat it all up.
Snack From Nature
Cookies, crackers and chips sure taste great, but they're pricey. Snack instead on fresh fruit or raw veggies — a lot cheaper and a lot healthier.
What are your favourite weeknight dinner ideas for saving time and money?