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Monday, February 28, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen

I've been thinking lately; if I had some money given to me to furnish my own frugal kitchen top to bottom, what would I include? There definitely are a lot of important, money saving tools that I think every frugal kitchen should contain, and then there are other kitchen tools that I feel are rather superfluous for me, but do help others save.
What are my recommendations for your frugal kitchen?

  • A quality full set of pots and pans, ideally sturdy and non aluminum. Aluminum, in addition to being unhealthy, is also unsturdy and will break much quicker than stainless steel. Without enough pots and pans, you'll most likely resort to take out or premade food because cooking will be too much a chore. Invest in quality pots and they'll last you for a lifetime.
  • Non disposable dishes and cups. While these are more expensive at first, by not throwing out your dishes, you end up saving a lot of money in the long term. They don't need to be expensive; simple Corelle will do fine in most cases. If you have kids, don't worry, you can still get dishes without worrying about them breaking if you buy nice looking plastic reusable dishes.
  • Reusable cutlery. As with the dishes, why throw these out when you can be using them over and over again? They're easier to use anyhow.
  • Mixing spoons and spatulas. If you'll be doing cooking, you'll need these; standard silverware often isn't long enough to reach the bottom of a large pot, and metal can ruin some pots and pans. Go with wooden or plastic coated ideally.
  • Good knives. These don't have to be ultra expensive; you just want knives sharp enough to cut whatever you need to cut, to make it easier to prepare your own food at home.
  • Poultry scissors. Buying whole chickens often is the most economical. Poultry scissors make the task of cutting up a bird a lot easier to handle, and usually don't cost too much money either.
  • Mixing bowls. If you're going to be making your own breads, cakes, tortillas, cookies, or much else... you'll need at least one large mixing bowl, preferably more. I have 3 large ones and a few smaller ones and I still often feel I need more! These usually can be purchased pretty cheaply.
  • Rolling pin. My friend claims that you can use a can or glass bottle for this purpose instead, but I don't suggest it. It's harder to use it, and if your kitchen equipment is hard to use, you probably will do anything to avoid using it and probably won't end up making anything that requires rolling out. I use my rolling pin for cookies, tortillas, pitas, noodles, pie crusts, etc... and also smashing the occasional stale bread for bread crumbs.
  • Gas stove. Ok, I know this isn't always an option, but I think every home needs to have a stove, even if only an electri hot plate. You can function without an oven, but it's mighty hard to cook all your own meals without a stove top. Gas stoves are usually the most economical to use.
  • Pitchers. If you're not going to be purchasing pre-made drinks, pitchers come in handy as a good way to make and serve homemade drinks, like iced tea, lemonade, chocolate milk, orange-aid, etc. I'd go with plastic over glass; with kids in the home, glass pitchers are just begging for trouble.
  • Crock pot/slow cooker. This is the more frugal alternative to using your oven, as crock pots use relatively little electricity. They also are very useful because you can have food cooking all day while you're out and have hot food waiting for you when you get home, whether it is from errands, work, a trip, etc... making  it less likely for you to rely on the crutch of convenience foods and takeout.
  • Pressure cooker. This is the antithesis of a crock pot but serves the same purpose. It makes food instantly (or so it seems) by heating the food to really high temperatures at which they cook much more quickly. This is the answer to your days when you want to eat ASAP but forgot to set up the crock pot. It has the added benefit of taking less energy to cook your food; If you could cook something in 20 minutes instead of 2 hours, you'll have saved an hour and fourty minutes worth of gas/electricity for your stove. I love my pressure cooker!
  • Thermos, both narrow and wide mouthed. These are so useful in so many ways. If you make coffee or hot water in the AM, keep it warm in a thermos and you won't need to reheat it later when you want something hot. Alternatively, take a hot drink with you to work/in your car so you're not tempted to hop into Starbucks.
    Wide mouth thermoses are insulated in a way to keep your food warm- and it doesn't have to be liquid. Instead of buying lunch at work, or instead of just eating a sandwich, you can take leftover food from the previous night's dinner, from spaghetti and meatballs to stir fry and fixings, and be able to eat it while it is still hot!
  • Coolers. I recommend having a few types in a few different sizes for all sorts of purposes. A small cooler bag is a great way to keep your lunch cold  when you take it with you to work (on days when you aren't bringing something hot in your thermos). This will minimize spoilage, and you won't need to buy lunch at work.
    Family trips are greatly benefited by coolers. Touristy places nearly always charge an arm and a leg for food; bringing food from home is a terrific way to reduce costs.
    I use a cooler to keep my homemade yogurt warm and insulated so that it cultures nicely.
  • Ice packs. While regular ice would work, it melts and usually makes a mess. Ice packs keep things cool to prevent spoiling, but they don't make a mess and can be used over and over.
  • Spill proof containers. If you're going to be taking food with you while traveling, you want to make sure that you aren't going to spill it en route to your destination. Even though they're often more expensive, I strongly recommend investing in a few, sturdy, and varying sized spill proof lunch containers.
  • Immersion blender with attachments. While you can buy separate blenders, food processors, and mixers, by buying one machine that can do all three, you both save money and space. I use my immersion blender with attachments at least 3 or 4 times per week; best investment ever!
  • Grater. This replaces the food processor in my kitchen and definitely comes in handy!
  • Vegetable peeler. Yes, you can use a knife, but again, its much harder that way that it makes you (or at least me) want to give up.
  • Canning equipment. From a deep pot suitable for water canning to canning jars, a canning funnel, canning lids, and pressure canners, all these can help you save money by allowing you to preserve what you get free or cheap when it's in season so that you can have it later when it isn't available or is more expensive.
  • Glass jars. These are important for so many uses, from fermenting sourdough to making kombucha and kefir and lacto-fermenting pickles... Fortunately, you can usually get these free from someone who purchases food in glass jars and would otherwise toss these in the trash (or recycling bin).
  • Candy thermometer and kitchen scale. If you're going to make things from scratch, these things come very much in handy.
  • Rubber/silicon spatula. These spatulas with bendable ends help in so many ways. I never had these growing up, but I see now that they help you get the last bit of food  out of so many places, from the bottom of that mustard or honey jar, or the last bit of batter in your mixing bowl, or even to help ice a cake.
So, there you have it. In short (or not so short), what I think you need to run a frugal kitchen.

