Last week I took a look at a number of food and grocery related topics which have been a hot area of discussion with the rising prices of food due to inflation. Even though my tone was a bit cynical at times, the fact is many people are trying to save money on food costs, but may find themselves not really saving much or any money at all.
Cooking at home is the easiest way for most people to shave money from their monthly food bill, but if you aren’t careful, you can actually spend just as much by cooking at home as you can eating out. Just take the example where people are buying Spam in hopes of saving money. Sure, it is only around $2.65 a can, but that comes out to about $3.50 per pound, and is extremely high in sodium and not a very healthy source of protein. The illusion of saving money is there, but in actuality, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Don’t Stick to Processed Food to Save Time
If you plan on doing a lot of cooking at home and you’re not used to preparing meals, the time spent in the kitchen can be discouraging. It does take a bit of time to prepare a meal, and all too often people will lean towards processed foods in order to save time. One of the most common places to turn are with side dishes. You know, those easy to prepare rice and noodle packages that allow you to throw the package into a pot of water and have a completed dish in 5-10 minutes. Convenient? You bet, but they are usually not the most healthy of options. Not only that, but they can add up since one package can typically $1.50-$3.00.
Introducing the Wonderful Rice Cooker
If you don’t already have one, you need to get one. A rice cooker is a fantastic appliance that can save you money, time, and help you prepare healthier meals. Simplicity is the key here. In less than a minute, you can pour in some dry rice, a little bit of water, and just close the lid. In around 20 minutes you will have a perfectly cooked batch of rice.
Not impressed? If you grew up on Uncle Ben’s or other quick-fix rice meals, you are missing out on a festival of flavors that good rice can provide. There isn’t much better than a good Jasmine or Basmati, or even some of the whole grain rice varieties. You can often eat these on their own without adding any additional flavoring. But, the benefits don’t stop at taste.
The Cost Savings
While the unparalleled flavor of fresh rice is hard to beat, the money you save comes close. Depending on how much you buy, what kind, and where you buy it, you can find rice around, or sometimes under $1 per pound. To give you an idea of what that can buy, for my wife and I, we can go a month or a little longer on 5 pounds eating it around twice a week when the main component of a meal, or it can easily last a few months when it is used for side dishes.
The savings for us since we’re just feeding two people isn’t going line our pockets with money, but when you have to feed a family of four or more, it is far cheaper than buying packaged foods. Even so, if we can shave even a couple bucks off each week’s grocery bill, that goes a long way in offsetting the higher prices on other products.
A Rice Cooker is More Versatile Than You Think
I know what you’re thinking–having plain rice is boring and it only goes with Asian dishes. Years ago when we first received one as a gift, I thought the same thing. Big deal, I can cook steamed rice easily, I’m not impressed. Well, even though it does that, and it does it well, your rice cooker is a tremendous multitasker. Did you know you can make complete meals, risotto, soups and stews, vegetables, and even meat dishes?
The most common application is to simply add some cooked meet or veggies and some seasoning to your rice and create a meal. That is pretty handy, but most rice cookers even come with steamer racks that allow you to steam vegetables without any hassle. In fact, you can even steam your veggies while the rice is cooking. In addition, the cooker can be used to brown meat and even cook your favorite stoups and stews. For a boatload of recipe ideas, simply search the web, or check out this fantastic cookbook: The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook : 250 No-Fail Recipes for Pilafs, Risottos, Polenta, Chilis, Soups, Porridges, Puddings and More, from Start to Finish in Your Rice Cooker.
What to Look for When Buying a Rice Cooker
You’ve decided that you want one of these machines, so how do you pick a good one? The good news is that rice cookers are quite simple machines, so it isn’t as complicated as you think. Here are a few features to consider:
- Size - Rice cookers come in a rage of sizes, from just a couple cups, to monster cookers that can easily make enough rice to feed a small army. For most families, something in the 5-8 cup range is more than sufficient, and these are the most common sizes available.
- Lid Type – There are two common types of lids: a locking and sealed lid, and a glass removable lid. I say go for the locking lid. The glass window may be nice, but it will just get fogged up and you’ll have to remove the lid to see much anyway. Plus, I think having a tighter seal makes for better cooking.
- Cooking Bowl – While most come with a non-stick cooking bowl, you want one that is not going to scratch easy, and is removable. Very cheap models will use a low quality non-stick surface. If it is removable, it makes cleanup a breeze since it should also be dishwasher safe.
- Programming Features – Basic models will have just two settings: cook and warm. When you press the button, it will cook the rice to perfection, and then leave it on the warming setting to keep the rice warm. This is actually all you need for most applications, but having more control with additional settings, or the ability to program a starting time can also be helpful. Determining how many features you need is up to you.
- Cost - Rice cookers come in a wide variety of styles and prices. Basic models can be had for as little as $20, or you can spend over $100 on fancy computerized models. It depends on how much you plan on using it. We do just fine with the Aroma 8-Cup Cool-Touch Rice Cooker that comes in at a very affordable $29.99.
