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Stretching a buck?

What are your favorite meals for getting the most out of your money? I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I make our weekly grocery list and plan for the week. I just got finished making a giant pot of homemade red sauce with pork and sausage--used some for dinner and then froze the rest in small batches.

In these times, it seems we are becoming increasingly aware of making our money stretch at the grocery store. We cook at home a lot anyway mostly because its healthy and I love to cook, but it seems we are giving up going out to eat more and more lately in an effort to save money. I'd love your inspired ideas for menus that stretch your grocery dollars.

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  1. 16 bean soup in the crock pot. My first time and loved it. Next time I would add a healthy kielbasa. This was healthy & cheap.

    We've also done a few vegitarian dishes lately that seem pretty cost concious - spaghetti squash, eggplant towers (with sauce/cheese layered).

    and rather then go out for lobster, I steamed a couple up tonight from Market Basket ($4.99 per lb, nice new shell).

    I love to cook, but love to add a challenge in there as well like, keeping cost down or eating really healthy - lots of produce lately.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lexpatti

      Lex is right about eating more veggie main dishes...especially look for good buys for seasonal vegetables, squash, cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc. There are a few new threads on cabbage on this board now, too...it's great with chickpeas and potatoes in a curry, very economical main dish. You could even make a vegetable chili that could make a few different meals. This is a very good chili (I like to add more spices and cinnamon as other reviewers suggest)...Black Bean Chili with Butternut squash and Chard:
      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

      1. re: Val

        I'm going to pile on the pro-veggie bandwagon here. Rather than cheap meat, I'd usually prefer expensive lentils, good eggs, high-quality beans. Even expensive legumes and pulses are cheap compared to meat.

    2. I must agree that we are more likely to get more bang for the buck creating dishes with veggies, beans and pasta. Perhaps it's time to create a series of new sauces to coat the pasta, new soups (but bread is getting almost too expensive to serve with the soup) and casseroles. We enjoy creating new dishes using summer or winter squash. Stuffing it, serving it with sauces (spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce can be very nice - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghett...) and we explore ideas in preparing Strata creations using veggies.

      4 Replies
      1. re: todao

        A loaf of good artisan bread will indeed run you $4-$6 but you can make a good loaf of bread for pennies. It just takes patience.

        1. re: jpc8015

          Yes, there are some good recipes for easy to make breads that can be found here. :) I can't find the link for the specific one I was thinking of from a few months ago. I guess I didn't mark it as a favourite. But the idea is you make up an easy, simple batch of dough and keep it in the fridge. Then you snick off some when you need bread, let it rise, then bake it (all pretty quickly done, IIRC). I meant to give that a go, but I've lost the link! I'll search harder for it. :)

          1. re: Morganna

            The book is called Artisan bread in 5-minutes-a-day. Search on some of those terms. We don't make the 5-minute bread during the summer but now that it's cooler, we're going to be making it again. We saved a lot of money on bread last winter with this recipe. We were'nt buying big loaves and then wasting a lot of it. The dough is cheap and we just made what we needed. Good and easy.

            1. re: karykat

              I bought "The Bread Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum a couple years back and am amazed at some of the breads I have been able to make. By just adjusting a couple of ingredients here and there you can make some dramatically different breads and it is incredibly cheap to do. If you need to stretch a buck, bread baking is the way to go.

      2. Polenta is fun and cheap, even if you get Bob's Red Mill Coarse Ground, which ROCKS!!!

        Egg dishes are cheap, and endlessly creative.

        Cheesy polenta slabs fried to crisp exterior and topped with a runny yolk fried egg is absolute heaven, I tell you.

        3 Replies
        1. re: scuzzo

          scuzzo, do you like bob's red mill grits?

          and on-topic, i love bean soups with chunks of smoky or hot sausage. i love garbanzado, too. http://www.recipelink.com/mf/31/14986

          and cuban black bean soup, served over white rice, and topped with diced white or red onion with a splash of vinegar. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aa...

          bean soups are great. beans in stews bulk it up, and taste good.

          and i'm definitely on the cabbage-in-all-forms bandwagon: soups, stir-fries, salads, stuffed, or simply steamed, with butter, S&P (like caroline1 loves, too). thrifty, filling, nutritious, delicious.

          last night, i re-purposed a leftover thick pork chop with some leftover rice, by rendering some small-diced trader joe's chianti dry sausage, tossing in the pork chop dice, green onions, soy and sesame oil, and stir-frying the rice. good. and a little rice goes a long way.

          and greens are good. (hey, thanks gordon gekko!) and whole grains, like bulgur wheat and the like.

          and boil up a little chicken, for some chicken and dumplings, or chicken and rice, or chicken and noodles. so tasty, comforting, and inexpensive.

          pasta: mr. alka adores spaghetti. and so many sauces can be made for very little. anchovies are my new-ish secret umami ingredient.

          casseroles, oft-maligned, are great, and are good as leftovers. i love my mom's eggplant casserole made with ritz crackers, cheddar cheese, onions, and cream of mushroom soup. i've made it with cream of celery soup, too. similar to this (but without the butter and bell pepper!) http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1950,... darn tasty -- and eggplant casserole is VERY flexible: it takes on the flavors of what you add in.

          i love eggs, fixed any way. quiches and omelettes are thrifty, and a good vehicle for leftover veggies or meats.

          there is also another dish my mom used to make (she doesn't cook so much anymore..) called "bundle burgers." essentially, it was ground beef mixed with some evaporated milk, made into thin patties and wrapped around a cornbread/herb stuffing, then covered with condensed cream of mushroom soup (undiluted.) and baked till golden brown. i tell you it is so YUMMY!!! (i'll try and get exact recipe....) (something like this, but don't put the cheese on top -- you'll be gilding the lily!) http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1826,...