This post was a sort of round about way for me to announce that I officially launched the new Penniless Parenting amazon a-store. What that means is you can go to my store, buy anything there (or anything else that Amazon.com sells), and I get a cut. 
I've listed in my a-store only items that I think will save you money, or are otherwise aligned with my values. I've got two sections- recommended reads, and money saving equipment.
The books are on all different topics, from homeschooling to frugal inspiration to financial advice to cookbooks to instructionals for many different types of frugal tasks (gardening, cooking, sewing, gathering wild edibles, etc...) to books on healthy, traditional eating and alternative healing methods.
The money saving equipment section contains cloth diapering equipment, reusable menstrual products, solar cooking equipment, products to keep you warm in the winter frugally, and many of the kitchen tools listed within this post.

The best thing about this all is- you can search the web via Swagbucks search engine (and many more ways too!) and earn Swagbucks that you can trade in to receive Amazon.com gift cards, which you can use to buy items from my a-store for free! Yes, the gift cards will even cover shipping. 
It's a win win situation for all. You don't need to spend any money, but Amazon.com still rewards me!
And if you ever want to purchase anything on Amazon that isn't in my store, you can still go to Amazon.com through my referral link and Amazon.com will reward me too.

So, there it is.
Take a look through the a-store and tell me what other products you think I should include.

What products would you say are your basic kitchen needs if you want to run a frugal kitchen? What would you add to my list? What would you say on my above list isn't necessary?

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