Tip of the Week: Ingredient Clustering

January 30, 2008 at 5:32 pm | Posted in cost-cutting, Frugal Living, Grocery Shopping, Tips | 12 Comments

When we looked at the Frugal Foodie Challenge entries and tried to choose just three, the head judge (aka Rob) couldn’t pick just three – they all looked (and sounded) delicious! So … we’re making all seven entries!

And that brings me to my Tip of the Week. Since I’m cooking SEVEN full meals this week, I needed to buy a lot of ingredients. Thing is, all of the recipes use mozzarella, and some of them repeat on other things. So, I “consolidated” my grocery list – figured out how many of each item (for example, chicken breasts) I needed and purchased accordingly. If I had planned seven meals for the week that had no major ingredients in common, I probably would have spent $100+ dollars on the shopping trip – things like beef, chicken, fish, pork, etc all add up quickly.

However, because I was able to use the same ingredients in several different dishes (i.e. chicken), I spent less because I could buy in larger quantities.

Another great example of this is when I had first started the blog – anyone remember the Neverending Can of Tuna?? (To make a long story short, I made meals for almost 2 weeks out of a 5-pound can of tuna fish). Because I didn’t have to shop for multiple protein sources, I saved a TON of money!

The other area in which clustering can save a few dollars is on expensive specialty ingredients. For example, I never use pesto. Until this week, I’d never bought it before. The reason – it’s almost $5 in our grocery store and it takes a lot to eat it all. However, if I had three recipes (or even two) that called for pesto, I can split its cost out over several meals and use an expensive ingredient – without spending a ton or wasting food.

Have you ever tried clustering? Does it work for you? Why or why not? Leave me a comment!!



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  1. I’m not sure that I cluster the way you are talking about, but if I’m making up a shopping list for a few recipes, I do try to combine all the amounts ahead of time so that I know what quantity I need to buy in the store. I tend to have a lot of higher priced items that I use for a few recipes that I repeat often. By finding dry versions of buttermilk & eggs whites & such, I can keep these items longer than if I just bought the fresh versions all the time.

  2. A good point. I’ve even started using powdered milk instead of buying fresh. It tastes the same (or close enough) to me.

  3. Pesto actually freezes really well so you can always freeze it if you’re not going use it all at once.

    I find that making big batches of things and freezing them helps a lot because you can buy large qtys which save you money and you alway have yummy food ready to eat

  4. True. The trick is to actually have a large enough freezer (or a deep freeze) to store things in. Nobody saves money if they’re re-buying things they can’t find.

  5. I don’t cluster intentionally, but I get really excited when it works out that way. 🙂

  6. LOL. So what’s stopping you from doing it all the time?

  7. I like variety in my week…It bothers me to eat the same ingredients too often in a week. We usually try to mix up the cuisine…Asian one night, Mexican the next, Italian another…as well as seafood, chicken, etc. I have a picky husband. 🙂

  8. A valid point. The tuna thing did get tiresome. 🙂 And not all my tips will work for everyone.

  9. You are a hero in my book for eating tuna for that long. I don’t think I’d ever be able to eat it again after that!!! Though I was just thinking about tuna casserole this morning. I might just have to make that again…

  10. Speaking of the freezer thing, I was really interested in the Once a Month Cooking thing for a little while. For me it turned into a once a week cooking thing, because I just had a regular old top of the fridge freezer. Definitely did clustering then, even down to the slicing and dicing.

  11. Ah! My mom did Once a Month Cooking for a while. I thought she was crazy! LOL She did have a full-size freezer in the garage though, which made it much easier, I’m sure.

  12. […] and generates the least amount of waste for our dear planet, it’s always best to cluster ingredients for the week. So I will be making another Mexican dish tomorrow. I will probably be making yet […]

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