          1. re: alkapal

            thanks for the eggplant link, I have 4 eggplant from CSA sitting in the fridge, and just bought Ritz crackers to go with my Cowboy candy!

            I am just also jumping in one thread and haven't read it all so it might already be mentioned but joining a CSA has been a money saver for us. I get way to many veggies to eat during my week, so I freeze a lot and we eat organic farm frozen veggies all winter. If not good on their own, they get turned into veggie soup which is great for winter lunches at work - and you can add pretty much anything to them (veggies, grains, meat, etc...)

            Also, I try not to throw away anything. For ex. I just experimented with freezing extra sushi rice, and I just used it this week in chicken fried rice - just as good with frozen imo...

            thanks again alkapal

            1. re: geminigirl

              For future reference re eggplant, recently read that the darker-skinned and older an eggplant is, the bitterer, and the more oil it will absorb. So they are best when cooked as soon as possible.

        2. Practice something many of our ancestors did -- they cooked like peasants, but ate like kings. (Google Maria Luisa Scott for her work). I like making curries lately because you don't need the most expensive cuts of meat to prepare them, they pack so much flavor, and they freeze well too. Along with that, I usually serve basmati rice, which is still fairly reasonably priced considering the number of servings you get out of just one bag. A little goes a long way [as does pasta].

          There are so many Americans who avoid the produce aisles at stores when they go shopping. Visit those aisles and look for bargains. Don't head straight for the wallet-draining trevisos and white asparagus, but instead, explore and consider the many other options. Try kale perhaps, chards, cabbage. All well priced. Bring them home, and search online for recipes. Your body will thank you, and you'll likely see some extra cash in your pockets as a result.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Cheese Boy

            I'm pregnant so we are all about the fresh produce even if it can be pricier. But I do agree that you can get some good deals on produce especially by only buying what you know you will eat for the week and not letting any go bad in the fridge or fruit bowl, which can be a huge money waster. I'm trying to avoid the fruit and veg I notoriously cannot eat before it goes off. This most likely goes without saying with the Chow crew, but generally local and in season does equal better prices.

          2. Buy what's on sale is the easiest advice.
            Pasta, potatoes and rice are your cheapest calories. How to jazz them up a bit is up to you.

            Stir frys over rice
            Chicken and dumplings
            Chicken + spaghetti sauce + peppers and onions served over mashed potatoes
            Shepherds pie
            Good old tuna-noodle casserole
            Ham and scalloped potatoes
            Ramen noodles, although make your own sauce and add veggies, think stir-fry.
            Pasta, pasta, pasta with all kinds of sauces. Spend one day making several different kinds of pasta sauce in bulk, and can or freeze portions for meals.
            Fresh vegetables are nice, but will cost twice as much, on average, as canned or frozen, with some exceptions such as carrots.
            Stuffed cabbage - cabbage is cheap and the rice extends the meat.
            Halushki (noodles and cabbage)

            1. I recently had a wonderful roasted vegie quesadilla at a pub that was fantastic, I'm going to duplicate at home - I know there was zuch and yellow squash but meant to ask if mush/onions too (which I would add). Tortillas are pretty inexpensive, even the healthy whole grain ones. They offer chix, beef add in - doesn't need a meat at all - very filling.

              I also agree with polenta, I like to sear/fry it - very filling.

              I'm on a huge roasted vegie kick - I keep trying new vegies and shocked at how wonderful they taste - it's awesome when watching calories too. Leftovers make a great lunch too. Or blend with chix broth for a wonderful soup.

              1. Red beans and rice is a good buck stretcher meal. It can make a small amount of sausage go a looong way.

                The rest of my thoughts are more along practical suggestions for things you can implement that will help reduce your overall food budget.

                Try to make an effort to shop around for deals and make sure you're using your freezer space to the max. Buy meats when they're on steep discount, or marked down for quick sale and freeze them for later. Also, consider cheaper cuts and unusual cuts. I just saw some great marrow bones for sale at my local Shaw's last night, and some goat meat that would be perfect for a curry that wasn't too dear (though more than I was prepared to pay right now, I'm trying to eat down my freezer so I can make room for a side of beef from a local organic producer).

                And consider going into a side of meat (pork or beef or lamb) with one or more other families (I'm going to be paying $3 a pound for my side, but that's going to get me around 200lbs of meat, expensive cuts as well as cheap). When you buy direct from a local producer, and buy a whole side at a time, the price is a WHOLE lot less. For that matter, consider going in with neighbors or friends on other bulk purchases, like big bags of rice and beans from the local warehouse market, then dividing it up into smaller containers for home.

