I love Passover. It’s a wonderful holiday. It’s full of family gatherings, feasts, and wine.
It’s also the grocery budget blowout that happens every year and affects your budget for months.
I’m not going to give you a theology or religious lecture on the history of Passover. This is not a religious website. Anyway if you’re reading this post specifically to find out hints on saving during Passover, you probably already celebrate it and know what the holiday is about. Basically, it celebrates the Jews being freed from bondage in Egypt and Moses beginning the Exodus. If you would like to know more, there are a number of websites available, or even Wikipedia.
There are special additional dietary laws during Passover that mean many of the foods in our pantry and freezer are no longer kosher, and not only can we not eat them, we can’t even own them, so out they go. Then we go out and buy expensive “Kosher for Passover” varieties. We usually haven’t even finished them when the 8 days are over; we just toss the special brands and refill the pantry with all the things you threw away just a week ago.
During Passover all Jews are forbidden to eat the following: wheat, oats, rye, barley, and spelt. (What is spelt anyway? I have no idea, and have probably never eaten it, but it’s on the list, so I’ll include it)
If you are (like myself) part of the approximately 85-90% of American Jews who identify as Ashkenazi, you are also forbidden to eat: rice, corn, millet, dried beans and lentils, peas, green beans, soybeans, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and mustard.
Well, that does seem like a lot, and it is. But it still leaves us a lot to eat and use. Fresh meat, fresh fruit and veggies, herbs, all the stuff that is good for you is fine. It’s basically a religiously prescribed mini-diet. I know I’m not the only one who healthily loses a few pounds during Passover.
Let’s go over the banned list again.
Wheat, that’s the main one, no bread or flour or pasta. Or beer, for that matter. The guys watching the game will have to get by on wine.
Soybeans, so soy milk is out (sorry to everyone who is lactose-intolerant).
Well, no peanut butter either.
As in, corn syrup.
That stuff is everywhere. Even in places you wouldn’t think to look. Not until you start prepping for Passover and you check labels do you realize how common it is. Go on; try to find a shelf in your pantry completely clear of it. Go on. Unless you’re completely organic, I bet you can’t do it.
The ban on corn and corn syrup is probably the 2nd biggest reason for the size of the Passover aisles at the store. The biggest being wheat of course.
But don’t let that intimidate or discourage your budgeting plan. In my next few posts, I will demonstrate how a little planning and meal creativity can help you have a happy Passover without destroying your budget.
Please keep in mind that I follow the basic rules of kosher, no pork or shellfish, and I don’t mix milk and meat. But my meat comes from my local supermarket, not a kosher butcher. I don’t keep my dishes separate. When it comes to Passover, I refrain from eating anything that is on the forbidden list. I even check the ingredients list on the containers. But I do not restrict myself to only products that are labeled specifically “Kosher for Passover”. Whether your household rules are similar, or you are stricter, I hope you can use my advice to help with your Passover planning.
When I give advice for how to save at any time, especially Passover, there is one main piece of advice.
Plan, plan, plan.
Although it seems like it, Passover doesn’t sneak up and surprise you, there is plenty of time to plan and prepare.
Planning ahead is especially important during Passover because families are eating more fresh veggies, fruit and meat than usual, rather than relying on packaged foods.
This means a lot of buying ahead, way ahead. If you eat only strictly kosher meat, perhaps stocking up on the kosher brand turkeys after Thanksgiving and keeping them in the freezer wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you are like me and get your meat from the main supermarket, you might do the same for your store brand. A month or two before Passover, start stocking up whenever meat or produce goes on sale.
Some fruits and veggies will be cheaper during this time of year because they are “in season”. Plan your Passover meals around these.
Vegetables in season are: asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, mushrooms, watercress, beets, avocado, Brussel sprouts (sorry kids), leeks, rhubarb, radishes, zucchini, and sweet potatoes.
Cabbage, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and onions are pretty easy to find all year round.
Seasonal fruits that might be better for your budget are: strawberries, mango, apricots, Barbados cherries, honeydew and melons, pineapple, lemons, limes, and oranges. Apples and bananas can usually be found cheaply year round as well. I also use canned or jarred fruit too, as long as it is packed in pure fruit juice, and not syrup.
Passover is a good time for a variety of salads. A wide variety of greens and herbs are also coming into season.
If some produce that is easily freezable is on sale, buy extra.
Strawberries are plentiful and cheap this time of year, so you might be having a lot of them for Passover. They can be bought cheaply a few weeks or a month ahead and easily frozen to eat during Passover. Just cut off the green parts, stand them cut side down on a plate in the freezer. (Single layer) once frozen, take off plate and toss in a Ziploc bag.
