It seems that today everyone is looking to cut back and save money. Oftentimes, one of the first areas of the budget to get slashed is eating out. If you enjoy dining out on designer meals but simply need to reduce your budget, there is no need to give up wonderful gourmet meals.

Consider for a moment how much you typically pay for a meal in a nice restaurant. How much does just the entrée usually cost? Depending on the restaurant, you could easily pay up to $30. By cooking at home you can prepare a meal that is just as tasty, oftentimes better. By using a few tips, planning ahead and browsing around for prices you can prepare a designer meal at home for $5.00 per serving compared to the $30 you would pay in a restaurant.

First, it is important to learn how to plan your meals. You will be surprised at how far your grocery budget can stretch when you begin planning out your meals for an entire week. The reason is that this ensures you are able to properly use of leftovers without anything going to waste. By not wasting food and simply tossing it, you will have more of a budget to work with and be able to splurge on expensive and rare ingredients that can truly make a difference in your cooking. In addition, menu planning will also help you to prepare and sample a new meal each week. Whether you saw it on a cooking show or you came across it in a cookbook or a magazine, you can take advantage of the opportunity to expand your repertoire.

Second, make a point to purchase seasonal food. Ingredients that are in season are always less expensive than ingredients that are out of season. Have you ever noticed that fresh fruits such as strawberries can cost as much as four times the price in the middle of January as they do in June? Purchasing seasonal ingredients will also improve your meals because seasonal foods are always in better condition and are typically fresher than foods out of season. Another great tip is to browse local farms and fruit and vegetable stands. This is a great way to find fresh, local produce at substantially reduced prices.

Take some time to explore specialty food and gourmet shops. You may find that you can place a bulk order for items that you use frequently, a technique that will help in saving on postage. Do you love the taste of exotic foods, spices or specialty teas and coffees? You can usually find such items more easily online as well as less expensively. By purchasing these items in bulk and then carefully storing them at home you can always have designer ingredients on hand at home. Also, spend some time browsing items offered by local ethnic stores. You may be surprised at what you come across that can really liven up your cooking.

The main focus of your meal should be the main dish. Therefore, you should begin by deciding what the main entrée of your meal will be. Review the circulars from your local supermarkets to find out what is going to be on sale that week. Always keep the price per serving in mind as you shop. Once you have found a good price for the main dish, decide how you are going to prepare it. Portions of meat that is thick enough can be stuffed to introduce a lot of flavor. For instance, you could add ingredients such as sausage or cheese. This is a great opportunity to add flavor and texture without spending a lot of money. Another great idea is to quickly whip up a marinade and use that to add flavor to a cut of meat.

The side dishes are usually the least expensive part of a meal, even a designer meal. Salad ingredients can be inexpensive. Toss in some sun dried tomatoes to add a little special flavor. Rice and pasta can also be inexpensive but add a lot to a meal. With a little good quality olive oil and roasted garlic you will have a side dish that tastes every bit as good as what you would be served in the nicest of restaurants.

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