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Jun 15, 2004 06:00 PM

Cooking on a budget. Recipes please!

  • t

Help! I'm spending beyond my means. I love to cook healthy and delicious meals but between fresh produce, fish, meat, and other gourmet ingredients, we may as well eat out (almost). I currently spend about $500 in groceries and would love to cut that down by $100. I already make enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch and use fresh herbs from the garden.

I would LOVE tips and recipes for saving money.


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  1. $500 over what period of time? For how many people? Adults? Children?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Pat Goldberg
      trudie cardella

      oops. over a month. 2 adults, 1 infant. I make most of his baby food.

    2. Fresh produce does tend to be a killer in the food budget. I try to stick to stuff that's on sale or in season--and therefore on sale. The more expensive things are bought occasionally or not at all. So, a lot of things like apples, pears, oranges, bananas, root vegetables, etc. Any exotics are a treat. I also use frozen vegetables regularly. It's often less money, and nutritionally they are as good or better than what I can buy fresh (excepting farmer's markets). The "fresh" stuff has often been sitting around a while.

      Also, pare down your "gourmet ingredients" to a few that you use often. I've been that route and it can run to a significant expense.

      From the sounds of it, you have the right idea, but if you need to conform to a tighter budget, you'll have to scale back your meal ideas a little to conform to less expensive ingredients.

      1. Do you buy organic stuff? Of course if that is important to you then you have to keep it up. All I can suggest is perhaps buy bulk sometimes, from Costco. I cook for two at my house, and make most of the lunches and dinners M-F, and dinner on Sun. The other weekend meals we mostly eat out. Our gocery bill is around $200 I think (not couting Costco bills, which is about another $150 a month).

        So here is what I do. Buy big bulk salad from Costco, spinach or romain hearts. But bulk chicken breast or flank steak from Costco. Grill those and top your salad and use that for your weekday lunches. The grilled meats can also be for sandwiches or wraps. I ususally make enough food on Sunday afternoon to last our lunchs M-W. At nights I would either do a pasta dish, a stir fry.

        If you don't mind me saying so, I think you don't need recipes, you need a budget and food buying make-over.

        1. Typical "poverty" meals can be terrific if done right. Cook's Illustrated Macaroni and Cheese (America's Test Kitchen) is just plain wonderful (Google it), and can be balanced by steamed green beans or broccoli, both usually cheap. Think rice and beans. Buy beans dried in a bag, do the overnight soak, go from there. Red beans and rice, black beans and rice, pinto beans and rice, add some baked chicken and a vegetable. Inexpensive, delicious and filling. Iced tea, sub that in for juice, bottled water, soda. Cruise the meat section. Buy what is on sale, watch the expiry dates. Buy marked down meat and freeze, thaw and use. Learn your cuts of meat. If you are in the mood for a steak, bypass the filet and pick up the sirloin. Be flexible as to where you buy your food, consider Costco, Super Target, even Walmart sometimes has whole chickens on sale at a loss leader price. Figure on at least two DINNERS out of one cut of meat and buy a bigger amount. Cuban pork roast in the crockpot can become BBQ sauced pork sandwiches the next night. A whole roasted chicken becomes chicken quesadillas the next night, plus chicken sandwiches for lunch. Plan meals of soups and stews. Use potatoes, inexpensive and filling again. Find a good produce stand. They can not only be cheaper than the grocery store, but cheaper than many Farmer's Markets. Buy seasonal produce. Tomato sauce and pasta, plus mushrooms, plus artichokes, plus sausage, plus fresh veggies. Add more Asian meals, rice or rice noodle based with veggies and smaller amounts of meat. Use those grocery fliers at the store entrance, and if your store has discount cards, use them. Use grocery coupons in newspaper. Good luck!


          6 Replies
          1. re: Coyote

            I'm a graduate student, so I rely on budget grocery shopping. I can't provide much insight on baby food, but I do second the meat advice above, and add that the more "whole" the cut of meat, the more you can make out of your money.

