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Where do you draw the line?

Life can get very busy, people say the economy is tanking, I'm assuming that other people out there are also looking for ways to eat within budget on days when they are tired and have too much to do. I know some weeks can get pretty challenging for me. But there are some desperate acts I'm not yet ready to commit. Like make instant mashed potatoes instead of ones from scratch. Or eat at McDonald's except for breakfast. When life gets rough or there is too much week left until payday I will nuke up leftover pizza, grill up a cheaper brand of hot dogs on sale, bust open a can of condensed soup, but you will never find chicken nuggets in my freezer. I was just wondering where other chowhounds draw the line as far as saving time or money?

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  1. For me it's farm raised fish like catfish or tilapia. If I can't catch my own speckled trout, redfish, flounder, freshwater catfish, bream, or crappie, I'll loook for the freshest red snapper, flounder, or grouper. I also love oysters and non-farm raised shimp, as I live on the coast and take the good with the bad, such as a category 4 heading in my general direction.

    1. I will not eat at fast food restaurants. Period. Stopped doing that after reading Fast Food Nation. Some are worse then others but the big chains IMHO don't even sell real fe iood it is so modified. Doesn't mean I don't still have an occasional craving for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and large fry, I just don't give in to it.

      I will not buy the cheap brands or house brands of orange juice. I just don't like it. Always taste nasty to me. If the juice I like is really expensive, I just don't buy juice. I love it when we are in Mexico and I buy mandarina's and make my own juice. It is so sweet and good.

      I am so grateful that I enjoy cooking so don't have to spend a lot of money eating out all the time and I find it a challenge to stretch my food dollars and see what I can come up with for a meal.

      5 Replies
      1. re: jodymaryk

        I'm glad I know how to cook also. You know so much more about what is going into your tummy. Another perk for me is that I tend to be a night owl, so I can whip myself up something tasty when the only places open around me are convenience stores and a couple of not very close 24 hour diners. Dunno if this is a whole new thread jodymaryk but would love to hear of some your triumphs in stretching your food dollars. Winter is coming and I'm in the northeast so with fuel oil costs hitting soon I'm open to new ideas. Just no instant mashed potatoes please! (kidding)

        1. re: givemecarbs

          I 'threaten' with Boston Market, been doing it for 20 years. I've never followed through. I can't bring myself to buy a pre-cooked chicken from a supermarket or a deli, and some actually look good.

          It's kinda basic around here, so not too much in the way of innovative stuff.

          I'm glad I know how to cook, too, although I still don't like it. Now baking, that's a horse of a different color.

          1. re: givemecarbs

            Might be a new thread but let's give it a shot!

            I am a really basic cook. Sometimes when I take food to things, people say, "your such a gourmet" but I really don't think I am. My favorite type of food is "low and slow". Nothing makes me happier (well almost nothing) then having a large pot on the stove simmering away all of Sunday, or in the oven, filling the house with yummy smells while I putter around the house. Soups, stews, chilis, roasts (pulled pork is my latest fav) and anything that I can make a lot of and freeze for later. I love my pantry to be full.

            My biggest bulk-er is beans. Pinto, black, kidney, garbanzos, white, you name it, I love them. Also they are cheap and good for you. Although I keep some canned beans on hand, I usually use dried since they are really cheap. I made chile con carne yesterday with 2 pounds of lean ground meat, pintos and red beans. I was able to freeze two decent batches for later. Cuban black beans, red beans and rice are also great dollar stretchers. If you eat pork, smoked ham hocks or shanks are cheap and go a long way. Navy bean and ham soup with a lot of carrots and celery. I read somewhere that beans and rice together have every amino acid we need. If you think about how many people in this world live on beans and rice, it must have something going for it.

            After beans, I bulk with vegetables. Today I am going to make a casserole with whole wheat pasta, chicken, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms and onions then pour a cream soup mix (shudder) that I have doctored up over the top. Bread crumbs on top, into the oven and I have a couple of days worth of lunches and dinners. I should mention, one husband (that can fend for himself if he doesn't want leftovers), no children and a job that keeps me working late a lot of nights so I don't usually cook until the weekend. I LOVE leftovers and microwaves.

            Spaghetti sauce with grated zucchini, carrots, black olives and onions, mushrooms (the zucchini and carrots cooked down and kids won't even notice).

            I love ethnic foods, especially Mexican, Asian and East Indian and many of them use less meat and more vegis and legumes.

            I try to buy whatever vegetables are in season as they tend to be cheaper. Winter squashes have become another favorite of mine. Roasted butternut or danish squash is soo good and I will even use spaghetti squash under my spaghetti sauce! I am on Weight Watchers so always looking for tasty, healthy and satisfying dishes.

