Friday, May 11, 2007

Frugal Fridays: Eating Well On A Very Small Budget-Part 2

Today I will share some more about eating well on a small budget. This post will include the stuff that I forgot when writing this grocery post and will include some info about meal ideas, menu planning, using leftovers and showing hospitality on a budget.

There are so many things to learn when it comes to living frugally and on a budget. I love knowing that the grocery budget is one category that I am often able to cut a little when money gets tight. And money is often tight, isn't it? That's just life!

The first step to eating well on a small budget is to cook foods that are not as expensive. It is very hard to "eat cheaply" when one must have steaks or other more expensive items at least once a week. We like our special dinners just as much as the next person, but they are the exception, not the norm. For the most part, we eat very simple meals and meat is an ingredient much of the time instead of being the main part of the meal. My husband loves meat, while I could almost be a vegetarian.:-) I try to cook plain meat about once a week. This is often pork chops,a roast or fish bought on a good sale or roast chicken. I will often stretch a large piece of meat out over a couple of days, especially with chicken, a roast or ham. This week I baked a ham( bought on sale at Easter) so our dinner menu looks like this:

Monday- Make-Your-Own Salad with grilled chicken, herb bread
Tuesday- baked ham, sweet potatoes, steamed asparagus
Wednesday- ham bundles(a yeast dough with a ham mixture inside), leftover soup, salad
Friday-white beans cooked with ham bone, corn muffins
Saturday-Waffles with creamed eggs and ham

Even after these meals, I will still have enough ham leftover to freeze enough for another casserole or two to use later. Soups, stews, rice and pasta dishes and other casseroles are a great way to stretch meat. I read somewhere that when making soup, only 1/2 to 1 cup of meat is really needed as it stretches so far! Yet many recipes call for 2 cups or more. It depends on the recipe or dish as to how much meat I will use, but as a general rule, I will use less than the recipe states. Meat is expensive so by stretching it out and not eating as much at one meal, I am able to save money.

Like I stated earlier, our meals tend to be simple. It is just more practical that way and we always get plenty to eat! Some examples would be soup and bread, a casserole and salad or a piece of meat accompanied with a vegetable side dish and either bread or a potato. We eat dessert once or twice a week as I do like to bake a sweet treat every now and again! Growing up, we ate home-canned fruit with almost every meal, but rarely a sweet dessert.

One of our favorite frugal dinners is rice cooked in chicken broth(in place of water for flavor) with diced chicken, onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic added in. I add it all together at the beginning and cook it just like regular rice and it turns out really well. We also enjoy breakfast for dinner about once a week.

I love planning my menus for a week at a time. It is so freeing to be able to look at the list and know what you are having for dinner. It is also a great way to be sure that you are using up food that you already have, if you plan your menu by "shopping" in your refrigerator, pantry and freezer first.

Some like having 4-6 weeks of menus and then just rotating them over and over. I prefer the creativity of using leftovers and trying new recipes with what I have on hand so making a menu a week at a time works well for me. Neither way is "wrong"; the important thing is to come up with a plan that will help you to efficiently feed your family and maximize your grocery dollars. And keep in mind that a written menu is not set in stone; it can be changed every now and then!

Here's last week's menu:
Monday-Chicken gravy over rice, steamed carrots
Tuesday-tortelloni with marinara sauce, mixed veggies
Wednesday-cheese quesadillas, tomato soup
Thursday-hamburger steaks, scalloped potatoes(free with coupons), salad
Friday-Israeli spice chicken, tabouli, hummus and pita bread
Saturday-salad bar( we ended up having some pizza at a friend's house, so moved the salad menu to this week!)
Sunday-burritos(from freezer), fresh strawberries

In my house very little food goes to waste. Often little bits of meat, veggies, rice etc. can be thrown together to make a nice soup or casserole. One lady I've read about keeps a coffee can in her freezer. Every little spoonful of leftover "soup" ingredients goes into the can. When it is full she makes soup and has pretty much a free meal! I often use my freezer to store extras that we just can't use up before they go bad. Instead of making one large casserole, I'll make 2 smaller pans and freeze one for later. It just makes more sense money and time-wise.

