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HOW TO UNLOCK THE SECRET TO CONTROLING FOOD EXPENSES

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A button at the top of this site’s Home Page links to my book How to Control Food Bills which teaches The Diet for the Food Dollar Plan. I’d like to talk a bit about the book and what prompted me to write it. We can’t control food prices, but we can learn to deal with them.

First of all, I want to be clear, I am not a classically trained chef. I have none of the professional chef’s ‘perks’; no fabulous equipment, no assistants, no ’connections’ for supplies or access to special prices. I am one of you, cooking alone, in a normal home kitchen, buying retail at the local supermarket, and above all, working on my own dime. None of these facts change whether I’m making a meal for my family or preparing an order for a client.

This is why I feel that I can discuss the problems of dealing with current food costs with you better than the ‘professionals’. They have an objective view of the situation, whereas we have a subjective one.

My one advantage, and the one I share in this book, is that my training with the U.S. Personal Chef’s Association is focused on the economic and organizational aspects of the business, more than the culinary side. The students know how to cook and follow recipes, and most meals are left to the client to finish and serve. What they really need to learn is how to create a viable business working with the food situation today. That includes how to use organized planning and to food shop in an informed, intelligent way to control cost.

Frustration with cooking for an empty nest prompted me to train and open a personal chef service. I knew from the training, I was in for some awakenings, but nothing compared to the change in my attitude toward handling food expenses. Understanding what a personal chef service is and the steps a chef takes to complete an order will explain how this happened and why following a chef’s example can save time and money for the average family.

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A personal chef service prepares a series of meals for a client to consume over a period of time, for which a price is quoted. The chef has a large recipe repertoire and can adapt family favorites or special diets, but individual requests are acceptable too. Although services have base prices, a personal chef service owner meeting with a client to draw up a menu, must be prepared for any requests. It can be a specific cut of meat, a change in number of entrees and/or servings, even adapting a meal from fresh to frozen. The chef has to be able to give the client a reasonable quote, on the spot, taking into consideration maintaining quality and meeting the bottom line while buying retail, much as the home cook should do when planning the weekly meals and calculating food expenses.

Of course, the chef has to be informed as to current market prices, and also be aware of all the ingredients needed to fill the order. This means keeping a running inventory of pantry supplies, staples, condiments, herbs and spices. This sounds harder than it is. Simply note supplies including amounts, and then each time you plan menus revise the amounts of the items used. Then you always know what you have, without constant searching.

When the menu is set and the day of delivery scheduled, the chef makes a master shopping list for the entire order, including every ingredient in the amount needed. Different market flyers are studied to determine which store has the best prices, especially on the meats and produce, for that particular order. Menu blanks, such as optional sides or choice of salads are filled in from the information in the chosen market’s flyer before shopping. Using one market saves valuable time especially on service day or, for the home cook, market day.

If an item is required from another store, then it is preordered to be ready for pick-up on service day. The same is true of the main order. The chef visits the chosen market in advance to place the order and be sure it’s waiting in designated amounts on the morning of the stipulated day. It’s important for quality and freshness that products go directly from store to client.

To facilitate this, the chef will have made it a point to meet the managers of the separate food sections of the supermarkets, especially the meat, fish and produce. Having worked together, these people understand what is needed and a phone call to each assures the order is correctly filled, packaged and ready on time. Many people don’t realize if they take the time to meet key people in the different departments of their favorite market, they can enjoy the same convenience and rely on being able to get sound advice.

The entire order is cooked in the client’s house and prepared in proportion sizes for freezing. The estimated time spent is one hour per entrée. This can be a good model for the busy home chef. Setting a time aside to cook some meals in advance, or cooking double amounts of a meal, which takes no extra time, is a great way to relieve stress. It’s nice to come home after a hard day and know something’s prepared.

The whole procedure is straightforward but requires time and attention to detail or it can bog down and derail. I needed a way to streamline it and a few short cuts to keep me on track. Otherwise, I would be spending far too much time on each order.

The plan I devised worked so well for the business, I applied it to my personal food shopping and preparation, saving both time and money. The best part is it’s individualized without being invasive so it adapts to all financial situations. To test it further, I shared it with some friends with the same results. One remarked that she wished she could shed pounds as easily as she cut dollars off her food bills and The Diet for the Food Dollar Plan was named.

It consists of 3 simple steps to alter your approach to food provisioning from planning through shopping and preparing. Experts say that habits are formed in three weeks. So if you can follow the steps for three weeks they will be well on the way to becoming habit and you will be on auto-pilot to saving time and money.

I had some fun with the steps, thinking up simple tips and incentives to keep on track. When I decided to write the book, I added more “bells and whistles” to pave the way and a lot more information, including a complete run-down of every type of store that sells food.

The steps are:

  1. BE DECISIVE— Don’t hesitate, press “Go” As with any diet, the first step is to set a realistic, obtainable, goal and start working toward it.
  2. BE DETERMINED – Once you have a goal in mind, and an idea of how to carve the path to get there, it’s going to take resolve to turn that path into a paved highway.
  3. BE DICIPLINED – In any diet this is the hardest step to follow because it requires ongoing effort, but the best paved road won’t get you into town if you keep taking scenic detours. If you are decisive and determined; all that’s needed is willpower.

In addition to the three steps in the plan, if you follow the personal chef’s schedule in your approach to menu planning and food shopping, you will find the tasks simplified.

1) Check your pantry inventory and supplies,

2) Make time to plan a week’s menus starting with the entrees,

3) Study the weekly market flyers, and pick the store which best fits your current needs,
4) Fill in any menu blanks using that flyer,
5) Write a detailed list of every ingredient, with amounts, needed for the week’s meals

6) Make a similar list for other food needs, breakfasts, lunches, snacks, pet food etc. and for household supplies, detergents, paper products etc. Anything bought in a supermarket.

7) Talk to the personal in the key departments of your favorite store. Get the name of one in each to call if you want to order ahead or inquire about an item.
8) Make ONE WEEKLY trip to market for everything

The book contains over 100 pages of charts and diagrams of meats, poultry, seafood cheeses, oils, grains and herbs and spices giving descriptions and suggested uses. There are lists of common ingredient substitutions, temperature conversions, pan measurement and calorie charts. These alone constitute a valuable kitchen tool

So click on the link at the top of the Home Page or the book cover in the Bookshelf panorama in the right margin, and take a closer look at the book and what it can do for you. I guarantee it will more than repay its $8.99 cost probably in the first shopping trip, but definitely in less than the time the plan takes to becomes a habit, or 3 weeks as stated above.

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