Melissa D'Arabian, host of "Ten Dollar Dinners," shares her tips on saving money on groceries - even in New York. Credit: Melissa D'Arabian
Melissa D’Arabian, host of “Ten Dollar Dinners” on Food Network, knows what it’s like to be on a budget in New York City. “I love New York and I’ve lived in New York,” she tells us. “While you get a lot of things in New York City you just don’t get any place else, it’s more expensive to eat here than it is to eat in the rest of the country – I feel the pain.”
But D’Arabian says it’s possible for New Yorkers to slash their grocery bill. “The idea still exists, even in New York – and the high prices give you all the more reason to be thoughtful of where you’re spending your money and know your prices so you can get the best deals possible,” she says.
She might have her hands full with four daughters, and a TV show, but D’Arabian makes saving a priority. She even partnered with CouponsForChange.org, where shoppers can save money and feed a child simply by using coupons. She shared her top five tips on spending less for more – even in New York.
1. Find your loss leader: D’Arabian says grocery stores will typically offer a “loss leader” — a special deal on meat to draw in customers. “New York is not the same as the rest of America, but you have grocery store chains and a lot of these concepts are similar,” she says. D’Arabian suggests looking at the front page of a grocery store flyer when deciding where to make your shopping trip. “That’s where they’re going to put their best protein deals, and then you can decide if you want it or not,” she explains. D’Arabian also says though space is often a commodity in New York, it doesn’t hurt to grab an extra pack or two of your favorite proteins when they’re on sale to pop in the freezer.
2. Try a new cut of meat: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are easy to cook and low in fat, but they’re not the only source of protein out there. D’Arabian confesses that she was reluctant to try different cuts of meat until she lived in France 15 years ago and saw people using chicken thighs and legs. “Braising is such a great way to extract amazing flavor from the cheapest cuts of meat,” she says. “It becomes tender, moist and full of flavor and it works great with the cheapest meat that’s out there.” D’Arabian says you’ll find better deals if you can be flexible with the cut of meat or if it is bone-in.
3. Front-load your meal with cheap protein: D’Arabian says an easy way to stretch pricey cuts of meat is to start meals with inexpensive proteins like beans or eggs. She says this is especially useful when serving guests. “If you do a black bean hummus or white bean and tomato bruschetta and people fill up on these nice, fiber and protein-filed gems, they’re going to sit down at the table not ravenously hungry,” she says. “They’re going to naturally eat less and not feel like they got cheated.”
4. Buy the cheapest produce: Believe it or not, D’Arabian says the produce section of her grocery list is almost always empty. That’s because D’Arabian simply picks the cheapest produce available once she’s at the store. “Unlike everything else, whatever is cheapest in produce is also what is best,” she says. “We think if we spend more money, we’ll get something better, but when there’s an overstock – that pushes prices down and that means it’s in season.” D’Arabian also says it’s key not to turn up your nose at frozen vegetables, which are convenient, nutritious and inexpensive.
5. Have a “bean night”: D’Arabian says she has what she calls a “bean night” once a week. She doesn’t always serve beans, but the main course will always consist of very inexpensive proteins. “Having one ‘bean night’ or scrambled eggs night in your schedule is automatically going to save the average family a ton of money,” she says. D’Arabian likes making dishes like crustless quiche, beans and eggs or quinoa with beans or lentils on these nights. She says the key is to use dried beans instead of canned. “For the cost of one can of beans, you an make four or five cans' worth of beans from a bag of dried beans,” she explains.
And if you’re worried your family will complain about the cheap weekly dinner, fret not: “When I first started talking about bean night to other people, my husband said, ‘What are you talking about? We don’t do bean night,’ and I named all the things I make and he said, ‘Oh. I never knew that was bean night,’” she says. “It was just me doing one inexpensive meal a week – I had to make my budget last.”
Here are two breakfast recipes from D’Arabian’s book, “Ten Dollar Dinners.”
Makes 2 smoothies Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: none
1 1/2 cups unsweetened vanilla soy milk (or almond, coconut, or rice milk) 1/4 cup whole oats 1 banana, peeled and halved 1 cup fresh or frozen chopped peaches (or any light-colored fruit) 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 3/4 cup ice cubes 1 cup fresh or frozen baby spinach (or 3/4 cup spinach plus 2 or 3 cabbage leaves or other leafy greens, chopped)
Pour the milk into a blender jar. Add the oats and banana and blend on high for 15 seconds. Add the peaches, honey, and vanilla followed by the ice cubes and then the spinach. Blend on high until smooth, about 45 seconds. Drink immediately.
Makes 24 mini muffins Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour 1/2 cup bran flake cereal or old-fashioned rolled oats (or a combination of the two) 1/4 cup ground flax seeds 2 tablespoons wheat germ 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon Pinch of kosher salt 1 large egg 1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar, plus extra for topping (optional) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk 3/4 cup grated vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, spinach, and/or zucchini 3/4 cup very finely chopped fresh or dried fruit, such as apples, pears, pineapple, and/or raisins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 24-cup mini muffin pan with nonstick pan spray or line with mini muffin liners.
Whisk the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, bran flakes, flax seeds, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl.
Whisk the egg and 1/4 cup of the sugar together in a medium bowl. Mix in the olive oil and vanilla, then whisk in the milk. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the vegetables and fruit, then pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture. Stir just until combined (a few lumps are fine).
Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling each one about three quarters full. If you’d like, sprinkle a little sugar over each muffin. Bake until the center of the muffins spring back to light pressure, 20 to 25 minutes (muffins made with dried fruit take about 5 minutes less to bake). Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes in the pan before transferring to a rack to cool completely.