                Consider devoting some home space (if you don't have a pantry, I have a 6' X 13' pantry that I adore) to storage for food items. Maybe a closet in a spare bedroom or a linen closet (move the linens to under-bed organizers) could be converted. This is to take advantage of economies of scale, so you can buy larger amounts of various things, and that leads to significant savings.

                Another thing you can do is decide what are the staple items you want to keep on hand at all times, and build a customized shopping list with those items on it (we used to do this on paper before we got PDAs). Make sure the list is in the same order as the rows in your grocery store, and if you shop in more than one store, make sure that you're getting the best prices for the things you regularly buy by taking the time to check to see which store has the best regular prices on things.

                Then, before you go shopping, go through the regular list, and check the things you need to restock (we usually do this the night before shopping because then I can check on supplies if I can't remember how much of something we might have). Add whatever special items you want on this particular trip that aren't regular items. Check the circulars for the stores you'll be going to, as well (most of them have their circulars online now, which I love). Buy things that are on -steep- discount only, and don't buy things that are only a few cents less if you wouldn't normally buy them. Nearly every cut of meat goes on sale at a steep discount at one time or another, so wait until the cuts are on steep discount to buy them.

                Some good examples of this are: turkeys during thanksgiving and easter season, hams and roasts during christmas season, and corned beef around st. patrick's day. Buy more of these items then (and consider investing in a freezer somewhere/somehow so you have room to store them). When my husband and I were first starting out and we didn't have a lot of money, we bought a second hand chest freezer for this purpose. It paid for itself in food savings because we could buy meats at much lower prices when they were on sale. If you don't have space for even a small one, then maybe if you live in a more populous area, you could consider going in on a meat locker or storage space with some friends, so you can use that as an "off site" pantry.

                Also, eat something BEFORE you go to the store. When you get there, ONLY go directly to the items you're buying (the ones on your list) and only get those items. Don't wander up and down the aisles buying things as the whim hits you. Then go straight to the checkout and get out of the store. :)

                You can't beat the investment of some time, a little planning, and some effort to reduce your food bills.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Morganna

                  i can always get a good size smoked turkey at my local safeway for $20 -- the sale usually lasts at least a month. in fact, i'll go check to see if they are in yet for the season.

                  and ham! ham is a great value when you can get a good sale price. it lasts a looong time, and is very versatile: ham and grits, ham in quiche, ham in pasta dishes, casseroles, ham and eggs, ham sandwiches, and whatever you can think of......!

                  1. re: alkapal

                    No doubt, ham and turkey and ham hocks and some sausages are very good deals in the US. But in my opinion, if you're looking to eat well for little money, you still want to youse them as accents to other foods ... that sounds more or less like what you're saying there, except that I'd reeeeaaaaally stress the bean/lentil end of things. Good black-eyed peas plus a little ham? Oh mama!!! And if you want to make it better, use the best peas you can get, and throw in a good chipotle (hey, I'm from the West); I love me some jamon iberico, but if you want bang for the buck, look elsewhere.

                2. Soups, stews. It definitely can stretch a bit of meat. I still have some fish soup I've made in the fridge earlier this week. I will probably get about 5-6 meals out of that soup from a $10 fish. If I just ate the fish on its own, it probably would have made two meals, tops. Fish is just a small component of the soup -- most of it consists of vegetables (which are a lot cheaper than meat).

                  1. Now that the cooler weather is approaching, I've decided to make a soup-a-week. Tuesday night I made a butternut squash and black bean soup from the New England Soup Company cookbook and it was absolutely delicious. Half was left over so the next night I augmented it with a leftover whole chicken leg, and 2 different pasta dishes, one with a red sauce and one with a white. The meat was pulled off the bone and chopped, the pastas were roughly chopped then all was added to the original soup with a little more chicken stock. It was like an entirely new soup as there were more and different spices in the added foods. We even had it for breakfast the following morning. Leftover roasted vegetables in soups are delicious too.

                    Since we've been participating in the COTM we've noticed our food bill each month has almost doubled. It's time now to reassess the various ethnic pantry items we've accumulated and start incorporating them in new ways as we cook. Given what we have in the pantry and freezer, we estimate we have enough food to keep us for a month, only buying a few fresh veggies every now and then. I suppose you could call me obsessive.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Gio

                      gio, i'm in accord with the evolving soup idea! ;-) i never feel guilty eating soup, for some reason. i love soup!

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Alka:
                        For years I never ate soup thinking it was just so many wasted calories... and water even though I did make chicken soup for the family regularly when they were all here. Boy, have I changed my opnion. It began last year with the 3Bean soup someone above mentioned. And, during the recent Vietnamese COTM when I made my first Pho, I realized how wrong I had been. Tuesday night is now Soup Night at Casa G & G.

                        Also, someone mentioned how expensive a good bread can be, and that's true, however there are many quick stovetop breads or even beer breads which dont require any kneading, etc. that I'm going to start making again.

