Cooking Substitutions That Save You Money

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Do you always stick to the recipe or are you a bit adventurous and like to mix it up with your own cooking substitutions?  When it comes to baking it’s probably best to stick to a recipe but even then there are good tried and true substitutions.  A little trial and error can be fun when cooking. 

If you’re looking to save money on food expenditures learning how to swap out certain ingredients in a recipe for items on sale could save you some money.  Are you ready to live on the wild side and save money at the same time?  Let’s see what creative substitutions we can come up with.

Protein Cooking Substitutions

Meat Cooking Substitutions

Most people enjoy a warm bowl of chili on a cool winter day.  There are a wide range of ingredients and ways to make chili, but one of the main ingredients is meat and meat can get expensive.  Ground beef generally costs more than ground turkey, pork or chicken. 

When you go grocery shopping for the week and ground beef isn’t on sale look to see how much the other ground meats are selling for.  You don’t have to have ground beef for chili and who knows, you may be surprised how good the chili taste with a different meat option.  You could get really crazy and mix together two meats in the chili. 

If ground beef is a must for you consider stocking up the next time it goes on sale and throw it in the freezer for when you’re ready to use it.

Seafood Cooking Substitutions

Similar to meat is seafood which can also get expensive.  Most seafood is rather versatile, and one type of fish can easily be swapped out for another.  Catfish can be used in place of tilapia or salmon can be used in place of grouper.  Just because a recipe says you need tuna does not mean you have to use tuna. 

seafood cooking substitutions

A younger version of myself, that had more time might have driven around looking for the exact item a recipe called for. Sadly, I probably paid twice as much, especially on seafood.  The wiser me, with far less time and a desire to save money is constantly on the lookout for suitable substitutions.  I keep frozen tilapia and shrimp on hand for whenever a recipe calls for seafood and a fresh option isn’t available at a good price.

Produce Cooking Substitutions

Another item that can get expensive is fresh fruits and vegetables.  Buying these items when they are in season is crucial to your bottom line.  We buy a lot of avocados in our home. The cost of an avocado off season is about $2 on average. When they’re in season you can get them for as low as $1.  I love adding avocados to my salad. When they aren’t in season green peas or shaved carrots make for an acceptable substitute.    

Save Money by Substituting Side Dish Veggies

Swapping out a vegetable in a side dish for a vegetable that is on sale can save you up to $15 per week easy.  Let’s say onions, red bell peppers, carrots and baby spinach are on sale at your grocery store this week.  If a recipe calls for asparagus that will cost $3, consider swapping it out for the $1.50 red bell pepper or carrots.  The texture is similar enough between these vegetables to keep the nice crunch the recipe is likely calling for with asparagus. 

Let’s say another recipe calls for chives but that’s an expensive herb which also costs $3 for a small portion.  A good substitution for chives is onions which one on sale costs about $0.50. 

Salads make for a great quick side dish some nights.  Your favorite leafy vegetable, kale, isn’t on sale though but you noticed baby spinach is.  Grab the baby spinach for your salad this week, save yourself a few bucks, and hope kale is on sale next week.  Saving a couple dollars each day for veggies on sale can add up over time.

Cooking Substitutions

Substituting Fruits to Save Money

My breakfast every morning includes a side of fruit and some mornings all I eat is fresh fruit.  Grabbing an apple or banana to eat is probably the easiest option. There is little peeling or cutting required but it is not always the most economical option. 

When in season, berries are practically being given away at the grocery stores.  These are also pretty easy to grab and eat. 

Watermelons and pineapples are great when they’re in season.  Yes, they may be harder to prepare but if you do all the work of cutting at once it’s not too bad. In my case, I spend 30 minutes preparing little containers for each day of the work week. Then, my breakfast is set for the week. Thus, I save money and add variety to my diet. I call that a win-win!

Certain Vegetables and Fruits aren’t Replaceable

If you struggle to survive without your favorite fruits or veggies, try a lesser known grocery store in your area. You may find produce prices are better than where you currently shop.  We’ve saved big dollars by shopping at a lesser known grocery store, particularly in their produce department.  I don’t know how they do it, but their prices are almost always the best in town. Their produce is nice and fresh too.

Succeed in Cooking Substitutions through Trial and Error

Trial and error is the name of the game when learning what substitutions work and what don’t work.  In the winter my family often slow cooks chuck roast.  One time we couldn’t find chuck roast on sale but there was a huge slab of prime rib for dirt cheap.  We decided we’d try that in the slow cooker instead of chuck roast.  While it wasn’t awful, the meat was dry and not as tasty. 

I have concluded the fat from the chuck roast must keep the meat juicer in the slow cooker than prime rib.  Prime rib has very little fat.  Without risk there is no reward so even though it failed I’m glad I tried.

Prepare Ahead for Cooking Substitutions

Planning is the key to success when figuring out what items to substitute each week.  Before heading to the store, review the local sales ads. Then, determine what sales items can be used in the coming week as a substitute in the meals you are cooking. 

It’s always best to have a plan in place before going to the grocery store.  If you don’t have one you may find yourself buying items not on sale. Avoid falling into that trap if you can. Make sure you know how sale items will fit into your recipes for the week. 

Some weeks you may have to adjust your meal plans and forgo making a particular meal altogether because none of the ingredients that week are on sale.  Coming up with a plan before heading to the store will ensure you’ve figured out what meals you’re making for the week, so grocery shopping goes smooth.

Elevate Cooking Substitutions to the Next Level

Are you intrigued but want some more ideas on what to substitute?  There are some great books that really dig into this topic.  I’d highly recommend checking them out. 

The Complete Food Substitutions Handbook covers a wide range of options for any diet.

The Food Substitutions Bible goes beyond food substitutions and expands into substitutions for cooking equipment and cooking techniques.

Subscribe here if you’re looking for ways to save money and time.  I explore a variety of ways to save money in every day life and hopefully save you time too.  Join me in stepping into more money and time. 

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