Diced ham, in perfect little 8 oz packages. A plastic bowl in the produce cooler with a pretty arrangement of cut up strawberries and pineapple. Bags of torn lettuce, all washed and ready to go.
It's convenient, right? But almost without fail, it's more expensive than chopping it yourself. I've used those bags of lettuce myself. But not the ham. Never the ham. Do you know how much that ham is? I found it on sale for $2.49 for an 8 oz package. That's $5.00 a pound! Gulp. A nice, boneless ham (see, you don't even have to cut around the bone!) is $1.99/pound regular price. Pick it up on sale and you'll save yourself even more!
How about that beautiful mix of strawberries and pineapple? Look closely, and you'll see that it's $4.00/pound. It's sitting right next to some whole pineapples...minus the rind and core. The pineapple is on sale for $3.49/1.25 pounds (and remember, it's all fruit, no waste, because the produce guy already put it through his cool coring/peeling machine!). The pineapples are directly across from the strawberries, which are on sale for $1.67/pound. Do the math, and you'll find that if you wash, hull, and halve the strawberries, and cut up the pineapple, you can have 2.25 pounds of fruit for $5.16. Twice as much fruit for only a dollar more!!
More numbers for you: a 10 oz bag of washed and torn romaine lettuce - $2.99 (equivalent to $4.78 per pound!) vs. a head of romaine lettuce - $1.49 per pound (I forgot to weigh it, but the price per pound speaks for itself!). If you tear up a head of romaine, you'll discard a small portion of it (the core), but not enough to eat into the cost savings too much. Keep in mind as well that the bags of salad lettuce do go on sale...at which time I usually purchase them, because at that point, the cost difference is not as significant.
There are many items you can slice and dice yourself to save money. Some examples are:
- pork loin (into boneless pork chops)
- ham (as mentioned above)
- various fruits and vegetables
- cheese (slices and chunks ~ you can also shred your own, but I can usually get it cheap enough [either on sale or at Costco], so shredding is not worth my time)
1. Ask your butcher for help. Bring the whole ham up to the counter and ask him/her to cut it in approximately 1/2 inch slices. They usually can't/won't dice it for you, but having them slice it saves you a whole bunch of cutting!
2. Invest in a good knife. Or two. More on this later...but for now, just keep in mind that a dull or lightweight knife is not very efficient, and will cause more problems than it's worth.
3. Do the math. Almost everything is cheaper if you cut it up yourself. There are occasional exceptions, particularly when precut fruit and veggies are on the "reduced for quick sale" rack.
4. Consider a salad spinner. After you wash and tear (not cut!) lettuce, it will keep better if it's dry. A salad spinner quickly, efficiently, and completely dries your lettuce in a fraction of the time it would take you to dry it all by hand.
5. Don't get discouraged if you have to resort to buying precut produce. Do what you can, and remember that precut vegetables and fruits are better than none at all!
Do you slice, dice, or chop anything to save money?
Looking for more ways to save money in the kitchen? Head over here to read the rest of the articles in this series.