                        1. re: Gio

                          cornbread, my friend! please don't make it sweet.... ;-)

                          get some frozen black-eyed peas or white acre peas, cook them in a little rendered minced bacon, a/c package instructions (or longer, to firmness taste preference -- i like them a *little* soft ) -- and once cooked, eat with some good cornbread -- or corn pone -- http://southernfood.about.com/od/corn... (you can also just make cornmeal with water and cook it in a cast iron hot skillet with good bacon grease), and a splash of texas pete pepper vinegar on top, and you are on the way to some good eatin'!

                          http://www.texaspete.com/product_pepp...

                      2. re: Gio

                        Gio- Any chance you have a link to this soup recipe? Sounds delish.

                        1. re: ejpnyc

                          I didn't have the book in front of me when I made that post above.... it's a Spicy Chickpea and Butternut Squash Soup.. The black bean soup is on the preceeding page and was earmarked to make at a later date. I did find the complete chickpea recipe at Epicurious.com...Lots of ingredients, but once you gather them all together, the rest is really easy.

                          http://www.recipezaar.com/95135

                          FWIW: I did not use the coconut extract the recipe calls for.

                            1. re: ejpnyc

                              Oh you're welcome. I hope you like it as well as we did!!

                      3. There is no way we are giving up meat, so we have been eating less prime beef, and beef in general, and eating more pork and chicken.

                        Typically a roast (pork, chicken, beef) on sunday night, and get a 2nd dinner, and sandwiches during the week for leftovers. Thats 3 dinners right there.

                        We have been eating "breakfast" for dinner during the week, eggs, sausage, bacon, and toast are cheap

                        We have been having taco nights, another cheap dinner.

                        Sometimes its grilled cheese and leftover soup I have made from the weekend, or Italian sausage sandwiches leftover from a batch of italian sausage from the weekend.

                        We still go out to eat on Saturday for lunch or dinner, and we get carryout on Fridays, as a treat at the end of a hard weeks work.

                        There is no reason to starve, or suffer during tight economic times. Just some smart shopping and advance meal plannig is all it takes. We have cut our weekely grocery cost from $110 per week to about $90 a week for a family of 3 and 2 cats by working at it, and I still get all the meat I need, and to give our daughter a balanced diet.

                        20 Replies
                        1. re: swsidejim

                          Don't turn up your nose at the reduced-price produce rack. I have been able to find lots of good to acceptable vegetables and fruits there.

                          1. re: lattelover

                            i just love to get my bargain bags -- e.g., 6 yellow and red peppers -- fine shape -- $1).
                            similarly, 6-8 nice ripe vine-ripened tomatoes. one buck.

                            1. re: lattelover

                              I didnt think I was turning up my nose @ reduced price produce.

                              If I am making a soup, or something I use that day I do not hesitate to pick these items up.

                              1. re: swsidejim

                                Besides for buying reduced price veggies, I buy what's on sale and prepare and freeze a lot of it. When eggplants are on sale for 30 cents/pound, I buy 10 punds, slice it, grill/broil, and freeze to use in eggplant parm later on. I find it's best to freeze everything on a cookie sheet till it's solid and then transfer to ziplock bags. Other ideas:

                                - frozen grapes (pick off the stem and freeze)
                                -broccoli (cut into florets and freeze)
                                -string beans (snap off ends and freeze)
                                -red peppers (char in the broiler, peel of skins, cut into strips, freeze)
                                -onions (slice into rings, carmelize for 20-30 min in a skillet with oil, freeze small amounts in ziplock snack-size bags)
                                -corn (slice off the cob, freeze)

                                I love doing this because in the middle of the winter, I don't have to spend tons on 'summer' produce... I can just take it out of my freezer and know that it started out fresh.

                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                  Where on earth can one get eggplant at 30 cents/pound ? Are you kidding?

                                  If I could get eggplant @ .30/lb I would definitely jar some of them. Unfortunately, where I'm at, they're .99c - $1.49 a pound. Italian eggplants, fugghedaboutit, they're a $1.99/lb and up. I envy you a little.

                                  1. re: Cheese Boy

                                    Truly!!! About the best price I saw this summer was .99 per pound...now, eggplant are $1.59 per pound average price here in FL.

                                    1. re: Cheese Boy

                                      Agreed - $1/lb is about the best I see just north of Boston. I've gotten several hefty eggplants at farmers' markets, each time at $2 each - never weighed them but would guess the price was the same. But I think eggplant is a good value in that it has a meat-like texture. There's been an eggplant-pepper-tomato sauce recipe appearing on the right of the CH screen for months. I adapted it, searing 4 oz. of fine-diced pancetta, then adding the onions, garlic, tomato paste, bell peppers, tomatoes,sugar, and LOTS of julienned eggplant (about 2# for a final yield of 2.5 qts sauce), with dashes of balsamic vinegar and truffle oil optional. It is a very thick sauce, with the same mouth-feel as though it were made with ground beef. While, like most of the posters, I'm trying to use less meat and more vegetable, I am not easily satisfied with totally meatless meals (unless there are eggs or cheese), so I find eggplant invaluable as "fool's meat". This recipe stretches 4 oz. of meat to a good 8-10 generous pasta meals.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        I agree with you, grey, that it's a great value, no matter what...same with mushrooms...and there's no waste really (I love eggplant with the peel)...and it is a very substantial veggie.