If you like melons, just scoop out the flesh into melon balls (do not use the rind) , and toss into a Ziploc.
Grapes just have to be pulled off the stem before being put in the Ziploc. You don’t have to peel them, but you can if you think it might be hot. In any hot weather, a great and healthy treat for kids is a few frozen grapes.
Plain pineapple slices are easily frozen or canned and go well with plain grilled chicken.
Although I have heard not to freeze green peppers, I often cut them into small cubes or thin strips and freeze. I have had no problems.
Beets, asparagus, rhubarb and other vegetables freeze well, especially if sliced or sectioned.
There are many other websites that tell you how to freeze or otherwise store many fruits and vegetables.
Once it’s a little closer to Passover it’s time to start getting rid of the chametz. That’s all the forbidden foods in the house. Although you can still use chametz, it helps to separate everything at least 2 or 3 weeks ahead of time. Knowing what I have to work with helps me in making a menu plan. When you have a plan, you can shop and cook ahead of time.
Which brings us to menu plans. Menu plans are the backbone of any and every grocery budget. Plans help you not to overbuy, since you can see and plan ahead to use the leftovers from a larger meal as an ingredient in a smaller meal the next evening. For instance cook a roast chicken on Monday night and use the small leftover pieces to make chicken salad for Tuesday lunch. (Also remember to save your skins to make homemade schmaltz) A menu plan will also help out with schedules. If you know you have a busy evening, you can plan for a meal with less cooking and prep. And don’t forget about packed lunches for school and work.
If you plan to be busy several days over Passover, try this tip. During the month or two before Passover, hit the dollar store and buy some of those foil casserole dishes with the foil lids. Make your meals on a free weekend day or simply make extra on family dinner night. Stick it in the dish and freeze. During Passover, when you might be in a hurry, simply warm it up.
Now you can make your shopping list. Look at not only what you need, but where it might be cheaper. If you have an Aldi’s nearby, lucky you! You also can buy many good snacks and cooking goods at the Dollar Tree stores. I have bought coconut, dried fruit, and nuts like walnuts, pecans, and almonds all at the dollar store.
Now the most fun, but ultimately the most difficult part, shopping.
Matzah is a Passover necessity, so sneak to the edge of the Passover aisle and grab however many you think you will need. If you have a bad macaroon habit, like me, grab a can of chocolate chip or whichever you prefer.
Now look down that Passover aisle, full of special holiday foods made just for the holiday. Now turn and walk away.
Do you really need the kosher for Passover potato chips and sugar cereals? You know, the ones that have half the taste at twice the cost. It’s only a week. Can the kids survive eating scrambled eggs and hash browns on matzah for breakfast? Maybe a week with water, tea and juice instead of soda might be good for the family.
By the way, be careful of matzah. Some matzah isn’t kosher for Passover. It will say on the box “Not kosher for Passover” near the Hechsher, or kosher authorization symbol. Kosher markets will keep this matzah separate. However, big supermarket chains often have store managers who don’t know this and will simply put all matzah in the Passover aisle. Check the label on the box before buying.
If you absolutely must buy a couple of things in the Passover aisle, watch when you do it. Most stores will begin to stock it a month before Passover starts, and usually on sale. Stock up then. In the couple of days before Passover, the sale prices will disappear. But some stores will put some things back on sale in the middle of Passover, especially things that didn’t sell before and they don’t want to bother sending back. Now is when you stock up for next year. (See, planning works) Canned and dry goods last for a while. If you absolutely can’t live without those chocolate chip macaroons (or whatever else), check the expiration dates, and buy now. But if you live in an area without a large Jewish population, some stores might not realize how long Passover is and remove and send back everything early. Also remember to keep track of what you bought, what was gobbled and what was uneaten after a bite and an “Uggh, this is awful”. Remember which was which for next year, so you don’t bother buying the same thing.
Just because a food isn’t in the magical Passover aisle, doesn’t mean it’s not kosher for Passover. Things such as tea, olive oil, and cream cheese are usually (but not always) considered Passover kosher all year round so cruise the aisles. Many products have kosher labels that say “Kosher for all year round and Passover”. If it says this, it’s fine, even when not in the Passover aisle. This is especially true of typically kosher brands. Empire, Hebrew National, Gefen, Manishevitz, and Streit’s produce mainly kosher foods and will say on the label whether it passes the Passover test.
Once I saw “Kosher for Passover” aluminum foil. Why? Most nonfood items are fine for use. Check the labels for ingredients and a general kosher symbol. I found the OUkosher.org website great for the guidelines on non-food items. KosherQuest.org is another good site for kosher information.
Check out my next post in a few days, where I’ll show you the start of my own Passover preparations and my own menu plan.