Challenge: feed two for a week on $80 in nyc
So...maybe this isn't a challenge outside of take out crazy new york. Im sure there are many that are scoffing at the question. But alas! My husband and I are trying to eliminate take out once and for all and eat soley from what we (I) :) cook from home.
But we've run into problems menu planning for the week- he doesnt like eating the same thing twice, unless its a turkey sandwich or a whole chicken, which i dont eat (i'm a pescetarian).
Ive been buying 2 filets of fish eating with a side veg, but sole has gotten boring and everything else is not budget friendly. I seem to always have leftover herbs that go to waste, or if I make a panini, extra bread that goes to waste....
In general, I try to stay away from processed food- ie i prefer to make my own pasta sauces, but on the cheap. I dont mind food shopping every day if thats what it takes! Just trying to stay away from Rice-a-roni type stuff.
So, what are your "left-over-proof-week-menus" that are also budget friendly? let me into your heads for your week of menu planning!!
Thanks, and best,
Be sure not to waste anything - leftover herbs can be frozen, zest lemons before squeezing and freeze zest and juice if you aren't using it right away. Buy fruits in season and preserve for when it is more expensive. Maybe you don't like canning but I lived all winter on the fruit I froze and canned in season. Soups are also a good way to get all the food groups, fast to make and can be inexpensive. Make stock from all your seafood shells, chicken carcasses, etc. and it can either be pressure canned or frozen. Crepes are inexpensive to make. Eggs are economical. Pastas can be inexpensive. Cut back on cheese.
Living in New York City and also eating almost all meals for two at home on a similar budget, the biggest thing is probably going to be finding a good market. I don't know what neighborhood you're in, but neither the neighborhood bodega nor the hyper-upscale markets are where you're going to want to shop--and it probably won't be one place. Learn what each market does best--some are better at meat, some fish, some veggies, etc. Chinatown is great for fish, and learn to love the ethnic markets for spices--it's incredible how expensive spices are in the local markets, and how cheap they are in ethnic markets. Learn to buy in bulk (Whole Foods and Fairway usually have great bulk bins), it can save a ton of money.
If you've got some time and a car on your hands (or live in Park Slope) and don't mind the food-nazi attitude, you can eat like a king for cheap by shopping at the Park Slope Food Coop. Have to join and work 2.75 hours every 4 weeks though, in addition to waiting in the crazy checkout lines. Not for me, but some people love it.
Beans are a classic budget food. Good staples to keep on hand. if you cook them yourself from dry they are even cheaper, and they freeze really well.
You can use the beans as a base for lots of things like homemade veggie burgers, or toss some frozen shelled edamame in pasta (esp. soba).
Try a vegetarian chili with 1 15 oz can each of black beans and black eyed peas, and a lg 28oz fire roasted tomatoes, Toss in a handful of mushrooms, some roast squash, chipotles in adobo (one or two peppers + a little sauce), cumin, s&p, chili powder, add whatever else in there.
Also, try to go to the farmers market and buy in season, or on sale at the grocery store.
i cook a lot of beans and whole grains (which I buy in bulk) - they take a while to cook, but you can made a big batch at once during the weekend and incorporate different toppings to turn it into a completely different dish. i made this last night: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st... which was really good, and was inexpensive.
i've also started cooking some mexican, chinese, and vietnamese in order to add variety to our meals and because the ingredients are really cheap where i live.
This is a great idea, and key to keeping my budget on track. Good example: just yesterday I put a pound of black beans in the crock pot to soak. Before I went to bed, I added a diced onion, a jalapeno, and a couple of cloves of garlic. When I get home tonight, I'll quarter it: half will become black bean soup (with addition of stock, spices, veggies), a quarter will drain and go in the freezer for who-knows-what, and a quarter will be be the base for black bean and corn enchiladas (which I'll serve with some frozen Spanish rice).
I do the same with other kinds of beans too: pintos turn into refried beans, rice and beans, Mexi-inspired corn /chile/bean chowder, tamale pie, etc; white beans become cassoulet, crostini spread, minestrone, white chili, etc.
Beans make up the primary protein in my house, and I almost always have a batch of dried beans in the crock-pot. The key is using them in many different ways: as a feature, in soups, chilis, casseroles, spreads, sides, etc. I was amazed at the money I saved when I switched from canned to dried.
Tell us the local cost of: Tilapia, Catfish, Basa/Sutchi, bulk (1-2 lb bags) of dry red or black beans, rice, and couscous. Fresh bell peppers, celery, onions, etc.
Tell hubby to get used to eating the same thing twice a week!
Think casseroles not one-shot plated meals. Leftover herbs and bread can go in them.
Think soups, stew, chowders, etc. Whatchagot Fish Stew can be really tasty, and he can add some separately cooked, shredded chicken or other meat if he wants.
Think 'meat-like' dishes - Eggplant Parm, Mushroom Barley Bake, Tabouli with lots of bulgar wheat, chunky salads not green-fluffy ones, or Chef salads with add-your-own protein.
Try catfish, and buy shrimp at a warehouse club frozen with the tails on. You can get 2 lbs for $14.
I usually also buy large bags of rice (basmati, Jasmine, etc) there, but the up front purchase may affect your first few weeks. It is way cheaper than Rice a Roni.
Learn to make bread pudding for dessert, stick with fruits and veggies in season, and try eating chicken on the bone -- it is cheaper and tastes better.
