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Jan 14, 2007 10:50 PM

Frugal meals

I'm sure this has been posted about before, but I can't find any. I am a poor recent graduate student that lives on a VERY limited budget. I have approx. $20 a week for food. I would be thrilled if I could cut it down to even less. I eat semi-healthy and do not want to stoop to ramen or boxed mac and cheese and hotdogs. But if it has to be, so be it. I was wondering if chowhounds could help! What are some good ideas to save money and/or cheap eat meals? I dont want to starve to death by just eating eggs! What are some good, filling, cheap eat breakfast/lunch/dinner ideas?? I cant shop at asian markets and cant join a co-op. I am restricted to "regular" grocery stores. I do have sugar/flour/condiments.

My ideas so far:

fried eggs over rice
Buttered noodles
ghetto corn chowder--can of creamed corn


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  1. This one is a delicious and super easy and cheap recipe to make. A big pot of this lasts for a few days! I lived on this stuff when I first moved out of my parents' house. I still get a craving for this soup about once a week!

    AVGOLEMONO (Greek lemon soup)

    3 cans of College Inn Chicken Broth
    1/4 cup long grain rice
    2 eggs
    1/3 to 1/2 lemon or lime juice (depending
    on how much you like your lemon!)
    cooked chicken, chopped (optional)

    In a large pot, boil the chicken broth. Pour in the
    rice. Bring to a good boil again. As the rice is
    cooking, whisk the eggs and lemon juice together in a
    bowl until mixture is nice and frothy. Test the rice
    and see if it's tender (makes sure it's not too soft!)
    When the rice is al dente, and the broth is still
    boiling, ladle about 1 and 1/2 cups of the hot broth &
    rice into the lemon-egg mixture. Whisk with a fork.
    Then, slowly pour the whole lemon-egg-broth mixture
    back into the pot, stirring constantly. Lower the
    heat. The hot broth cooks the eggs. You should see a
    cloudy white-yellow soup. Continue stirring for a few
    more minutes until soup is hot and steamy. Do not let
    it reach a boil. Stir in a pinch of salt & pepper and add the cooked chicken (if you like) and heat through.
    Serve with hot pita bread. Enjoy!!
    (Makes 1 quart)

    Also - clip coupons!! You'll be amazed at how much $$$ you save at the grocery store.

    Lots of meals can be made with the following canned ingredients. You may want to stock your pantry with these:

    Goya chick peas (garbanzos)
    Del Monte tomato sauce (in a can)
    Goya Black Bean Soup (delicious heated with some chopped onion)
    evaporated milk

    3 Replies
    1. re: Sra. Swanky

      What a delicious recipe... I'll try it tonight! I'm wondering if lemon grass would do the trick. Would it be cheaper than a lemon...if we think frugally.
      Thanks so much

      1. re: Sra. Swanky

        A bowl of black bean soup can also be topped with a fried/poached egg and some hot sauce for a very filling meal - one of my faves.

        1. re: Sra. Swanky

          A bowl of black bean soup can also be topped with a fried/poached egg and some hot sauce for a very filling meal - one of my faves.

        2. Beans and rice ar cheap and a complete protein. Get a bottle of Tapatio hot sauce (87 cents at my grocery store) to jazz it up. When I was little, we often had egg burritos for dinner to save money.

          If you can spare the time, get a part time job at a restaurant that gives free employee meals.

          1. Beans are one of the cheapest staple foods you can buy, and they're very good for you, high in protein and fiber. As well, beans combined with rice makes for a "complete" protein, including all the amino acids your body needs.

            Canned beans are the easiest way to go, and for about $1 a can they won't break the bank. However, if you have enough time on your hands to soak and cook dried beans, that's even cheaper. You can freeze them in small portions so they'll last, cooked, for months.

            Spaghetti (or any shape of pasta that's on sale at the grocery store) and tomato sauce is another cheap, relatively healthy way to go. Also, since you've already got flour and eggs, how about spaetzle?

