Grocery Budget Tips: Tip 10 – We Can, Dehydrate & Freeze Food

Welcome back to our grocery budget savings tips.  I am sharing the top 20 ways I keep our grocery budget affordable for my large family.  To learn more, read our introduction.

Tip 10:  We Can, Dehydrate & Freeze Food

Believe it or not, learning how to preserve food has saved us a lot of money over the years.   I can can large amounts of produce cheaper than I can buy it already canned (when I do it right – the cost of produce has to make it worth while and I never buy produce from a normal grocery store for canning).  I wrote an old blog post about that here.  It also prevents waste.  If I have a large harvest of tomatoes from the garden, I can and dehydrate them right away so they don’t go bad sitting around.  If I am about to go grocery shopping, I freeze the last bits of cheese, butter, milk, bread, yogurt, cream cheese, whatever freezes well that I am planning on replenishing. This saves the food before it goes bad, and keeps it around for a future date where I will need it again.  If we used our cream cheese up early, chances are good I still have cream cheese in the freezer so I can pull it out and use it, without needing a trip to the store.  While the texture of food that has been frozen is not often like it was fresh, it is still perfectly fine for cooking or baking.  As for dehydrating, many items rehydrate just fine for cooking and in some cases – such as with dried, shredded cabbage and potatoes – we prefer the “after” texture to using them fresh.

There is a certain investment required for preserving food.  If you want to freeze a meaningful amount of food, you may want to invest in a deep freezer.  We deal with large amounts of food on a regular basis (a few hundred chickens in a season, a couple pigs, garden produce, a dozen turkeys, etc.) We prefer the chest style freezers instead of the upright.  If you are going to can food, you will want a pressure canner (that doubles as a waterbath canner in most cases – this way you can can both low and high acid foods), a jar lifter, jars, lids, rings and a funnel.  If you are going to dehydrate, investing in a quality dehydrator is a wise choice.  While you can dehydrate in an oven, your results will vary and it will end up costing more in the long run – plus your oven will be in use for 8-12 hours at a time most times.  A cheapo dehydrator will yield disappointing results.  You get what you pay for.  I have a 10-tray LEM and a 9-try Excalibur.  Both are high quality and I am very satisfied with them.

All of these items listed above can likely be found used.  You can check local facebook sale groups, craigslist, etc. and of course thrift stores and garage sales.  I did not jump into preserving food all at once, so don’t think that in order to save money you need to shell out tons of money and jump into doing it all.  Once year I got my first pressure canner as a birthday present.  A few years later we invested in a dehydrator.  I stocked up on jars through yard sales.

I will try to tell you how I preserve the following foods, but I am sure to forget some ways.  Feel free to add your own in the comments!

