Herbs Can Save You Money in the Kitchen

Stir FryHerbs can save you money in the kitchen. They'll help you eat healthier too. A few simple tricks can make keeping an herb garden a boon for your family and your pocketbook. An average American family spends about 10% of its annual income on food. Saving even a little of those thousands of dollars can pay for your garden and then some.

There's one thing to keep in mind before you begin. Working with herbs is a labor of love, but it is still labor. When you invest that time in the kitchen, you'll be making more things from scratch, and that's very good news. It takes more time, but it's time well spent.

Prepared meals from the store or drive-through are more expensive and packed with additives and preservatives you don't need to be adding to your diet. Making things from scratch is cheaper and better for you. When you're using your own home grown herbs to do it, the task becomes more of a hobby and less of a chore. If you like the idea of keeping herbs, want to take more control of your diet, learn a few nifty cooking methods and save money in the process, you're on the right track:

Don't throw out that stale bread; make herbed croutons or herbed bread crumbs with it. If you make your own croutons you'll also be avoiding some of those nasty preservatives in the prepared stuff. This recipe will get you started. To make breadcrumbs, grind up seasoned croutons. I make batches of both at once and keep them in the fridge.

Substitute fresh herbs for seasoning packets. You don't need to pay a bundle to make flavorful meatloaf. Use fresh herbs and add some cottage cheese to keep things moist and make the meat go farther. (No one will know.) A little tofu works for this too. Other good herb-packet substitution candidates: sloppy Joes, meat balls, pot roast and any of a number of salad dressing mixes or specialty herb blends.

Make your own simple antibacterial cleanser with white vinegar, lemon balm and lavender. It's a great natural cleaning solution around kid's play areas, pet feeding areas, countertops, doorknobs and anywhere you want to watch out for chemical residue.

Substitute spices for part of the salt requirement in food. Too much salt increases your blood pressure, makes you retain water and does a host of other nasty things. Help your family cut back on salt intake by adding a few more spices and herbs to your food. Paprika, chives, parsley, pepper and oregano are flavorful seasonings that will make it easier to handle less salt on your potato or in your eggs.

Use less meat in your dishes. A big plate of greens may not seem too appealing, but cutting back to four meatballs instead of six might not be too much of a sacrifice, especially if the beans, spinach and cauliflower have been seasoned to perfection. Cutting back on meat makes good sense from a health perspective too. Instead, go for vegetables and legumes that have those all-important amino acids and spice them up with oregano, basil, dill, marjoram, cilantro, cumin, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley or curry plant.

Eat a few more eggs (which are mild and taste wonderful with herbs). Eggs aren't the evil-doers you've been taught to avoid all these years, and having an inexpensive egg dish with herbs for dinner one night a week will save you money. Eggs are an inexpensive source of protein that's plentiful and easy to prepare. How about a nice frittata or quiche? Herbs can be an inspired addition to an egg dish because eggs are naturally mild in flavor and bring out the essential (and spectacular) favor of fresh herbs.

Branch out. Now that you're growing herbs, new culinary vistas will open up. If you only know of two really good ways to cook a tasty chicken breast, having access to five or ten favorites will encourage you to buy chicken in bulk and cut back on more expensive options or, horrors, eat out three or more times a week. Inexpensive cuts of beef and pork can taste wonderful when you prepare them in a slow cooker to tenderize them and give them some herbal flavor boosters. Give it a try.

Saving money is a hobby for some folks who walk around with piles of coupons. If you'd like to make your hobby pay but aren't into nickel and diming your purchases (hey, don't get angry. I use coupons, too. I just don't enjoy it), try using herbs to make your kitchen chores more entertaining, and explore some flavorful and creative ways to save money in the kitchen.

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