            Your post doesn't pose a very "chowish" question, so I'm not sure how many replies you'll get. It's awfully hard to eat well on a $20 a week budget, and I wish you the best of luck with that!

            3 Replies
            1. re: operagirl

              operagirl--Do the beans get mushy when defrosted? I always use dried, but I end up making a HUGE pot and can't eat them all. Freezing is a great idea, as long as it doesn't compromise the texture.

              1. re: foxy fairy

                Before having a pressure cooker, I would soak and partially cook beans and then freeze them in single/double serving size. When I needed them I would put them in with brown rice or millet to finish cooking.I didn't notice a difference in texture.

                1. re: lgss

                  I freeze beans that I've fully cooked and they're excellent. A favorite meal of ours is black beans (I include an onion, garlic, and lots of cilantro in the original cooking and take all day to make a big, 2lb pot) w/ a poached or fried egg over it.

            2. Tomato Lentil Soup is great, healthy and cheap. I amke it all the time and am not on a budget. Heat a medium pot and add a can of crushed tomatoes w/basil. Pour in water and any seasonings (boullion is cheap and adds tons of flavor). Pour in lentils. They will expand so not too many. Frozen spinach is wonderful to add too, and usually 79 cents for a package. They fit a lot in there.

              Bean soup, pasta, quinoa are all cheap and healthy other options. Shopping sales is a good idea and then just making things with what you have gotten.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Main Line Tracey

                Yes -- if you shop and just buy whatever's on sale, this board can definitely help you figure out how to make the most of whatever those ingredients are!

                Another general tip that you've probably already figured out is that if you buy things in fairly large packages (like the whole chicken recommended below) can save a huge amount. Sometimes a double-size package is only a tiny bit more -- plus cooking a larger amount at once saves you time, so long as you're diligent about packing yourself little meals for the rest of the week.

              2. ah, brings back those memories of grad school............

                Honestly, you can save so much money buying dried beans instead of cans. Okay, a can is a $1 but if you only have $20 a week, a dollar is a lot. Just put them to soak while you are gone during the day or overnight--they really can't be oversoaked.

                In my grad school and post grad days, I spent a good deal of time living on an Egyptian dish that combined lentils and rice and yogurt. I can't remember the exact name but the recipe is in Claudia Roden's middle east cookbook.

                Anyrate, you basically saute sliced onion and ground cumin in a pan with some oil. Then add long grain rice and the largish brown lentils. You can also add some garlic. Cook until rice and lentils are done. Add salt towards the end or the lentils won't get soft. Serve with yogurt on top. Very tasty unless you are forced to live on it for months at a time.....

                The other thing that did very well for me was stir frys. Lots of veggies, not a lot of chicken--maybe one chicken breast sliced really really thin. Buy the chicken in bulk packs and be sure to get bone on. Then remove the chicken from the bones, freeze in individual packets and use the bones to make yourself some chicken soup. For soup veggies, the more "tired" stuff in your produce section may work nicely.

                Don't discount bulk packs just because you might be short on space---I did this when all I had was one of those little dorm fridges. If you pack the chicken into baggies and flatten them out, you'll be amazed at what will fit in that little tiny freezer space!

                2 Replies
                1. re: jenn

                  The nice thing about dry lentils is that you don't have to soak them before cooking. Adding onion and garlic cloves can improve their mild flavor.

                  Fried rice- made with leftover chicken and veggies can be cheap.

                  Canned salmon is another cheap food source (less mercury than tuna) that can be made into all sorts of things.

                  My college, post grad and residency days-- lots of popcorn, cheese, eggs, peanut butter, celery, carrots and fresh apples. Sometimes I would bake my own homemade pizza, bread, make cornbread or biscuits for filling up.

                  I did some of my most creative cooking banding together with other students to eat. Then we could make a lot of something and not eat it every day on our own. Beat the school cafeteria!

                  1. re: jenn

                    Very tasty unless you are forced to live on it for months at a time.....

                    though I have always said it's the perfect food -- so nutritious!