                                      2. re: Cheese Boy

                                        A fruit store/grocery in Brooklyn. The eggplants go on sale in the late summer 3lbs for $1. The zucchini goes on sale for that price too, but usually not in the same week as the eggplant. Cabbage sometimes goes for 19cents/ lb.

                                        1. re: cheesecake17

                                          Oh man, Brooklyn ! ... Address please.
                                          Here I was expecting you to say Salinas, California.

                                          1. re: Cheese Boy

                                            3 Guys From Brooklyn.. it's on the corner of Ft Hamilton Parkway and 65th Street. It's about a 15 min drive from me, but I think it's worth it to go there every two weeks. I basically buy what's on sale and use that till I go back.

                                            They have a website with an online sale circular. The sales are from Wednesday (I think) until Monday night. Usually about 10 items are on sale. (fruit + veg, at least 1 dairy item, 1 item from the gourmet section) This week I got red peppers for 49 cents/lb!

                                            1. re: cheesecake17

                                              Circus, 3 Guys, and Brighton Beach produce stands are all in line as produce destinations for me. I guess it's all in the timing as to what one will find on sale. The online circular will certainly help and remove a lot of the guesswork. Thanks so much !

                                              Link --> http://3guysfrombrooklyn.tripod.com/

                                              1. re: Cheese Boy

                                                You're welcome. I've found that the quality in 3 Guys is usually better than Circus. Also, 3 Guys gets insanely crowded, so if you go really early or really late, you can skip the crowds and also get to pick the fruits and vegetables straight from the boxes as they are being unpacked.

                                      3. re: cheesecake17

                                        They've been 69 cents a lb here on Long Island for the last couple of weeks, I like to bread and fry them and make a tomato and eggplant sandwich.

                                        1. re: coll

                                          Recently someone posted a recommendation to slice eggplant, dip in beaten egg, then press into grated parmesan before cooking on a well-oiled waffle maker. I tried this, settling on a quarter inch as optimum thickness for getting the parmesan crust nice and crunchy golden, while the interior was soft and smooth. This makes a fine sandwich with either fresh tomato or chunky tomato sauce, and of course would work well with sauced pasta or polenta. It works better with just grated parmesan (the powdery storebought variety - I know, I know) than with the addition of bread crumbs.

                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            Thanks for reminding me, I'm planning on trying this in the waffle maker or my George Forman. Sounds like the same end result as frying, with no added grease. I bet green tomatoes would come out good like this too.

                                            1. re: coll

                                              I have a cheap-o nonstick electric waffle-maker. I sprayed it with Pam. Kept watching because I was afraid the cheese would stick/burn, but it was fine. I did not salt the eggplant first but that might be a better idea.

                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                here is the wafflemaker/veggie thread started by scuzzo: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/446954

                                                thanks again, scuzzo. great idea!

                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                  I wondered how long it took to crisp up, about the same as a waffle?

                                        2. re: swsidejim

                                          Hey, I just got 24 oz. of sliced baby portabellas yesterday for 99 cents! Made a great mushroom ragout that we served over noodles with a small pork chop--lots of taste for no $. The "seconds" bin is my friend...also going to farmer's market near the end of the day can yield lots of bargains -- some a little weird, but worth a try.

                                    2. Check out any ethnic grocery stores in your area. Where I live, the Asian groceries have fabulous produce at 1/2 to 1/3 the price of the major chain stores.

                                      Ditto on all the recommendations to use meat more as an enhancement than the centerpiece of the meal at least a few days a week.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: weezycom

                                        I agree about making meat less of a focus but both my husband and I really enjoy meat so we don't plan to give it up anytime soon. Some of my own tricks to add to all these wonderful suggestions are:

                                        Freezer, freezer, freezer. It's my best friend! I also love pulling something that has already been made out of the freezer and heating up for a quick weeknight dinner after a long day of work.

                                        Meat specials. I got a lovely pot roast last weekend on sale for $3/lb at WF. We got 2 dinners and 1 lunch out of it when we added veggies to it. BBQ chicken and pork freeze really well. I love the Barefoot Contessa recipe for BBQ and it makes a pretty big batch. Chicken drumsticks can be great too in Moroccan chicken dishes, as well as soups and Chicken Fricassee (very affordable). You just have to do a little more work to pick off the skin and fattier parts.

                                        I mentioned pasta sauce in the original post.

                                        Chili really stretches the buck, either veggie or with meat. Love the Dean and DeLuca recipe for eggplant and blackbean chili which can be done pretty affordably because it makes so much.

                                        I try to think about ingredients that will do double duty later in the week. For example, potatoes, mushrooms, and spinach and greens as a dinner ingredient as well as a salad a couple days later.

                                        I also second the ideas for egg dishes like quiche. Eggs are still pretty affordable and they pack a nutritional value and fill you up. The thing I love about quiche is you can add so many different ingredients and you don't need a ton of those ingredients, a handful of mushrooms, a couple small potatoes, a little cheese, some veggies, etc.

