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CHEF'S TABLE: Penny saved is a penny earned in the kitchen

Columnist offers up variety of ways you can make your dollar go even further at the grocery store and at home
2021-11-23 Coins
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Have you noticed something at the grocery store?

Let’s discuss something I think we are all feeling right now: the drastic increase in the cost of groceries and food.

Every day there is a litany of articles and news reports about a variety of product shortages, price increases and the struggle of food security in our communities. Even my own household shopping bill has jumped at least $100 to $200 per month.

With the training of a professional chef, I see the cost of food from the business perspective. Restaurant margins have always been notoriously slim. An industry average floats around two to three per cent profit for the average restaurant. Any increase in the basic material of your kitchen can cause catastrophic consequences. This year, it is just another kick to the teeth of an already prone industry.

Basic items such as canola oil, meats and dairy are all seeing historic increase in price. All these prices are under the influence of many factors. Gas prices for shipping, labour costs in packaging and processing and commodity market values all can adversely affect the price we pay. There is very little in the way of relief in sight. The best a chef can do is buckle down, sharpen the pencil and, unfortunately for the consumer, increase their own pricing.

But what can we do at home to help weather these turbulent times and help the family budget go a little further? There are a few tips and tricks chefs use that can help you manage costs at home too.

Meal Planning  Taking the time to plan out your weekly basic meals can really help. This gives you the guide you need to create shopping lists and figure out how to best use the items you have on hand. Even just deciding on a protein for each night can help. Proper menu planning and recipe development are the back bone of a profitable kitchen.

Reduce Food Waste  Using up leftovers, reducing portion sizes and proper cooking techniques can all help reduce waste in your kitchen and help you get the most out of your shop. Keeping notes on what you have and making a good shopping list can help prevent over buying. Save scraps that can be re-purposed or used elsewhere. Today's roast chicken bones becomes
tomorrow’s chicken noodle soup.

A great cook is very aware of the products and processes in their kitchen. Someone who is not conscious of food waste can cost large sums of potential profit losses for a restaurant.

Store and preserve when available. Great sale on tomatoes? Jar some sauce. Good price on pork chops? Buy and freeze. Pickling, freezing and drying are all great ways to stretch out the availability of items. Knowing how to save and store food is what kept our ancestors alive through the lean times.

Many chefs and cooks are rediscovering many of these skills and using them to their advantage in providing unique local products year-round.

Grow your own  Plant a garden. There was a reason why 'victory gardens' were such a great thing for our grandparents generation. Gardening has so many positive benefits for health and happiness. It can help to supplement your family's meals with fresh vegetables that are lower cost and ready for you at the peak of freshness.

Growing your own connects you to the food chain and gives you an understanding of the time and effort that goes into producing our food.

Some hospitality establishments are now seeing the benefits of having on-site gardens or building partnerships with local producers to bring an ever wider variety of fresh foods to the table.

Sadly, our world today really makes this aspect of life difficult to manage for many. The financial burdens of running a household and the stresses of the post-pandemic world are really giving people pause and forcing many families to re-evaluate and prioritize their budgets. Once the rent is and utilities are paid food is next on the list. Many families struggle to cover all these costs and must look for alternative means to help cover the gap.

Here are a couple of those means:

The Barrie Food Bank sees more than 24,000 individuals per year access the services and support they offer.

They have seen a 55 per cent increase in clients since 2019. This demand is only increasing as the costs of living in our community continues to climb. With such a huge demand and changing markets the food bank relies on our donations both food and financial to help keep our most vulnerable friends and neighbours fed.

The Good Food Box is a wholesale fresh food buying club that allows people access to the reduced costs of buying in bulk. This arrangement also helps producers move their goods in a more efficient manor.

These boxes are available monthly and contain a variety of fresh seasonal produce at the low cost of $17 per month. A couple of great things I love about this program are one they offer a Georgian College student program for $10/month with pick up available on campus, and two, there is a “pay-it-forward” box you can purchase and the food goes to a local family in need. A win-win as far as I’m concerned!

I hope that all of you and your families can all save a few pennies and make the most out of your next trip to the store.

Additional information for the Barrie Food Bank can be found by clicking here.

Information on the Good Food Box and its program can be found here