Save Money on Food By Using a Dehydrator

I’m always looking for ways to save money on food.   We try to limit our purchases of food to what is on sale, but it’s not always possible to wait until vegetables go on sale.  For example, cauliflower doesn’t go on sale very often, or at least not as often as I’d like.  This week Sprouts has cauliflower on sale 88 cents for a large head!  What a great deal!  I would love to stock up on that but there’s only so much room in my refrigerator and freezer, and I can only eat so much cauliflower at once.

What’s a girl to do?

Enter the dehydrator.  A kitchen appliance which I have not utilized until recently.  Currently I own this model: Nesco FD-75PR Food Dehydrator. I have taken advantage of it in the past couple of weeks to dry zucchini squash when it went on sale for 50 cents a pound, which is pretty much an unheard of price nowadays, even when it goes on sale!   I ended up dehydrating 15 pounds of zucchini. It took 12 hours for each batch.  Each batch consisted of ten pieces of zucchini and weighed about five pounds.  Each five pound batch dehydrated down into a mere five ounces.  I can store the entire 15 pounds of zucchin in a half gallon jar.

One of my favorite foods since being on the GAPS diet is faux-tatoes, which is cooked blended cauliflower.  They are very much like mashed potatoes!  You just steam the cauliflower until it is fork tender, drain it to make sure there isn’t any excess liquid, add in some salt, pepper and butter and hit it with an Immersion Hand Blender.  You could also use a food processor.  The longer you whip the cauliflower, the fluffier and more like potatoes it becomes.  Some recipes also include cream and or cream cheese.  If you were trying to transition your family to mashed cauliflower from mashed potatoes I’d go with the cream cheese addition first.  You almost cannot tell the difference.  Yum!

But back to my point.  Now I can stock up on cauliflower while it’s on sale because I can put a head or two into my dehydrator to dry.  Once it’s dry, I’ll pulverize it and then vaccum seal it.  Then I can store it in the freezer, or dark cupboard for up to one year.

You can also make your own beef jerky with a dehydrator.  I did that before we left on our trip to Washington, DC.   I bought the meat on sale for $1.99 and was able to use my own flavorings so that I didn’t get preservatives or MSG.

I also recently dried four quarts of strawberries, purchased from American Discount Foods for twenty-five cents a quart. Yes, I said 25 cents.  For one quart.  I had to buy eight quarts to get them for a quarter a quart, but that’s okay, Mr. A enjoyed eating the other four quarts of strawberries. Those four quarts of strawberries dried up to about one cup worth.

If you are someone who likes to go hiking and backpacking, you must look into dehydrating. You can make your own trail mixes, which can made a lot healthier not to mention less expensive than what you find in the store.  Instead of a nut and fruit trail mix, maybe you might want to make one of dried vegetables, like peas and carrots.  I did dry some carrots into strips and after they were completely dried they tasted sweet!  At last for my palate, which hasn’t had sugar for nearly one year.  I bought Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook which was recommended to me by a friend.  It is excellent.  It lists fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them for drying.  Did you know you can even dry cooked ground beef (hamburger) and canned tuna?  You can scramble eggs and dry those.  There are so many ideas and recipes in this book, I never considered drying so many foods. Ms. Bell even includes recipes for how to use your dehydrated foods which is important because there are certain ways to use dehydrated foods. For example, I learned in the book that you should let zucchini soak in liquid for several minutes until it expands to normal size before cooking; otherwise, it could become tough.

This is the dehydrator I’ve got my heart set on: Excalibur 9 Tray Dehydrator. It is square, which allows for better positioning of foods.  For the time being, my round dehydrator is working well for me.  Some people keep their dehydrators going 24 hours a day.  I managed that for two days while I dried my zucchini!

Another bonus: A solution for when my garden overflows with produce!  I learned in Mary Bell’s book that you can even dehydrate leafy greens, like spinach and Swiss Chard.

The last thing you have to look into when dehydrating foods is a way to store the food.  Mary Bell suggests several methods: canning jars, plastic bags and vacuum sealed systems.  My boss gave me the FoodSaver Vacuum Food Sealer;  vacuum sealed dehydrated foods can last at least a year, if not longer. Once vacuum sealed, you then need to place the dehydrated food into a dark place, such as a sealed plastic five gallon bucket in a dark closet.

Using a dehydrator is one more way to save money on food, it’s another way to stock up on items that are sale and preserve them for later use.  Have you ever used a dehydrator? Would you?

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8 comments to Save Money on Food By Using a Dehydrator

  • So far, I have not used a dehydrator. I hope you let us know how it goes and if you use it long term or not!

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    @Everyday Tips, I will make a report back at some point in time and let you know how it goes! We have had our dehydrator for about a year, and although I don’t use it continuously I do pull it out and use it. Having gotten the book on dehydrating it helps knowing what all can be dried.

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  • Wow, Mrs. A, this is an awesome post! Great tips- I didn’t know you could dry meat and eggs! And I have swiss chard and kale in my garden that needs something done with. Thanks so much for the tips!

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    @Mrs. Money, Mary Bell’s book was eye opening! I guess she is an avid hiker and backpacker so that is why she knows so much about it. If you dry some swiss chard and kale, let me know how that goes. Real quick, here is her suggestions for drying greens: “Select young and tender greens, be they turnip greens, mustard greens or kale. Wash them thoroughly to remove all dirt and insects and discard any wilted areas. Remove tough, fibrous leaves and stems, and remove the midrib by folding each leaf in half lengthwise and cutting it out. If desired, stems and veins can be dried and pulverized.” She also says to blanch bitter-tasting greens in water or beef bouillon for 2 minutes to tone down the sharp flavor. Blanching will make the leaves limp, making it harder to spread evenly on the drying trays.

    Now, I thought this was especially interesting: “When dried greens, spinach in particular, are rehydrated and cooked, they are indistinguishable from fresh cooked greens.”

    Is that awesome?

    [Reply]

  • This might be a completely stupid question, but what do you do with all of that dried produce? I don’t use dried anything (except occasionally sun-dried tomatoes), so I wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with it all.

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    @Heather, hi, of course you know there are no stupid questions. My main reason to discuss this topic is to save money on groceries by buying produce on sale for use later when it is not on sale, or in season and much higher in price. So for example with the zucchini, I would hydrate it and use it the way I use it now. I’d put it in soup or stew. I haven’t had a lot of experience with it yet. I know it needs to be hydrated before using or it could become tough. That is one of the reasons I like Mary Bell’s book so much because she tells you how to use the foods. She is an avid hiker and backpacker so it is important to her to be able to carry food that is light and nutritious. I hope this helps!

    [Reply]

  • Wow. This is awesome. We have been looking into getting one and now I think it’s a must. Thanks for the great ideas.

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  • Good post on dehydrating, Mrs. A.
    I’ve also given some thoughts on the Excalibur. This year I’ve tried some canning, but it seems that dehydrating is the more effective way to go for some produce like zucchini. I’ve written down your recipe for faux-tatoes, and plan to use it soon.

    [Reply]

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