                                        Soups are great too. A friend shared a recipe for Gypsy Soup which has a lot of ingredients but it is truly one of my favorite recipes especially in colder weather. It makes a huge batch and freezes really well. It's filling and it makes a large batch. I think it is originally a Moosewood recipe.
                                        Link here: http://www.ivu.org/recipes/soup/gypsy...

                                        1. re: weezycom

                                          I'm in the Detroit 'burbs and you can get GREAT bahn mi sandwiches for $1.25 to $2; cheaper than eating at home.

                                        2. I have a new addiction--Mark Bittman's recipe for Braised Turkey Legs with Cranberries, published in the New York Times in 2002. 3 turkey legs will feed an army. It's incredibly rich tasting. I don't like it cooked on the stovetop as he does. I cook it in the crockpot for 8 hours on low, then shred the meat into the broth, discarding all the disgusting little bones and tendons that make me hate turkey legs in most forms. If the sauce is too thin, remove the meat and reduce it in a pan for a bit before you add the shredded meat. It tastes almost winey--kind of like coq au vin but with no vin. It's close in flavor to a good pot roast, too, but way cheaper. It's good with noodles.

                                          http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/19/din...

                                          1. I try to use every part of the food - for example with citrus fruits, I zest the skin before eating it or using the juice; left over bread becomes coarse or fine crumbs; celery (and the like) leaves go into the freezer bag for stock; rinds from parmesan goes into the freezer stock bag; bits and pieces of grains & dried fruit go into granola or cookies; if I cook too much pasta for my meal, I freeze the leftovers for another meal.

                                            Also, farmer's market produce is usually cheaper in the afternoon of their last day (which for us is Sunday's) or end of season. I got a ton of stuff today - celeriac, brocolli, green onions, sweet peppers very reasonably price.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: sarah galvin

                                              sarah, how do you store the zest, please? Can you just let it dry out on the counter? Thanks!

                                              1. re: Val

                                                I'm sure it would loose a lot of it's flavor, however, In the French Laundry cookbook, they make a lot of "powders" by drying things out in the microwave.

                                                1. re: Val

                                                  I freeze it and it remains very flavourful. I just have a freezer bag going and add from time to time.

                                              2. I went on record a while back as a confirmed white meat only girl.
                                                I shunned all mention of stuff on the bone and vowed only ONLY boneless, skinless
                                                chicken breasts if making chicken.
                                                Then we got a new oven and I roasted an entire chicky in it, and it was fantastic and quite thrifty.
                                                Very recently again changed my mind when I found chicken leg quarters for 59c a pound.

                                                This isn't simple for me-I really don't like to tie myself into an apron and play butcher-but paying $4.99lb for boneless/skinless white meat is really excessive. Sure, I look for it on sale and stock up, but eventually you have to buy more...

                                                Back to the leg quarters- I dipped the pieces in seasoned flour, baked them for a while and then threw them into a pot with a few cans of diced tomatoes, some wine, onions, peppers, garlic, some capers. But because it's stuck in our heads that we don't like' dark meat I first skinned them, pulled off all the meat (it went fast- I used tongs and a knife) and the meat fell right off the bone. Chicken Cacciatore over bow tie pasta, everyone loved it.

                                                There's a ton of fat involved, before I cooked them I cut lots of it off and pull it from under the skin. Next time I'll skin them too, before I cook them. Those 4 legs threw out a lot of grease!

                                                We eat small meals, but I go for big tastes so spices, sauces, etc are king. Fresh herbs are expensive, but we cut out red meat so I can justify the cost of herbs at the store until my Aerogarden gets going again. I buy the large shrimp when it's $5.99lb or less, and I watch the sales. We have a huge upright freezer that really helps.

                                                I do soups once a week. Use the crockpot. Eat leftovers. Get creative with veggies. Buy block cheese and cut/shred yourself. Make friends with beans. And eggs. I still suck at baking but I keep trying.

                                                Menus? I don't plan that far ahead! When I was little my Mom subscribed to Women's Day and Family Circle magazines. One of them always had the month of dinners. You had to flip the magazine over to read that page, I loved it. I remember it always had tips like 'Sunday-roast chicken, save some for Tuesday' and 'Monday-pork roast, shred half and save for Friday' and I would think who are these people that save cooked food for another day??!?! There were 7 of us and Mom would stretch one pound of meat to feed us all so if there were leftovers of meat-I sure didn't know about them!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                  I recommend allowing it to cook with the skin intact, then removing afterwards. Fat isn't just empty calories, humans need a certain amount of fats to sustain good health. The fat that gets into the meat during cooking adds a lot of flavour and isn't actually all -that- much, especially if you're skinning it and pulling away the fat after you cook it.

                                                  1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                                    Take a look at the tweaked chicken and turkey recipes in the Nov-Dec Cooks Illustrated. Roast chicken on top of the stove, and roasting a disjointed turkey (or separately-purchased breast and legs) - both achieve the result of very brown, well-rendered, crisp skin. Lots of flavor, and not so bad for you if most of the fat has melted out of the skin.

