I dashed to the grocery recently to grab some vegetables for my stir-fry chicken and vegetables. What initially greeted me in the vegetable section were packs of bell peppers, and they were priced exorbitantly! I thought the other vegetables had reasonable prices — let's just say the carrots, celery stalks, onions, garlic and the rest of the vegetables in the song “Bahay Kubo” all shocked me. What used to be an average priced-grocery bill has now become at least Php2,000 more expensive, and I just have one child! As one comment on SmartParenting.com.ph's Facebook said, "Over na sa budget hindi pa lahat nabili!"
Hard times definitely call for belt-tightening measures, right? And now our grocery list should include a bottle of discipline, a pack of practicality and a jar of patience! Here's what I have done so far.
Removing vegetables from my grocery list was the non-negotiable because I wanted nutritious food. My eureka moment came when I got home and saw three big plant trays stacked on top of one another idly sitting in our garage. It gave me the idea to plant. I Googled the easy-grow-and-maintain vegetables to plant in the garden, and it read: saluyot, camote tops, alugbati, ampalaya, etc. The “etc.” meant a whole gamut of vegetables that we could plant in our backyard!
I was giddy and looked forward to the next day when I started buying my seeds from my favorite plant stores inside the Quezon City Memorial Circle. My generous neighbor also donated saluyot plants and camote tops in my garden, which is now lush and ready when my ginisang munggo calls for it.
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Create food swaps.
If you can't plant your own vegetables, swap your favorite but expensive food item with something more affordable yet still packed with nutrients. Go for kangkong over spinach, mashed camote instead of potatoes, cabbage over lettuce, to name a few. You may also start choosing cheaper cuts of meat and using leftover beef as “sahog” instead of fresh meat.
With the skyrocketing prices of consumer goods that have so many home managers reeling, doing an inventory of your kitchen pantry is a must. You will realize you don’t need 100 kinds of hot sauces or 10 packs of varied shapes of pasta. Before going to the grocery, list down only what you need. Don't dismiss the impact this makes on your budget once you check out at the counter.
Visit the wet market.
Aside from food swaps, it would also be wise to consider buying from the wet market. My favorite ones are Farmer’s Market in Cubao and Suki Market in Mayon St. in Quezon City as well.
Trooping to your nearest wet market at least once a week will give you savings and freshness on your plate. The cost of the goods in the wet market can cost as much as half the price of those in the groceries.
At wet markets, you will find what they call “tumpok” or bunched items like shrimps, fishes, etc. These come at super good prices that shoppers snap them up as soon as they are displayed. Quoting my suki, she once kidded, “Eh, kulang na lang ipamigay namin paninda namin maubos lang!”
The wet market also has a broader and fresher selection where you will find rare commodities like batwan, galanggal, kaffir lime leaves, fennel, etc. A wet market (especially the big ones or what they call ‘bagsakan’ markets) is every foodie’s Disneyland!
According to my ‘suki,’ the seafood section usually has two delivery times, one is early in the morning, and the next one is at around 1p.m. That’s why you have the choice as to what time to go for guaranteed freshness. And the fish vendors even provide the free service of cutting your fish according to your preference — split, filleted or ready for relleno. Their speed in cleaning the fishes is quite remarkable, too. In short, you get your goods cheap, and you get a lot of service add-ons to it.
Unleash the DIY cook in you.
I am a self-confessed kitchen nerd who DIYs a lot of stuff in my tiny kitchen. We make our own marinades, sauces (even tomato sauce!), yogurt, ice cream, longganisa, some cheeses, tocino (salitre-free), etc. My friends would always remark, “Ang tyaga mo!”
All of the above though can be made in bulk and meant to be frozen for future use. You just need to throw your energy in the kitchen one time big time at least once a week. Stash in the freezer, and you are good to go.
This DIY mindset when it comes to cooking lets you achieve two important things: You are guaranteed healthy, nutritious and natural meals you serve to your family, AND you save money.
When it all comes down to it, the point is that budgeting should not downgrade your everyday meals. You just have to learn how to be creative in nourishing your family with delicious meals without overspending.
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Caren Bayhon-Yrastorza is a former news anchor at ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) and a food writer/stylist/blogger. She delights in whipping up delicious dishes with matching food styling at home and sharing the recipes upon request. You may follow her kitchen adventures at #KitchenOfCarenYrastorza on Instagram.