Jeff Yeager’s 8 Grocery Essentials For a Frugal Winter

jeff yeager

With the chill of winter already in the air, it’s time to stock up on food items and other kitchen essentials for the cold months ahead. You don’t want to be caught short, like old Mother Hubbard, with her proverbially bare cupboard (a condition known in Latin as Cupboardia Bareass). The good news is that there are lots of money-saving tricks and deals to be had this fall that will help you fill your pantry and freezer before winter officially arrives.

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1. Dried Legumes and Rice

Beans, lentils and other legumes are a perfect example of how it can cost less — not more — to eat a healthy diet. If you’ve ever wondered, buying dried beans rather than canned beans will give you an astonishing 300 to 400 percent return on your investment! That’s how much you’ll save by buying dried beans instead of canned beans and soaking them overnight before cooking. Or, as I like to say, “If you’re too busy to soak your own beans, you’re the one getting soaked.”

When it comes to rice, don’t overdo it on the common white variety, which is processed to remove the nutritionally rich bran and germ, but instead stock up brown, red, black and wild rice.

2. Bisquick

OK, I have a hard and fast rule about never mentioning or promoting a product by brand name. But most people recognize the “pre-mixed baking product” consisting of flour, shortening, salt and baking powder by the brand name “Bisquick,” even though there are other brands (including store brands) which I’ve found are just as good and cost less.

Of course, you can save a lot more by just keeping basic baking ingredients on hand and making your own mix, but the convenience of having a box of “pre-mixed baking product” handy during the winter will likely mean that you’ll actually do some baking. Products like this are great for not only making biscuits, pancakes and waffles, but they add starch (aka “comfort food”) to one-pot meals and casseroles, including dishes like one of my wintertime favorites, chicken and dumplings.

3. Fresh Milk Alternatives

Don’t be among the ill-prepared who have to brave the crowds and treacherous roads as a winter storm strikes in order to pick up a gallon of milk at the grocery store. Instead, stick a couple of containers of soy or almond milk in the pantry — no need for refrigeration until opened. Who knows, if you get snowed in and give it a try, you might like these alternatives even better than cow’s milk, and they’re generally healthier for you.

You’ll be warm and safe, sipping a glass of soy or almond milk in front of the fireplace, while everyone else is battling it out at the grocery store — just as long as you remember to stock up on toilet paper, too.

4. Root Vegetables

A good value any time of year, many root vegetables are harvested in the fall, so look for even lower prices now and stock up on potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas and yams. Don’t think of them as just side dishes, but transform them into the backbone of a main course, or serve a filling medley of oven roasted root veggies.

If stored properly in a cool, dark, ventilated location, most root vegetables will last nearly the whole winter long. I store ours hung in the pantry inside the legs of worn out pantyhose to increase air circulation and make them last even longer. It looks a little strange, but gets the job done.  Root vegetables are just one example of healthy foods you can usually find for under $1 a pound at most grocery stores.

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5. Apples

Like root vegetables, if stored properly, apples purchased now can last for most of the winter, and fall is the time to stock up big on a wide variety of freshly harvested apples at the lowest prices of the year. Don’t just think about apples as a quick snack, but fire up the crock pot to make a big batch of homemade applesauce, apple butter or — my favorite — apple crisp. The best way to store quantities of apples for the long haul is to wrap each apple in a piece of newsprint and place them in a cardboard box without a lid; then put the box in a cool, dark place, like an unheated basement or pantry, where they’ll stay chilly but won’t freeze.

6. Meats on Sale During the Holidays

If you’re a carnivore, hunting season is rapidly approaching, and I’m talking about the kind you do with a shopping cart, not a shotgun. Some of the lowest prices of the year on turkey, ham and beef roasts can be found at the supermarket as “loss leader” sale items during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Those are special sale items that stores mark down to at — or even below — cost, just to get you in the store to buy other things.

Don’t be fooled: Buy only what you need, and shop around for the lowest price available. But do stock up on more than one of the meat specials to put in the freezer for later. I like to buy an extra turkey and ham during the holiday sales, cook them immediately, and then slice them up for homemade lunch meat that I keep in individual packages in the freezer. You can easily save 80 percent or more compared to deli department prices by making your own, healthier lunch meats this way.

7. Canned Goods: Store Bought or Homemade

When it comes to stocking the pantry for winter, I have two words for you: canned tomatoes. Soups, salsas, stews, sauces and even salads — and those are just some of the “S” possibilities you can whip up with canned tomatoes. And throw some other canned good staples in the pantry as well, although in the case of most veggies and fruits other than tomatoes, frozen is usually tastier and healthier.

Of course real cheapskates still practice the lost art of home canning (it’s even experiencing a bit of a resurgence lately), which can save you a ton of money and be a lot of fun. If you’ve always wanted to try canning but have been scared off by visions of exploding pressure cookers or botulism, check out for reassuring, easy-to-understand instructions that deliver on the website’s name.

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8. Thrift Store Cookware

I swear that I can go into any thrift store, any time of year, in any part of the country and find three essential items of cheapskate cookware for no more than $5 apiece. The triumvirate of frugal cookery, all particularly useful during the colder months, consists of: a crockpot/slow cooker, a cast iron frying pan or Dutch oven, and a fondue pot. The crockpot is a perfect way to turn inexpensive ingredients — including tougher cuts of meat — into simple, delicious “batch meals,” and uses only about 4 cents per hour in electricity.

Cast iron cookware brings out added flavor in everything you cook, requires less energy to maintain cooking temperatures and literally lasts forever. And the fondue pot isn’t some outdated ’70s icon; it’s a Scandinavian solution for making a tasty meal out of little bits of this and that — including pieces of stale bread — that might otherwise end up going to waste. Try throwing a fondue dinner party for friends this winter — but just don’t tell them they’re eating leftovers.

Photo source: I-5 Design & Manufacture