I still have a lot to learn about maximizing my use of leftovers and extras of certain items. Some things that I already do: leftover lentil and rice casserole gets tossed with some fresh veggies, an oil and vinegar dressing and chilled for a yummy salad the next day. Leftover bread can be used for croutons, breakfast casseroles, bread crumbs,bread puddings, and making your own Stove top stuffing mix or just your own dressing from scratch. I keep a baggie in the freezer to add a piece or two of leftover bread until I have enough to make something out of it. Leftover veggies can be thrown into quiche, as well as used for soups, casseroles and stir-fries. I cook the carcass whenever I roast a chicken and make delicious broth to either use immediately for soup or to freeze in 1 or 2 cup portions for later use in recipes. Some cooks freeze the broth in an ice cube tray for when a small amount is needed. A tip I got from my mom is to save the broth from steaming veggies and add it a little at a time to a freezer container. When you have collected enough, this makes the most flavorful base for veggie soup!Leftover baked potatoes can be shredded and fried for hash browns or used to make potato salad. I go to different cooking sites and often google "how to use______________" to get more ideas on what to do with what I have. Not very recipe or idea will be your taste or work out but chances are that out of several tries, you'll find at least one that will become a dish that your family enjoys. I'm trying to compile a list of different foods that I might have leftovers of and different ideas on how to use them. This way leftovers are often fresh and different and are something your family may look forward to instead of dreading.:-)

My husband and I really enjoy having friends over for meals and I also enjoy taking meals to families who are in need-whether because of sickness, a new baby or whatever. This can sometimes be difficult on a small budget. Hospitality and sharing with others is so important. What a blessing it is to be able to share your resources with someone else! I may not always have enough money to buy the very fanciest food, but I can give the best that I do have.

We have others at our home for a meal at least 2-3 times per month. Often this is a spur-of-the-moment decision and I generally will serve whatever I already had on the menu. If I have advance notice, I'll plan something kind of nice for that night. This is not to impress but in realization that not everyone may enjoy beans and rice as much as we do! In this day and age, it is uncommon for many to eat a home cooked meal regularly, so I've found that even serving simple homemade soup and fresh bread along with a salad or relish tray is well-received. I usually try to serve a small dessert, like cookies, brownies or pudding or fresh fruit with whipped cream. I try not to focus so much on the food that is served but the welcoming aspect of our home and just enjoying time spent building relationships with others.

Another option is inviting friends and asking them to each bring something for the meal. Most people do not mind this at all. In fact, most will ask if they can bring something. Sometimes I take them up on the offer and suggest a salad, bread or dessert and sometimes I know that I have everything I need. As a hostess, use your own discretion in this area.

In taking food to others, I try to just double what we are having that night. Again, simple dishes, such as pasta or rice, are not expensive and pretty much liked by all. Always be sure to check for definite food dislikes and allergies before deciding on a menu. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and a few pre-made main dishes in the freezer will mean that you almost always will have a little extra to share with others should the need arise.

When going to potlucks, I normally take either bread or a baked dessert as these are inexpensive for me to make. If I have a lot of something, like chicken, I'll do a crock pot of that. Having a giving spirit while still staying within your budget requires a very fine balance.:-)I love to cook for others so this is something I could easily go overboard with!

I hope these suggestions and ideas will be helpful to someone. We can all learn more so please leave any of your own ideas in the comments!

For more frugal ideas, please visit Biblical Womanhood.


Lyn said...

Excellent part 2, Mary Ann. I enjoyed your "planover" ideas as well - for me that is one of the biggest challenges, to not waste food and to use up every bit so I can be the best steward of what God has given us.

Mrs.B. said...

I need to be better at this, thank you for both of your posts! (o:

Sherry said...

Thanks for taking the time to write up this post. Wow, there's lots in there!

A Juggling Mum said...

What great tips, thanks for sharing :)

Rachel xxx
aka A Juggling Mum

Meredith said...

I think you're right about a home-cooked meal being so special, even if it's made of modest dishes. Restaurant eating is the norm for many people now!

Thanks for such an in-depth article, Mary Ann!

Wilma said...

I love the idea of a container in the freezer to put in little leftovers. Sometimes there is only a few bites left and I don't like throwing it away.

nancyr said...

This comment is a littl late, but I thought I'd share what I do with leftover, dried out bread. I cube it, and make both croutons, and stuffing mix. Both recipes are in the "Complete Tightwad Gazette". I keep the stuffing mix in the freezer in a zip lock bag. I crush some of it with a rolling pin, and use it to bread oven baked chicken. It is delicious! I bake the chicken pieces in butter for about 25-30 minutes, turn over and bake another 25 min. or until done. It has a wonderful flavor.

Diane said...

Just dropped by for a visit and really enjoyed all your great ideas and tips. I am trying to work on these areas as well. Blessings, Diane