                                                  2. I am a huge fan of meal planning. When I get a CSA box, I meal plan from there by entering that produce into the free meal planner at www.eatrealgood.com and seeing what comes up and appeals to me, and adding those recipes to my meal plan. Then I get the grocery list for any additional stuff I need from the store, like meat, pasta, fruits, etc... I also use my crock pot a good deal, not only for convenience on busy days, but also to make a "cleaning out the crisper" soup or stew, so as not to waste money.

                                                    1. i think it is great to get in the habit of saving everything. I now always save the carcass of a roast chicken and use it for soup. I now save all veggie scraps etc for soup/stock. Another thing I have learned is proper storage. Salad greens go bad quickly, so I find washing, drying and wrapping in paper towel then put in a ziploc helps elimate waste. Also, Jacques Pepin has a recipe for what he calls fromage fort, which is basically a cheese spread made of leftover cheese scraps- it is so good and a great way to use those litle bit of cheese that are leftover.

                                                      1. If you need to entertain a crowd on a tight budget, mussels are the way to go. Here at least, they are three bucks for a big bag and are an easy fun dinner.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: cassoulady

                                                          I second the mussels. I just did this last night. $10 was plenty for 2 people as a main course and just throw in a little tomato, garlic, leek and white wine. The left over baquette went into my turkey stuffing today.

                                                        2. I totally concur on eating more legumes. When I was growing up, the standard line following a splurge was "we'll be eating beans for a week, but it's worth it."

                                                          But on the carnivorous front, the best way to stretch your food dollar is to use every bit of the critter. It's easiest with smaller things, like chicken. Roast a bird for one dinner one night, and use the leftover meat for another dinner: tacos, soup, chicken & dumplings, whatever. Make stock from the carcass. And after making stock, I even go so far as to crush the bones (they're crumbly after I'm done) with leftover rice and veggies for home-made dog food.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                            I second Alan's adaptive re-uses of roasted chickens. At my latin market I get a roaster that looks like a bowling ball with wings, with a medio kilo of fresh corn tortillas, and 3 cups of a nice salsa picante, for $7. I get 3 really decent meals from it.
                                                            While testing the waters to learn what NOT to eat in the impending depression, today I made the huge mistake of making Lipton onion soup dip with sour cream and dip-size Fritos, if the world goes to hell in a handbasket. I haven't had it in 25 years. It really, really, sucks. And my chorizo-based chili-dog accoutrement has twice yielded diarrhea. (If you can spell the word, you have suffered).
                                                            I listen with elephant ears for do's and don'ts in our tumultuous times...

                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                              Do tell us what you're you're eating.
                                                              Don't tell us where it ends up....... Just saying.

                                                          2. If you like baked treats, bake your own. And I'm not talking about baking all your own bread (although do so if you wish---it's fun). What I mean is that my local bakery charges $2.49 apiece for lemon squares which can be made for about that much for a whole panful of sixteen whether you use fresh ingredients or the mix, which actually isn't bad.

                                                            My other money-saving hint is to find out which day of the week your local paper publishes grocery store sale ads and make your week's plan accordingly, taking advantage of loss leaders.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: Querencia

                                                              I rarely have coffee outside the house anymore. It saves a bundle. In fact, I only drink my two cups in the morning - saves even more :)

                                                              Now I just have to learn how to kick the wine habit!

                                                              1. re: sarah galvin

                                                                pssst...you may already know but the wine board here on Chowhound always has some inexpensive but good wines in various threads. Of course, not every wine is available in every state but I've picked up a couple of really nice reds that I would not otherwise have known about and they are mostly under $10. Your palate may be much more refined than mine, though, which is probably the case...hee!

                                                                1. re: Val

                                                                  There is a wine board! Hmmm..... Thank you ;)

                                                              2. re: Querencia

                                                                I do that every Sunday, and I go to the stores with a list. I have found that it's not worth it to go to a store that's far just for one or two items. The gas costs more than the savings sometimes!

                                                                Also, some stores require you to make a $10 or $25 purchase just to get the items that are on sale. Take that into consideration before shopping that way you don't end up buying extra items just to get the discount.

                                                              3. another great dish is jambalaya - you can bulk up mostly on vegies with little meats (chix thighs are great in this dish, give more flavor then white meat).

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: lexpatti

                                                                  excellent idea, lexpatti. you're absolutely correct.

                                                                  i've noticed that smoked (or seasoned) sausage is dependably on sale for 1/2 price or bogo on an almost predictable once-a-month -- or more frequent -- basis. (and if it is not this brand, then it is that brand.) always a sale on something of that order.

                                                                  that sausage (a little goes a long way) is great with chick in the jambalaya. and all together with the rice and seasonings, it makes for a satisfying meal. all one needs alongside is a nice fresh salad.

                                                                2. I think one of the best purchases I've made is getting a Food Vacuum Sealer with bags and mason jar attachment. You can buy things on sale and freeze it without losing much integrity. Also, there are just the two of us and we don't really eat certain foods very often -- ie. parmesan cheese. So I've vacuum sealed them so they don't dry out and go to waste like they usually do.