            Whole chickens are dirt cheap on sale (usually 39-49c/# here) and are easy to roast whole, or cut up, and leaving back/neck for stock and parts (livers, gizzards, hearts) for frying, sauteeing, or gravies. Chicken livers are my favorite -- fried, sauteed, chicken liver pate. Same goes for turkey -- it's not just for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whole pork loins (~$2-3/# on sale, depending on where you are) make for at least one decent roast, a tenderloin, chops, and ribs. A couple weeks ago, I picked up a whole beef tenderloin for $8/#, which has turned into 3 filets, a good sized tenderloin, and a roast out of the larger end.

            Good prices are harder to find for organic items. I wish I could afford the hormone- and antibiotic-free meat at the local coop, but I trust their marked down, sell-now meat a good bit more. I second and third the farmers' market/coop/produce stand suggestions. Such local places tend to be less expensive and in season by default, plus you get to support local small businesses.

            Most of my day-to-day eating are just home cooking kind of things and pretty basic -- it doesn't take much to make fresh vegetables or a good cut of meat to shine. As far as recipes go, I favor Mediterranean, southern, or New Orleans homestyle. If any of these tempt you, I'll post some recipes of my faves.

            Blue skies,

            1. re: Catherine
              trudie cardella

              Yes, I would love your favorite recipes!

              1. re: trudie cardella

                Here are a couple. I'll post some more when I get home.

                Cheese grits

                1 c grits
                4 c water
                1 1/2 t salt

                Cook grits till they begin to thicken and add

                1 c milk (or half and half)
                1/2 stick butter
                3 beaten eggs
                6-8 oz grated cheddar

                Bake in a greased 2qt casserole at 350 for 45 min-1hr. Serves 6-8.

                Red Beans and Rice
                1 ham bone (or 2-3 ham hocks depending on size)
                6 c. water
                2 t garlic salt
                1/4 t Tabasco
                1 t Worchestershire
                1 pound red kidney beans
                1 c. chopped celery
                1 c. chopped onions
                1 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
                3 T oil (or bacon grease)
                1/2 pound ham, cubed
                1 pound hot sausage, sliced
                2 bay leaves
                salt, pepper to taste
                1/4 c. chopped parsley
                3 c. rice, cooked

                The day before, rinse the red beans in a colander and put in a pot, covering with water (about an inch over the beans). Soak overnight. Next day, drain the beans, saving the water to be part of the water added.

                In a large pot or Dutch oven, saute onions, celery, and garlic in the oil until wilted. Add ham and cook briefly. Add ham bone, water, garlic salt, Tabasco, W-sauce, bay leaves, and beans. Cook uncovered over a low flame until soft and creamy, stirring often (at least every 10 minutes).

                Meanwhile, slice and cook the sausage (I usually microwave with a little water in a covered bowl for around 5 minutes), and drain on paper towels. Add to the beans after about 1 1/2 hours.

                After about 2 hours, the beans should be getting creamy. If after about 2 1/2 hours, they aren't creamy enough, mash a few beans against the side of the pot and add back in. The beans vary -- sometimes you may have to add a little water; other times the beans take longer to cook down).

                Remove bay leaves and add parsley before serving over white rice. Good with French bread and salad, and it also freezes really well. Should serve 8-10, depending on how hungry your crowd is.

                My black eyed peas are a variant on the above recipe, adding a cup of chopped bell pepper, a little more garlic, minus Tabasco, plus a pinch cayenne and white pepper when adding peas.

                Baked Macaroni and Cheese

                1 1/4 c. macaroni
                1/2 # shredded sharp cheddar
                1/3 stick butter
                1 c. milk
                1 egg

                Cook the macaroni for 5 minutes in salted water. Place about half the cooked macaroni in a greased 2 qt pyrex, and cover with pats of about half the butter and about half the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne to taste. Cover with remaining half and repeat butter, cheese, salt, and cayenne. Lightly beat the milk and egg together and pour over. Cook for 45 minutes at 350.

