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Healthy Recession Meals?

We've been cooking a lot lately and need some new ideas for healthy recession meals. We've tried stir fries (Chinese style-stir fry), mexican with low-fat refried beans (chile verde, ancho steak), Mediterranean (chick pea stews, olive-feta-chicken), curry chicken. What are your healthy recession meals that makes sure your family gets all the right nutrients at bargain prices?

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  1. I rely on beans, grains, and cheap veggies (potatoes, frozen spinach, cauliflower, cabbage) a lot during tight times, but I find I don't miss meat when I have to skip it, as long as my meals are just as flavorful and rich-tasting without it! Hummus, falafel, whole wheat pita (all homemade), brown basmati rice, dhals, aloo gobi, spicy cabbage stir-fries, mmmmm...

    I'd say that some variation of lentil dhal is my go-to dish for something quick, flavorful, comforting and inexpensive. It's basically onions, garlic, and ginger, plus lentils (I like the red variety), spices (whatever I'm in the mood for -- usually coriander, cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric), and water. Couldn't be simpler. It only takes 20 minutes, and is easily adaptable to whatever I have on hand. Frozen spinach? Sure! Fresh cilantro? You bet! A little yogurt at the end? Creamy and delicious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LauraGrace

      Yes, anything but carrots! Carrots turned my most recent dhal attempt into boring hippie food (and I love hippies). You want to make sure that whatever you add doesn't steal the show from the Lentils and Onions I guess.

    2. LauraGrace is right about the lentils...they are so cheap but pack HUGE nutrition and they cook more quickly than other dried beans/legumes--no soaking necessary...pair those little suckers up with some frozen spinach and some brown rice, you have one awesome meal! I've been buying what I call "bag o'spinach" --Pictsweet's 28 ounce bag of frozen spinach for close to $2.29 at the Target Super Store. Also, don't forget your black beans paired up with corn or any other grain for a complete protein. Cabbage is a great buy pretty much anytime of year but especially in winter...red cabbage packs in even more nutrition. Misseatalot...will your family eat canned salmon (wild-caught only)? That goes on sale where I live (FL) every now and then...very good nutrition there, too! Buying fresh produce in season is really important...oh, fresh strawberries are $2.48 for a box here right now...just so awesome! Watch for great sales on whole chicken or leg quarters...I'm not seeing $.49 per pound like I USED to...(grrr!) but have seen them for $.79 per pound at various stores. AND WHAT GIVES??? Gas prices have come down, but not so with food!!! I remember when the food prices started going crazy, all the stores said "oh, it's because of the gas prices." Well, how come the opposite isn't true??

      8 Replies
      1. re: Val

        Thanks, Val! I forgot about canned salmon and my mother use to make that with some fried onions on top after steaming the salmon. I've been meaning to make dhal. Have a bag of red lentils at home but tried to buy the Indian spices that goes into that recipe and the price of getting all the spices are a killer. Thanks for the recipe, LauraGrace. I've been thinking about skipping out on the meat by eating bean burritos for lunch to stretch out our food budget. Will try your dhal recipe.

        1. re: misseatalot

          Is there an Indian store anywhere near you? You can buy small amounts for not much $. Latino markets have good prices on spices, too. Near a Cost Plus?

          1. re: walker

            I've gone to one Indian store in Duarte outside of LA and their spices were in a large pack and for all the spices I was going to buy to make chick pea curry it was going to cost me more than 10. The problem is that I would probably make the chick pea curry once a month and I didn't want the large packs and I wanted to spend $5 for all of the spices. I'll stop by the Mexican market since I think I did see Turmeric for $1. Thanks!

          2. re: misseatalot

            I'm with Walker! If you're near an Indian grocery, or the next time you ARE near one, you can pick up everything you need for just practically nothing. I got four 4-oz bags of spices and a pound of red lentils for eleven bucks. Eleven!! Compare that to buying a 1-oz jar of garam masala, for instance, which runs in the $5 range at my local supermarket.

            And the giant bag of spinach is a must for me, and something I always have in my freezer. Buying fresh spinach is fine for salads, but if I'm going to cook it anyway, a 24-oz bag of spinach costs a buck. Can't beat that.