                                                                  16 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                    I have the foodsaver mason jar attachment but have never used it. How do you use yours? What things is it good for? As I understand it, you don't need to freeze what you vacuum with the mason jar thingie. Do you freeze them anyway? Or no.

                                                                    It's probably time to start using that feature.

                                                                    Especially since the freezer bags cost money and I already have the mason jars and the attachment.

                                                                    1. re: karykat

                                                                      This is the foodsaver I have:

                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/FoodSaver-T000-...

                                                                      You get a wide-mouth mason jar (sadly I learned that not all mason jars work with this) and fill it with food (liquid, solids, whatever). You just put the lid on the top of the mason jar (the screw-on thing is unnecessary). Put the foodsaver mason jar attachment on top of the mason jar with the lid.

                                                                      The foodsaver came with a tube. I stick one end of the tube in the foodsaver (there's an opening to accommodate it) and the other end in the mason jar with the attachment. Then press vacuum seal. It draws out the air in the jar. Voila -- done!

                                                                      It doesn't function as a preserve. So you can't store the stuff in your cabinet or anything like that. It still needs to be refrigerated and will go bad within time. I really don't think you can freeze glass. So if it's something that you don't intend on eating for a long time and has the potential of going bad (ie. chicken breasts that you don't plan on eating for two months), I would vacuum seal it in one of those bags and stick it in the freezer. But if it's something that you plan on consuming in the near future and/or not very perishable (chicken breasts that you will eat later on during the week or piece of Parmesan cheese that you will eat next month), the jar is a fine way to go.

                                                                      It really has made meal planning much easier and eliminates a lot of waste.

                                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                        I have a food saver but have never learned how to use those vacuum jars; I just use it with the plastic bags. I'm going to buy some Ball glass jars that can go in the freezer. They are wide mouth, pint size, 66000 and sell for about $10 for a case of 12.
                                                                        They are on back order from http://www.goodmans.net/get_item_bl-6.... I'll have to figure out if I'll be able to use the food saver thing with these. (I feed my 2 cats raw ground chicken and have been using ziplocks inside food saver bags -- am switching to glass freezer jars. If you want more info on this, catnutrition.org.)

                                                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                          Great. Thanks. I do have the attachment and wide-mouth mason jars so I should be set.

                                                                          I imagine this would be good for helping soups and stews and that type of thing last longer in the fridge.

                                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                            i have glass mayo jars in the fridge with leftover soup or nuts. when using jars, leave room for expansion of liquids, though. i've not had any problems. of course, this glass is not delicate.

                                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                                              So sad that Best Foods now comes in plastic!

                                                                              1. re: walker

                                                                                I used to give everything away in my glass Hellmanns jars, I'm so mad I only have one left now. They should have warned us!

                                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                                  i am a proxy-depression child, so i have about 30 hellman's jars. with lids, both metal and plastic.

                                                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                                                    I treasured the quart-sized glass mayo and Miracle Whip jars that were straight-sided. Not only was using the original contents much less messy, but they were easy to clean and re-fill with whatever. Sadly, only one remains. I suspect they switched to the smaller-mouth jars because the smaller tops were cheaper, and then they could get us to buy the special plastic "mayoknife" tchotchkes.

                                                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                                                      Oh the old Skippy peanut butter jars were the best. One by one, though, after being in the freezer the bottom fell out. What a loss. If only I had more brains than ideas. I do still have 3 after about 30 years.....

                                                                                      1. re: Gio

                                                                                        Gio, Smuckers Natural PB still comes in glass jars, God love them...just a suggestion! Heh, maybe we should start a "food that is still sold in glass jars" thread! We buy Bonne Maman preserves, too, to avoid HFCS...still sold in glass jars. (but the store brand jams and jellies are still in glass jars too.)

                                                                                        1. re: Val

                                                                                          Val - the Bonne Maman are second to the Skippy jars. I love those jars. Perfect for all the bits and pieces of dipping sauces and marinades one can't bear to dispose of. Smuckers? Are they aesthetically pleasing? LOL

                                                                                    2. re: alkapal

                                                                                      I may be more proxy-depressed than you. My countless mayo jars and coffee cans are filled with the day's pocket change accumulated over decades, dispersed in closets around the house so as not to crush the floors. It would take a front-end loader to get rid of them. I'll let the next generation deal with it.

                                                                                    3. re: coll

                                                                                      My last one I gave a friend homemade ranch dressing in; they have strict instructions to return the jar! I suspect that glass is healthier for us than plastic and I mostly use glass containers w/plastic lids for leftovers.

                                                                                      1. re: walker

                                                                                        I recently learned that plastics labeled with PET, PETE, or, HDPE are safe for food storage. I was looking for glass refrigerator storage containers.....
                                                                                        Here's a site that explains:
                                                                                        http://www.care2.com/greenliving/whic...

                                                                                  2. re: alkapal

                                                                                    after just re-reading my "glass jar" post, i meant to say that i have hellman's jars with soup to nuts, so to speak, in the FREEZER.....