                Google a copycat recipe for Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic. Season a cut-up chicken liberally with the mix in a 9x13 pyrex, dot with pats of butter (or add a little chicken stock), and cook around 45 minutes at 350, basting occasionally. The ultimate comfort meal with white rice and butter beans.

                Homemade pestos and tapenades are easy and delicious. Also, play with the ingredient lists. I made a great arugula pesto last month, substituting pecans for pine nuts, arugula for basil, and tweaking a standard pesto recipe. Be creative -- roasted red pepper pesto, sun dried tomato (or oven-dry your own) pesto, etc. I go loosy-goosy with Med flavors, not sticking to any real recipe. Tomatoes and spinach wilted in a little olive oil, either tossed into some pasta with a little feta and some olives, or serving as a bed for a chicken breast, topped with some lightly sauteed artichoke hearts (canned or frozen work fine). The one dish I use a recipe for is Greek-style braised lamb shanks, which may push the budget unless you find them on sale. I'll find that recipe to post.

                I'll post loose versions of some favorites from cookbooks this evening.

                Blue skies,

                  1. re: Catherine

                    Catherine, it looks like you cook grits specifically to make cheese grits. My mom had fond memories of my grandmother's cheese grits, which were always made with leftover grits. Despite being a GRITS myself, I have just now, in my late 40's, begun cooking and eating them...any idea how to fix up the leftovers for cheese grits?

                    1. re: Zorra

                      I've always fried my leftover grits, but I don't see any reason why leftovers couldn't be used in the cheese grits recipe. You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water, but likely not.

                      Another grits recipe:

                      Grits and grillades, adapted from The Plantation Cookbook

                      4 # beef rounds, 1/2" thick
                      1/2 c. bacon grease
                      1/2 c. flour
                      1 c. chopped onions
                      2 c. chopped green onions
                      3/4 c. chopped celery
                      1 1/2 c. chopped bell peppers
                      2 gloves garlic, minced
                      2 c. chopped tomatoes
                      1/2 t tarragon (optional)
                      2/3 t thyme
                      1 c. water
                      1 c. red wine
                      3 t salt
                      1/2 t black pepper
                      2 bay leaves
                      1/2 t Tabasco
                      2 T Worcestershire

                      Defat the meat, cut into halves or thirds, and pound to 1/4" thick. Brown in half the bacon grease in a good sized Dutch oven, and set aside on a plate. Add the rest of the grease and all of the flour, and make a nice dark roux. Add the onions, green onions, celery, peppers, and garlic and saute till limp. Add the tomatoes and spices and cook for a bit, then add water, wine and stir for a couple minutes. Then add the meat and the rest of the ingredients, lower heat, and stir. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Take out the bay leaves and add the parsley, and set sit off heat for at least an hour (up to overnight in the fridge). Serve over grits. Serves 8.

                      Alternately, you can use veal rounds, but cut simmer time to one hour.

                      Blue skies,

            2. Using your own garden fresh herbs, as you mentioned, is already a big advantage, both in savings and fresheness.

              I don't know where you are located and what grocery markets are there. But a change in the places you shop might result in considerable savings. In Los Angeles I have realized substantial savings from increased buying at Costco, Smart & Final, Trader Joes, various ethnic markets and even the 99ยข Only Stores and thereby limited my buying at the more expensive major supermarket chains and upscale markets. I go to a couple of ethnic neighborhood produce markets where the produce is generally less than half the price of the supers. Sometimes the appearance may not be as pleasing but it is still fresh and wholesome. And if I'm going to chop up onions or bell peppers anyway, there is no reason why they need to be picture perfect.

              You can also watch for weekly ad specials on meat and seafood at your local supermarkets and plan meals around what's on special. Also, I usually stock up on frequently used non-perishable staples when they are on sale.

              Cooking from scratch also saves money. Making your own sauces and salad dressings is far less expensive than buying ready made. And it doesn't need to be very time consuming. A batch of salad dressing takes about 5 minutes. A gallon of pasta sauce is about 20 minutes working time and can be stored in freezer bags and frozen for later use. A breadmaker can also be a savings maker.

              These are some of the ways that I use to stretch the food budget.