            To be honest, I do sometimes resort the the Costco rotisserie chicken when I am there. For $5 it is a hell of a deal and we get a number of meals out of it, from sandwiches to chicken salad or stir fry. I have a rotisserie on my BBQ and am quite fond of "beer-butt chicken" also.

            I hate to admit there is a box of instant mashed potatoes in my pantry that have been there for a year or more. I think I bought them as a chowder thickener one day.... going to have to toss them.

            Hope some of this helps!

            1. re: jodymaryk

              Some good ideas there, jodymaryk. Same situation here, into weekend cooking and many, many, many leftovers. Bless his heart, he eats 'em all.

              Me, I like ice cream.

              On the 'bulk' cooking -- pressure cooker, crock pot. or other? I never ever bought or was given a crock pot, and wonder if they don't make sense. Are there good ones out there now -- not in almond, green or orange hues?

              1. re: dolores

                I have never used a pressure cooker, but haven't ruled it out someday. I own two crock pots and use them if I am going to be away from home but otherwise, I love my big pots on the stove. I invested last year in a 7 1/2 qt. Le Creuset pot and LOVE it, but they are expensive. I found a 3 1/2 qt one in my local thrift store for $30 that was in good shape and use that for smaller batches. They work great for slow cooking in a low oven (200-250) or so. Check Costco for crockpots. I have seen some nice brushed stainless ones there before. Both of mine are run of the mill, one round (is a deep fryer also), one oval but work fine. Personally, I wouldn't spend a bunch on a crock pot, but that is just me. If you get one, make sure the crock lifts out, makes it much easier for cleaning. Beans, vegis, chicken thighs, pork and cheap cuts of beef all seem to cook well in a crock pot. I don't like chicken breasts in them because they always seem to overcook and become dry regardless of the liquid in it. Remember, DO NOT lift the lid to see how it is doing until near the end because it lets the heat out and take a long time to come back up to temp. Years ago when I first started using a crock pot, I kept checking the food and it never cooked! Duh!!! Once I figured that out, much better.

        2. Because I am now retired, I tend to have a lot more available time for food preparation than I used to. Regardless of my retirement, sometimes I do have to resort to Boston Market or take-out Thai food for dinner, due to having too many tasks to take care of in one day. And, things like frozen salmon burgers can be a very good entree if time is especially tight.

          However, one area in which I will not compromise is with such things as the purchase of pre-cooked items such as hard boiled eggs, jello, or boiled potatoes, or the worst of the worst--instant mashed potatoes. I mean--really--is there anyone who is so pressed for time that he/she can't boil some eggs while doing something else in the A.M.? Is jello that much of a culinary mystery that it is necessary to buy it pre-made?

          When I was working full-time, I did my "bulk cooking" for the week on the weekends. By boiling or baking some potatoes while a tray of chicken breasts were roasting, I had the basic resources for a variety of quick dishes during the week. Even now, I will grill a London Broil on a Sunday and I can then use slivers of cold left-over London Broil on my summer salads for the next several days.

          If someone just uses a bit of common sense and a bit of time management, it should be possible to avoid the pre-cooked foods that are so incredibly expensive and in the process, wind up with tastier food.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ted in Central NJ

            i've bought the pre-boiled eggs when out for lunch or dinner on the run... i'll grab the salad bar, and if there's no good protein option in there, i'll buy some boiled eggs, peel, de yolk and chop the egg whites into my salad. i wouldn't buy them to bring home and serve, but as an on-the-go protein option, especially when i hadn't planned to be so, they're healthy and convenient.

          2. I usually don't have "prepared" or industrial food at home; but I always have some kind of pasta or rice and enough condiments (do they count as prepared food ??) to make a quick cheap dish.

            If on the road (at work) I try to stay away from burger type fast food and go ethnic.

            I'm lucky enough to live near a lot of stores with real food and places where I can "take-out" non fast-food food; heck, if I'm really in need of chips and stuff like that, there's a bio/organic store just in front of the house that sells great chips (but $$$).

            1. I can't believe that ANY prepared food costs less than making something from scratch. And I can't believe most people really understand what hardship is.
              At my poorest I grew bean sprouts because I couldn't afford fresh vegetables. I made 'bread' using flour, water and white vegetable fat - this could be used to make flatbreads and pastry to wrap round leftovers to make 'empanadas'. I hung out round the greengrocer daring myself to take the thrown-away cabbage and cauliflower leaves (I never dared do this).
              I remember finding a coin (50p - about a dollar) on the street and spending hours deciding what to treat myself with it (I think I got some fruit).
              So - where do I draw the line? I draw the line at vitamin deficiency.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Peg

                i like your answer, peg.

                at my poorest (living on the tinest organizer's salary you can imagine), the only expensive thing i could not give up on was coffee. a true sign of addiction.