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This monthly column was written by one of our Savings Stars. Our RetailMeNot Savings Stars panel is made up of master couponers and bargain hunters who share their personal journeys and expert advice with us every month. Learn more from them here.

This week, I roasted a chicken on Sunday. This is actually a go-to dish for me as an integral part of my weekly meal prep and planning. By making that Sunday chicken, I can enjoy it as a sort of mini Thanksgiving-for-one that first night, and then for the rest of the week repurpose the dish in various forms. Ultimately, at the end of the week, I take the remaining bones to make a batch of chicken broth to enjoy or freeze – thus stretching the meal yet further.

But a big part of meal prep and planning, be it my Sunday roast chicken or perhaps another protein altogether, is finding ways to make each night’s use of that prepped meal new and exciting. For me, that has always been using fresh herbs. This week on Monday night, that roast chicken from the night before ended up being incorporated into a cheesy skillet enchilada bake. The next night, it was reimagined into a stir fry. Both of those dishes were pulled together by cilantro and Thai basil from my window garden.

Any nutritionist or chef will tell you that incorporating fresh herbs is a great way to add layers of complexity and flavor to home cooking. This is especially useful when trying to embrace healthier dishes and add flavor without additional fat or carbs. But what may not come up in that recommendation about using more fresh herbs is that they can get so expensive. On an average grocery trip, I could pick up some fresh Geovese basil, rosemary, cilantro and Thai basil. Each has a short shelf life and will probably begin to wilt before I completely use it – and that cumulatively could end up being $15 each week in fresh herbs bought and partially wasted.

In an attempt to save on groceries, though, the last few years I’ve been growing my own fresh herbs at home. This has saved me a ton of cash as I grow more than I need, have a constant supply and never have to buy any fresh herbs at the grocery store. Living in a small studio apartment though, I had to be sort of creative about how to use my limited space. I have no garden or yard, and I actually have no outdoor area to speak of at all. I have one window ledge in the whole apartment. So, anything I grew would have to take up minimal space, be cost-effective, and not need to be planted outdoors or in direct sunlight.

That’s, of course, a lot to ask of any plant!  But I went with it, and I never looked back. In fact, I keep expanding on it, and there’s good reason you should consider it as well.

Some reasons to consider growing your own herbs at home:

1 . Yes, home-grown herbs have a short shelf life as well, once picked. But you can grow months’ worth of herbs for the small price of some packets of seeds – which is roughly about the same as you would have to budget for one week’s grocery jaunt to buy fresh herbs that you’d need to replace in days. 

2 . Fresh herbs taste so amazing in pesto and chimichurri because they are fresh. Otherwise we’d all be buying jars of the dried variety. But that freshness is a rule of diminishing returns. It’ll never taste fresher than when it has been just snipped from its plant. You can snip it fresh and throw it in your dish if you are growing it at home, but if you are buying bunches of herbs at the grocery store, each day since that purchase, they’re going to lose just a little bit of its flavor and freshness.

3. You can easily flavor and variety to weeknight dinners. The reality is, we’re a lot more likely to order takeout if we’re bored with what we’re eating at home. Keeping meals fresh and interesting will save you money you’d otherwise spend on restaurant takeout and delivery – and fresh herbs help you do that.

4. You’ll add life and color to your home. I’ll be honest. My home can be pretty depressing at times. It’s small and cramped and cluttered. That’s a lot when you live and work in the same compact space day in and day out. Growing fresh herbs (or any flowers or plants, to be honest) adds not only color but also a feeling of life and brightness to a space that can otherwise feel dull, dark, or sad.

5. You’re practicing sustainability. In this day and age, with sustainability more on everyone’s mind (and Earth Day coming up soon!), we can’t ignore that there’s a whole lot of waste that is involved in buying those herbs at the store – waste that can be avoided by growing them at home. First is, of course, there’s the potential of food waste. But also, store-bought herbs are often wrapped in single-use or plastic packaging, and that is completely unnecessary if we can avoid it.

6. It’s EASY. I’m by no means someone who can be referred to as having a green thumb. Last week, someone sent me a bouquet of flowers and they died in two days flat. I can barely keep myself alive! But my herb garden continues to flourish – a sure sign it’s pretty easy to take care of.

For my own purposes in my small space, I’m currently using the AeroGarden Harvest 2.0.

Image: Amazon.com

It works for my own personal needs, because it’s a simple and compact hydroponic gardening system that allows me to grow six different types of herbs at once, without the need for soil or outdoor space or even direct sunlight (it has its own detachable grow light). Because it’s a countertop garden, I don’t even need to keep it in a window if I don’t want to, and I can grow my herbs year-round, regardless of what is going on with the weather outside in New York City or with my travel schedule. I get great results, and my basil is flourishing to such a point that I have created frozen pesto cubes to keep in my freezer and drop into sauces and soups on demand. You can’t ask for better than that!

But as effective (and to be honest, low-lift!)  as that option is for me, there’s always going to be gardening purists, and that’s great too. Seed packets and soil can be bought for pennies on Amazon and create months of herbs as a result – you’ll just have to be a little better about staying on top of things like drainage and watering schedule and all that. For example, grab a 12-pack of just about every herb you can imagine for under $10. Compare that with what it would cost to buy all those herbs fresh at the store just one time and it’s a really easy decision.

You’ll be rolling in guacamole garnished with fresh cilantro before you know it.

The post How Growing My Own Herbs At Home Has Helped Me Keep Meals Creative Without Busting My Budget appeared first on The Real Deal by RetailMeNot.

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