          3. re: Val

            Another cheap, healthy lentil dish - Mid Eastern "mjadra
            1 part lentils, 2 parts brown rice, 1 tsp salt per cup of the dry ingredients, 6 parts water.Stir rice & lentils in 2 tsp oil to coat over high heat. Add water & salt, when water boils, turn heat down to low, for 40 min., saute onions to caramelization & mix in w/ rice/lentils. Top w/ laban, a mix of yogurt, garlic, mint & cucumber.

            1. re: Rmis32

              That sounds fabulous, Rmis. Mmmmm...

              1. re: LauraGrace

                I ate this every Thurs night growing up.. and I still love it. Make sure you cook the onions until they're really dark (almost burnt). I use 4 or 5 onions in a giant skillet and saute for an hour or longer. Extra onions can be frozen in a small ziplock baggie.

                1. re: cheesecake17

                  Yes! Thursday nights! Yes, plenty of onions, almost burnt. Brooklyn SY?

          4. I usually buy meat and seafood only when it's on sale. you can save quite a bit this way.... especially if you have two or more markets to alternate between.
            when turkey thighs or drumsticks are on sale, I cook them in the crockpot (season, but no liquid necessary), then use the meat for casseroles (turkey tetrazinni), salads, and chili.
            I always cook as many vegetables as I can when my oven is on.....roasting them. Use some for the current meal, and some for future meals when you're rushed. (again, I'm lucky in that I have two nearby markets, so I can alternate and get the sale price on each)
            for grains, polenta is cheap and you can make a lasagna- type dish with or without meat, and some veggies and cheese. (chill the polenta on a cookie sheet , then cut into pieces and use like lasagna noodles.)
            also you can stretch protein like making salmon (or fish) cakes.

            1. I made this soup tonight. Based on Manhattan grocery and utility costs (2-3 times everywhere else in the US), it comes out to about 85 cents a serving. YMMV:

              ¾ cup brown rice (w/ 1 1/2 cups water)
              1 cup lentils
              1 cup split peas
              1 1/3 cup chick peas (pre-cooked or canned)
              2 or 3ish carrots
              ½ a big onion or 1 small one
              5 vegetarian bouillion cubes
              11 or so cups of water
              2 tbsp flour
              1 tsp coriander
              1 tsp black pepper
              2 tsp tumeric
              1 tsp chili powder
              a few shakes of garlic powder
              1 ½ tbsp olive oil

              Set rice to cook in water in its own small pot. Dice veggies. Place spices consolidated in a bowl. In a large stockpot, pour olive oil. Smear little on sides of pot. Heat oil in pot and add onions and carrots. Let veggies cook for about 10 minutes until onions are more translucent and carrots are softer. Add water and bouillion cubes. Cover and bring to a boil. Add lentils, split peas and spices. Once heat is back up, let simmer for 15 minutes. Add rice with any remaining liquid (it should be at least 70% of the way done). Let simmer about 30 minutes. Add chick peas. Dilute flour in water and add to pot. Stir vigorously and let simmer for 15 more minutes. Turn off heat, uncover and let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.

              It freezes just fine, so you can make it whenever you have time around the house and use it throughout the week. Soup is the cheapest way to eat well.

              1. I eat a LOT of soup- it's healthy (assuming you skip the cream) and you can make it with whatever's in your fridge/pantry. I recently made a huge batch of cheap wild mushroom soup with a bag of quick-sale mixed mushrooms from the grocery store, plus leftover cooked rice.

                Cabbage is your friend. I like it braised or sautéed - Indian recipes are great - or with noodles.

                Don't forget eggs - a fried egg is a perfect topping for almost anything - and polenta.