Where to Buy
You can find these at almost any store that sells kitchen appliances and even online. Some stores will only carry one or two models, so your choices are limited. You may want to check out a store that specializes in kitchen and housewares such as Bed Bath & Beyond, or turn to the web to explore your options. Here are a few solid choices from three price points:
- Budget - Aroma 8-Cup Cool-Touch Rice Cooker: $29.99
- Mid-Range - Panasonic SR-TMB10 5-1/2-Cup Rice Cooker/Warmer, Silver: $84.99
- High-End – Zojirushi NS-LAC05 Micom 3-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer, Stainless Steel: $130
Start Saving Money and Begin Eating Healthier Today
If you have a rice cooker but don’t use it, it’s time to dust it off and buy a bag of quality rice. I think you’ll be surprised at how flavorful seemingly plain rice can be. If you use a rice cooker currently, but find it boring, pick up a cookbook or start searching for new recipe ideas. There are endless possibilities to expand your culinary options. And if you don’t have a rice cooker, what are you waiting for?
Regardless of what you use it for, or how often, the best part is knowing that you’re in control of the ingredients. You know exactly what is going in and what is coming out. This provides a healthy alternative to any type of packaged food. And even if you use it just once a week, you’re freeing up time and energy that would otherwise go into preparing something else and save money doing so. If you ask me, that is a win-win-win situation.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.
Cooking quick, easy meals using a rice cooker is a life saver by using my new book "Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People." Use it as a portable kitchen by bringing it to work, dorm rooms, small apartments. Cook soups, pasta dishes, seafood, meats, jambalayas. Try our "Chicken Fajita Stuffed Potato". Visit www.RiceCookerMeals.com for free recipes and cooking videos and our free E-Book "Delicious Home Cooking in 30 Minutes!"
It seems every person has his/her favorites when it comes to kitchen appliances....the rice cooker is a good one, but definitely not my favorite. My new cooktop, blender, and refrigerator are mine.
It has a similar consistency as rice, can be used as a side dish, is a complete protein, has phosphorus, is high in magnesium and iron, with dietary fiber, gluten free, and ALL the amino acids.
Plus it is more conservative on natural resources to growth it. i.e. less land and less water to growth.
Please alert your readers to my new cookbook, Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People, $12.95 from my website and Amazon. Free recipes and videos are at www.RiceCookerMeals.com
Please alert your readers to my new cookbook, Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People, $12.95 from my website and Amazon.
It seems that every kitchen appliance has their fans, whether it's slow cookers, rice cookers, CuisineArt blenders or whatever. problem is, i don't have room for all these gadgets.
I'd love to see someone do a side by side comparison of slow cooker vs. rice cooker vs. any others.
I grew up with a rice-cooker at home (given to my parents by Japanese friends), so when I moved out and started cooking my own meals, I always watched my rice-in-a-pot carefully to make sure it didn't burn or boil over. Registered for a simple, quality rice cooker when I got married, and it makes life so much easier... I don't have to watch it, and I know the rice will be warm and ready whenever the rest of the meal is.
32oz "brick" of chicken stock, 2 cups dirt cheap long grain "white rice.", 1.5tsp salt, 1.5tsp onion powder, 0.5tsp garlic powder. Push start, walk away.
What results is perfectly cooked, mix with some parmesan, some leftover grilled chicken for some protein. You've got a meal in 20min that, literally, has about 2min preparation time.
My Zojirushi cooker has a non-teflon "nonstick" surface, cleans up easily.
Yes, you can save money by just using a pot and cooking it directly. But it's only cheaper if your time is free.
Great point, Cindy! A good cook doesn't need a lot of gadgets. Goodness knows, there's a lot that can be done with a single pot on a stove top (especially if the pot is a wok).
I used to make my rice on the stove top or in the microwave. And really, that works just fine for a lot of people. For some reason, though, I cook a lot more rice with the steamer. Maybe it's the results, maybe it's the ease of use, maybe it's the combination.
Don't think you made your point. I'm still not convinced I need another appliance to clutter up my kitchen when I can make great rice with a simple pot on top of the stove.
Instead of spending $30 on a rice cooker I'd rather spend it on food.
thanks for the suggestion though.
I'm with Stu and Molly. A steamer is a lot more practical if you want to cook rice because there are so many other things that it can do. I like making steamed buns in mine and I just made a batch of sushi rice last night. It was absolutely fabulous.
Cheap method to making perfect rice (in my opinion)
Boil 2 parts water in a regular pan to the amount of rice you want. For example, if you want a cup of rice boil 2 cups of water. Once the water starts boiling, stir in the one cup of rice and put a lid on the pan. Reduce the heat to the simmer or a setting that is equivalent to a low temperature. Let the pan sit for about 20 minutes. Whala, perfect rice.
re: above comments
1) most modern rice cookers also work as steamers, and come with little steamer trays in them and such. if you've not bought one of these, you probably bought a cheap one.
2) if the rice comes out funky and is hard to clean you're probably doing it a little wrong and/or have a cheap cooker. i've seen a variety of steamers that totally bake the rice touching metal, and some that barely need a rinse after cooking.
Dude, I hear nothing but raves about rice cookers, but I just can't seem to use mine properly. The rice comes out all funky, and it's a pain to clean. But pretty much everyone one I know can't all be perpetrating the rice cooker myth just to mess with me, right? I'll give it another try.
Ditto what Stu said. It does take a little longer to cook rice in the steamer (~45 min.) but it's the tastiest way I've found to cook rice.
Ours is a Black & Decker with two levels. We bought it for under $30 about 10 years ago, and it's still going strong. I highly recommend a two-level steamer, because you can cook several different items at once.
A rice cooker is nothing but a castrated crockpot.
What you really need is a steamer, like this http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00019G8IS/
WAY more versatile than a rice cooker.
I'd wager most people already have a crockpot so a rice cooker wont give them anything really new, but a steamer will open way more doors.