How to save money on food over the holidays, from celeb chefs Daniel Boulud, Michael Symon, and Geoffrey Zakarian

Celebrity Chefs & Friends Golf Tournament Benefitting City Harvest.
Courtesy City Harvest

Earlier this week, at The Celebrity Chef Golf Tournament benefiting New York City's largest food rescue organization, City Harvest, which was hosted by Herb Karlitz, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Nick Faldo, celebrity chefs Zakarian, Michael Symon, and Daniel Boulud shared tips for saving money on groceries and avoiding food waste.

They also offered suggestions for how to make holiday hosting more cost-effective.

Here are some of their best tips and ideas.

Ask for bargains at the grocery store

In addition to starring on a number of Food Network shows and earning the title of "Iron Chef," Symon is a restaurateur with insider knowledge of our food supply.

Grocery stores, he says, often showcase the best produce on the shelves and keep damaged fruits and vegetables in the back. "Sometimes those are the vegetables that they may even, unfortunately, throw out," he says. Americans waste a staggering $218 billion worth of food a year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Try negotiating to see if you can pay less for imperfect produce, he says: "Talk to people at the grocery store. They will have fruits and vegetables that may be slightly bruised, or not in A+ condition, or slightly overripe, but every bit as delicious. And typically those products you can get for 30%-40% off."

Buy smaller protein portions

Zakarian, who owns several restaurants, one of which earned a Michelin star, also holds the title of "Iron Chef" and stars on Food Network shows including "Chopped" and "The Kitchen." He says that an easy way to cut food costs is to buy smaller quantities.

"It's about portion control. ... We eat way too much," Zakarian says. It's easy to overspend on animal protein because it's priced by weight. To spend less, think smaller: "Instead of an 8-ounce piece of protein, eat like a 4- or 5-ounce piece. The dollars add up because that's what's so expensive."

Celebrity chef and restauranter Geoffrey Zakarian.
Courtesy Point Royal

Another common mistake many food shoppers make is buying too much at once. That's because planning out a whole week's worth of meals can lead to overspending and waste.

To avoid overbuying, "Instead of going grocery shopping once a week, go a few times and buy less," Zakarian says. "You really have to just buy what you eat."

Turn one dish into two

Daniel Boulud, owner of seven restaurants in New York City, including the Michelin-starred Daniel and six others across the U.S. and the world, says knowledge is power when it comes to reducing food spending.

"You have to know what to do with any trimming or any waste," he says.

Michelin-starred celebrity chef Daniel Boulud.
Courtesy Helge Kirchberger Photography

Take a chicken, for example. Boulud says you can save money by purchasing the whole bird and using each part for a different purpose. By repurposing the discarded bones and the carcass after cooking, you can create your own chicken broth.

Making broth at home instead of buying a boxed or canned version will not only save you money, it can also help save the planet. The world's food system is responsible for about one-quarter of the planet-warming greenhouse gases that humans generate each year, and processing packaged foods can contribute to emissions.

Holiday hosting money-saving hacks

The holidays are a time to reconnect with family and friends. Unfortunately they're also a time when people tend to waste food.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year's, nearly three times as much food is thrown out than during the rest of the year. Last year, an estimated 204 million pounds of turkey meat was thrown out over the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.

To make every penny in your holiday food budget count, and to decrease your carbon footprint, Symon suggests you get creative about your dishes: "When you think about any protein or a dish, think about the secondary use for that dish so that you can use it continually."

Instead of an 8-ounce piece of protein, eat like a 4- or 5-ounce piece. The dollars add up because that's what's so expensive.
Geoffrey Zakarian

Figure out how you can transform your leftovers, too: "Make things that you know can be reheated and that you can reuse, especially around the holidays." Combine leftover sweet potatoes and turkey with eggs, for example, and you've got a delicious turkey hash for breakfast, he says.

Another strategy is to make family-style portions of Italian food for your guests. Rather than buying individual portions of protein that could go to waste among picky eaters, you can save money by making large dishes of pasta or lasagna so guest can dish out only as much as they'll consume.

Italian dishes also make for great leftovers: "The beautiful thing about Italian food is it's every bit as delicious cold!" says Symon. "Who doesn't like cold lasagna out of the refrigerator? Or cold pizza?"

We tried meal prepping and buying lunch to determine which method is best

Video by Jason Armesto

While you're saving on ingredients, also avoid common holiday money traps, like buying expensive alcohol.

To limit your spending and keep your guests happy, Zakarian suggests creating a signature drink and sticking with one or two types of alcohol. "When you have a holiday gathering, serve one or two drinks, don't have an open bar. People will be very happy if you curate drinks just for that particular party."

Throughout the season, and afterwards as well, the number one way to save money on food is to educate yourself, says Boulud: "Learn how to cook. Buy some good cookbooks from chefs who will teach you to not make food waste. When you're making delicious food you save money, but you also feel better, and you feel fulfilled with the mission of cooking with a purpose."

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