                1. I agree with the lentils and the soup. Lentils are wonderful. Of course, reusing things is key, bones for stock, leftover veggies in soups etc. Grinding leftover meats for meatballs is wonderful too. For company, a chuck roast is often lower priced and perfect for a beef stew, great for a cold night. You can follow a recipe as a guideline but use the veggies etc you have on hand. It is a great wait to entertain on a dime.
                  Last night, I had friends for dinner and I was going to buy a dessert, but ended up making a fruit tart. With eggs, a stick of butter, milk, sugar, flour ,vanilla I was able to make the crust and the pastry cream with what I had on hand and I bought some strawberries for the top and it was certainly way less than buying a tart at a bakery.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: cassoulady

                    Cassoulady, the soup thing reminded me of my "stock bag"! I throw tops and bottoms and skins and peels and odd bits of veggies into a plastic bag in the freezer, and then when I have a bag full, I dump everything into my stock pot with filtered water and make yummy vegetable stock. I don't eat much meat (which, along with making things from scratch, is my biggest money saver), but when I do, I save the bones and skin as well.

                    Delish, and oh-so frugal.

                    1. re: LauraGrace

                      I do the same thing! I also have a fruit baggie in the freezer, squished berries, brown bananas, overripe pears are all great in smoothies.

                      1. re: cassoulady

                        Do you seriously just...boil everything? I've tried to do this in the past, and got the most awful, inedible gruel. It was positively Dickensian. I figured there was some sort of trick I was missing.

                        1. re: pomme de terre

                          My experience too, pomme de terre. I find that, for a veg soup to be flavourful, it needs good stock, and the veg need to be cut evenly so they cook evenly, and some (if not all) should be sauteed first.

                          But frozen veg ends from the right vegetables (nothing overpowering) can be good for stock...

                  2. my goal is to use up all the produce and leftovers before they go bad. I had to throw away a large bag of green onions and guavas because i didn't have time to go through these. I've decided that i'll freeze all the berries as they go bad quickly and try to work with what i have in the house already. And keep it simple, i have to stop shopping for new ingredients and just work with what i have.

                    i just make ragu bolognese yesterday and some breakfast muffins. The sauce took 6+ hours to simmer but will feed us (2ppl) for 1+ week. I find it especially helpful if i baked breakfast muffins/scones and bread. These could be made cheaply and it doesn't take alot to taste better than store bought.

                    I second the soup idea. we usually do bean soups with kale and mustard greens. not much meat involved since they can be used sparingly.

                    I highly recommend getting a jar of chipotle chili and keep a baggie in the freezer. Flatten the contents so all you have to do is cut off a piece. it could flavor up soups, mayo, meats... and it will last.

                    this is a good time to clean out that pantry! use all those odd bags of beans, polenta, quinoa, couscous.

                    how many of your guys has switched from organic eggs/dairy to regular? I find myself doing that more often now.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jeniyo

                      I've been baking 1-2 times a week. My husband likes to snack on junk food so I make some banana nut muffins, cinnamon rolls (made with yams for color and flavor), brownies, and cookies. These are 90% cheaper than for him to buy things out of the vending machine and sometimes healthier.

                      1. re: misseatalot

                        how did you make cinnamon rolls out of yam? do share!

                        1. re: jeniyo

                          OK. Here's the recipe!

                          For the dough:

                          1 pack of dry yeast
                          1/4 cup of warm water
                          2 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
                          1/2 cup of yam puree - (boil an orange yam till a fork passes through it. Peel off jacket and mash the cooked yam)

                          1/2 cup milk
                          1/4 cup butter melted
                          1 tbl of sugar
                          1/2 tsp salt
                          1/4 tsp nutmeg

                          Dissolve yeast in the warm water in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the flour, yam, milk, melted butter, sugar, salt and nutmeg. Knead until smooth and elastic and add remaining flour. Rub oil over dough ball and let it rise in the bowl in a warm place with a damp paper towel on top for about 45 minutes (size of ball should have doubled). In the meantime, prepare the cinnamon mixture below.

                          Punch down the dough and let the dough ball rest for five minutes. Roll out the dough into a 12X10 inch rectangle on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle the cinnamon mixture on the rectangle evenly. Roll up the dough from the long edge into a cylinder. Cut roll into 12 one inch slices. Place rolls into a 9 inch square pan. Cover and let the rolls rise until they are doubled in size. Bake the rolls in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden.

                          For cinnamon mixture:
                          3 tbl sugar
                          3 tbl brown sugar
                          2 tab all-purpose flour
                          1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
                          2 tbl of butter

                          mix the above mixture until it's course like pie crust dough.