  • Apples:  We freeze apple slices and apple pie filling, I can apple slices in apple juice or very light syrup, applesauce, jam, apple pie filling, for the dehydrator we make apple leather (or mix apple with other fruits for leather) and apple chips.
  • Bananas:  We freeze bananas that are too brown to eat and use them for baking or in banana leather (dehydrator).  Our hands down favorite way to preserve bananas is plain banana chips – no coatings, just simply sliced and dried.  Sometimes I make banana sticks if I don’t have enough time to slice (follow the natural separation of the banana and the banana will separate into long strips. I dehydrate these just like that).
  • Beans:  Soup beans are dried on the vine and saved for future planting or soup.  I often can dry beans for a much cheaper version of canned beans. Green or wax beans are frozen whole, canned either normal cut or french cut (our preferred way, but it takes longer to cut them).  I have also dehydrated beans with great results, but found it is easier to use them canned due to the time it takes to rehydrate them.  If you are going to slow cook a stew all day, they are great for that!
  • Peppers:  I like to freeze peppers diced and sliced (no prep, just wash and slice), or freeze them roasted and peeled.  I have canned roasted peppers but was not thrilled with the result (taste-wise) EXCEPT banana peppers, which I can as pepperoncini slices or whole peppers (the small ones).  I have dehydrated them (peeled) but found when they rehydrated, even after hours of simmering, the resulting texture was not pleasing.  My preferred method of pepper preserving is freezing.
  • Tomatoes:  Ah, tomatoes.  I usually grow a few hundred tomato plants and preserve them in many ways. Due to the large volume that comes through my kitchen, I don’t prefer to freeze them because they would take up space.  I usually roast them in high numbers and can a couple hundred quarts of sauce.    If I have enough to do specialized sauces, I like to can spaghetti and enchilada sauce.  I make and can ketchup and tomato paste.  I also can diced, quarts, and juice.   I like to halve my tomatoes and squeeze the guts out before roasting for sauce – removing the guts cuts down cooking time when I am making sauce.  When I want a looser consistency (juice) for chili, I don’t remove the guts and as soon as the tomatoes are cooked, I run the loose liquid through a food mill and can the results.  I like to dry tomatoes, too.  I dry a thick sauce or paste into a sheet that can be powdered and reconstituted into paste or sauce.  This is helpful for small quantities when I don’t want to open a can for a tablespoon of tomato paste or one cup of tomato sauce.  I also dry tomatoes as a dice and halved (for recipes calling for sun dried tomatoes).  Oh, can’t forget salsa!  Lots of mild salsa.
  • Potatoes:  Potatoes are another vegetables I preserve in many ways.  Dehydrated, we dehydrate slices, dices, and shreds.  Canned, we can whole peeled, whole unepeeled (for roasts), large dice, small dice and slices.  Frozen, I freeze potato skins, fries, coated potato wedges, mashed potatoes
  • Squash: Peeled and cubed
  • Strawberries:  Canned as jam, frozen whole or sliced, dehydrated sliced.
  • Pears: Canned as pear sauce, frozen in slices.
  • Peaches:  We can them in slices, and pie filling.  They make a wonderful addition to fruit leather, and we freeze them in slices.
  • Broccoli:  Dehydrated, then powdered (my family isn’t too keen on the texture of broccoli in meals such as stuffed chicken or broccoli and rice, so the powder delivers the taste without the texture), and frozen whole (they roast up decently for the non-oddballs in my family that does enjoy broccoli whole)
  • Lemon, lime, oranges:  I dehydrate the zest, dehydrate slices (for drinks, or to powder), and freeze juice.
  • Onions:  I usually freeze them diced, or dehydrate them in a small dice for dry minced onion or onion powder.  My french fry cutter does a great job of controlling the size of the dice for me. .
  • Garlic: I dehydrate garlic slices to powder for garlic powder.
  • Corn: I have had good luck dehydrating corn kernels, I also freeze kernels and freeze whole corn on the cob still in the husk (defrost them roast in the oven to reheat – they turn out great!) can them as whole kernels and creamed corn.
  • Beets: I usually just can beet chunks and slices.  I did pickled beets last year and they were a hit with the husband, but nothing I need to can in large quantities.
  • Kale/Spinach:  They are nice frozen, but also make a yummy snack dried into chips.
  • Celery: I dehydrate slices to powder for use in soups.  I have found that no matter how long dehydrated celery is cooked, it doesn’t usually soften up the way we like celery to soften up.  I have found instead that using a celery powder delivers the same taste without the celery chunks.  I also freeze celery – simply slice and throw in the freezer.
  •  Cabbage: Whole heads frozen whole can be thawed and dealt with as if they had been cooked.  I also dehydrate shredded cabbage for future use in cabbage soup.  We can plain cabbage for quick skillet meals and casseroles.
  • Cauliflower: I just freeze cauliflower.  I’ve not had good success dehydrating it, ever.
  • Pineapple:  Canning in chunks and rings in light syrup, dehydrating for treats
  • Pumpkin:  I typically roast, scoop out meat, puree and freeze.  Sometimes I skip the puree part and just freeze, and I puree it when I thaw it.  I also like to make pumpkin spice leather with pureed pumpkin, in the dehydrator.
  • Blueberries:  I freeze them.  I don’t normally dehydrate them.  Also freeze raspberries, mulberries and blackberries.

I began learning to can long before I had a garden big enough to produce a harvest large enough to can.  This is something you can do whether you have a garden or not.  I was able to search out affordable produce through small farmers, farmers markets, roadside stands and stores that only sold produce.   Now, I grow the bulk of the food we preserve which makes it even more affordable.

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