Tips for Creating Gourmet Meals On a Shoestring Budget
Cooking gourmet meals means a number of things to a number of people. Even before you begin to create new and exciting dishes, you have to decide on a food budget that makes sense for your family.
If your idea of gourmet involves the way a dish looks, there are plenty of presentation techniques you can use to dress up ordinary dishes. If the concept of gourmet meals includes trying new things, you could just as easily look at packaging on cereal boxes and frozen pizzas to satisfy that desire. However, if it means incorporating tasty and creative exotic foods into your meal plans, here are a few sensible tips to keep your grocery bill from giving you “sticker shock” at the checkout counter.
Meat – The subject of meats can be less than exciting up front, but your choices in meats don’t have to be. There’s fish, lamb, beef, chicken, and pork to consider, not mentioning the different cuts available for each type and the myriad ways they can be prepared.
This provides a number of options to keep your guilty gourmet pleasure going strong. Incorporating different spices into your main course can also make a big different in how you approach preparing different meat dishes. Keeping costs under control means being aware of some of the cheaper cuts of meat available at your local markets.
Quality – Until you taste them, it’s hard to distinguish the quality of the things you buy. Personal tastes and preferences play a big part in determining real value and true equality, but educated shoppers will learn where they can cut costs by buying store brands, and also when the extra cost of premium products is necessary.
A “house” brand balsamic vinegar might not taste the same as its competitor, and in certain situations it might be better to buy a higher quality brand, then skimp on other areas of the salads you’re thinking of, like croutons.
Think Local – Whenever possible, utilize local farmer's markets to go gourmet without spending a fortune. Most have reasonable bargains on at least some of the items you would normally buy, and the quality of fresh produce and vegetables is usually reliable, in season. Taking the middleman out of your gourmet grocery budget keeps prices low and ensures the items you purchase are as fresh as they can be.
If you’re willing to seek out smaller farms or crop shares, you can save even more. Starting vineyards, for example, present a golden opportunity to capitalize on premium wines for less.
Shop Your Definition – If your definition of gourmet focuses on exotic foods you’ve never tried before, shop at ethnic grocers around town. Because they cater to specific clientele, their foods are usually cheaper and more readily available than at local supermarket chains. If there’s a special fruit required in that Indian dish you’re thinking of serving for guests this weekend, then finding a local Indian grocer could be worth the time and effort. Asian, Italian, and French food stores are other common ethnic choices in larger cities. Research your options and you might find a specialty store that opens up a whole new list of favorites for you and your family to try.
Expand Your Thinking – Seeking exotic foods as part of your gourmet budget experience? Consider foods related to your own culture, and keep your mind and pallete open to other local cuisine. Explore your state, city, or local community’s heritage for delicious dining opportunities and the chance to make new friends. You may be surprised at the gourmet choices available on a daily basis that are closer to home than you thought.
These simple tips should start you off well in formulating a sensible gourmet budget. Choose your meats carefully and eat healthy while saving money. Buy quality ingredients when necessary, then figure out where you can take advantage of bargains in other areas. Support local community grocers to pay less while getting more for every dollar you spend.
Once you’ve formulated your own definition of gourmet, challenge those concepts to experience new possibilities with gourmet food. Gourmet budgets don’t have to leave us penniless or hungry.