                    2. Add me to the list of dal lovers! I usually make mine with red lentils, but I sometimes use split mung beans (cheap at the Asian grocery) or split peas (even cheaper).

                      See if your natural foods store has spices in bulk bins. Many are pennies an ounce, and much fresher than what you'd get in jars at the supermarket.

                      We eat a lot of potatoes (had a wonderful potato and cauliflower curry tonight), a lot of rice and pasta. I stock up on different kinds whenever there's a sale. We also eat quinoa, couscous, grits (shrimp and grits is a great meal), polenta and tortillas and flat breads. All of these are reasonably inexpensive in the healthfood store's bulk bins.

                      We have a share at a local CSA, so, we'll eat whatever fresh veggies are harvested. When we aren't getting produce there, I buy carrots, cabbage, bok choi and whatever other veggies I can get under a buck a pound. And also frozen spinach, corn and french cut green beans, which don't seem nearly as mushy as the whole ones.

                      I find that going into the store with as general an idea of what I want as possible lets me get better quality foodstuffs for less money. For instance, picking out the cheapest and best looking produce, instead of specifically going in for green beans.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MsRetro

                        Thanks, MsRetro! I completely forgot about bulk bins! *Slaps forehead* That's the best place to get tiny samples of spices you're not sure you'll use a lot before you make an investment. One of the Rainbow Blossom markets here has by-the-ounce spices, and some Whole Foods still do.

                        Another thought I just cooked up is a spice co-op. Why not go to the Indian grocery and buy the big bags of spices, but then divvy them up among friends?

                      2. The best meat buys in the supermarket are chicken livers and country style spare ribs.

                        1. haven't had a chance to read all the replies, so i hope i'm not repeating if someone already mentioned this. i was leafing through Fitness Magazine, and they had a piece on healthy, money-saving meals. 20 recipes including the cost per serving of each one. i found the link on their website...


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            Those were some good ideas from Fitness Magazine. I especially liked the easy to make Chicken Tagine and will try that. There were some egg dishes suggestions and I wanted to add that I've been making a lot of frittatas lately with the cheapest jack cheese and spinach with a touch of parmesan. We usually eat this with brown rice.

                            Another cheap treat I make is Mexican champurrado http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/champurr.... I guess if you eat it for breakfast along with some wheat bread it's not too unhealthy. I can make a large pot for less than $1 (10 servings) and when I buy this stuff in East LA by the cup, it's $2 or more. The Mexican chocolate is super cheap ($2.69 for a box at the Mexican market).

                          2. A lot of great ideas based on Indian cuisine here. Another culture with a real 'cucina povera' is of course Italy. Lots of the great Italian classics are actually cheap to make, as long as you're using seasonal things.

                            If you have the time, home made pizzas are a great example. And I always make sure to leave enough dough for a couple of calzone. that's seriously good take-to-work food.

                            All those great bean stews and soups (the Tuscans live off the stuff) too... chickpea is my favourite.

                            1. haven't had a chance to look at it yet, so i don't know if there are any healthy options, but today's Epicurious e-mail contained suggestions for family meals using affordable ingredients...


                              1. Whenever appropriate-I grind or shred the meat. Makes a nominal sized portion go quite far. I tend to cook with a lot of fresh herbs (thank you Aero Garden!) but dried are great also, and I use Better-than-Bullion chicken base for flavoring, instead of gobs of butter.
                                I never shop for one recipe only, if I can help it-for me that's one sure way to blow $50 fast!
                                Honestly I cook the same as I always did, just shop sales, use coupons, keep to a list and we eat out only 1x a month as opposed to 1x a week.
                                I stopped buying cold cuts - at $9 a pound for Boars Head turkey-for a few dollars more I can get the entire turkey! We love our cold cuts-cut up ontop of salad, rolled up and dipped in mustard, etc- but it's a shock at the checkout. Probably less sodium for us as well. At the deli I would usually get 1/2lb each of turkey, ham, genoa, mortadella, gabbagool, roast beef, baby swiss and yellow american - average of $8 a pound, you can do the math, it was killing our budget.