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.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.