Today, just out of curiosity, because I feel like I'm spending a lot on groceries, I looked over my credit card bills to see how much we're spending on groceries for a family of two adults and a toddler in NYC, and I think we're already around your budget target. My wife eats lunch out, and the two of us go out for dinner once a week, but other than that, pretty much all meals are eaten at home, and we're coming in at around $90 a week for the meals we eat in without really trying, and that includes a couple of bottles of wine a month and fine cheeses.
I don't feel that I'm particularly doing anything to economize, but I try not to plan too much and to make good food from whatever looks fresh and interesting in the market, and there isn't a lot of waste in my kitchen, so I suppose it's natural for me to cook in an economical way. I don't particularly skimp on the quality of fresh ingredients, but if there's a good deal to be had, I'll figure out how to take advantage of it. We buy very little in the way of processed food and no sodas. I don't hesitate to spend money on good ingredients, oils, cheeses, vinegars, Greenmarket produce, etc., if having them around will inspire me to cook more rather than eat out. The same goes for kitchen tools, which I consider long term investments.
Making your own stock is a way of using a lot of things that might otherwise get thrown out--bones, chicken backs, vegetable peelings, fish heads, and such--and substantially improving the overall quality of your cooking. I always buy whole chickens, for instance, and if I don't have a plan for a whole chicken, I'll separate them into boneless breasts, leg-thigh portions, and wings, saving the backs, necks, and bones for stock and freezing the parts I'm not going to use immediately. A vacuum sealer is handy for such tasks.
I've also been buying local grass-fed beef in bulk with friends who organize to purchase shares in whole sides.
I often make my own bread, but not always.
If you eat a lot of fish, you've just got to go with what's local and fresh, and it will often be what's the most economical. There's plenty of flounder, fluke, skate, and clams for instance lately around New York. For a while there was a lobster glut a few months ago, so even lobster was cheap. Some of Trader Joe's frozen fish is surprisingly good--sockeye salmon, coho salmon, Dover sole, halibut steaks, and a few others we've tried held up fairly well.
If you buy more fresh herbs than you can use, tie them in loose bundles and hang what you can't finish immediately to dry.
If you have leftover bread, you can make French toast, bread pudding, or bread crumbs.
If you have leftover rice, you've got the makings of fried rice, rice omelets, and rice pudding.
I use just about everything.
Asian markets are great sources of bargains, but they also often have the freshest fish and produce, as well as the widest selection of produce. Cheap food is often good food.
re: David A. Goldfarb
I've posted about this before, but my go-to way to use up stale bread is pappa al pomodoro, a Tuscan tomato soup thickened with bread. This recipe is pretty close to what I do:
I often also add parmesian or romano cheese and fresh herbs, usually basil. If you want a smoother texture you can put it through a food mill or use an immersion blender, which is how I learned to make it, though usually I'm too lazy. You can also bulk it up by adding pasta, rice, canned white beans, other veggies, spinach, or whatever you've got in your fridge that needs using up. Or serve it with grilled cheese. If you've got leftovers, it freezes well, just add a little water & a drizzle of olive oil and pop it in the microwave.
This takes a little time, but making "homemade potstickers" is a fun and tasty project! In fact, it was a great social event in grad school to get together and chat while folding up little dumplings for immediate and future feasting.
I'm sure you could roll out your own potsticker dough (would love to know if there's any experts who do!)....but I just buy the frozen skins for convenience.
You could make only one filling, but I love making a couple of different ones, all seasoned with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and Sriracha:
-vegetarian (with firm tofu, napa cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and scallions)....just make sure it's cooked well to evaporate most of the moisture
-shrimp + vegetables
-ground meat + vegetables
-shredded meat + vegetables
Since you only need less than a tablespoon of filling per potsticker, it's basically a riff off of the traditional "cheap pasta dishes"..which reminds me, you can definitely use potsticker dough to make "instant ravioli"- fill with ricotta mixed with fresh herbs (or once, I did ricotta + cooked leftover butternut squash + sage- SO GOOD)....Stuff into skins, boil, and sauce up however you like!
For long-term storage- I line cookie sheets with wax paper, lay out the packets single-layer, freeze solid, and dump into freezer bags for rescue-sustenance down the road...
So, in short- I suggest potsticker skins are a fun, cheap, versatile investment. Good luck!
The social aspect of getting a group together to make these is a great idea. I've always wanted to get into a meal co-op but the opportunity hasn't presented itself. If the OP has a few neighbors or nearby friends that are in the same boat, a co-op is a really great option. Not only is it much easier to come up with one menu per week and cook lots of it, the obligation to the group makes it much more likely that you won't pick up the phone and order out.
Tamales are another good social dish to prep ahead.
Arugala: I cook for two in downtown Chicago, somewhat comparable to NY I think. We seldom eat out (husband has health issues). You should be able to eat very well on the budget you describe. 1) Find out when local papers print weekly grocery ads, study them, and skim off the loss leaders, which can represent a dramatic value. 2) Seafood: Trader Joe's frozen seafood counter will definitely be worth a visit---Dover sole and wild-caught salmon for a start. Also their crab-stuffed flounder filet for $2.99 is delicious. Non-TJ's fresh fish: catfish filet, very sweet, non-fishy , and boneless. Other budget seafood would be salmon patties or salmon loaf made from canned salmon; clam chowder from canned minced clams; tuna-noodle casserole from canned tuna; tuna salad from canned tuna. Also look for deals on bags of frozen shrimp. 3) Does your husband eat meat? Ground beef= meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti sauce, shepherd's pie, hamburgers, sloppy Joe, moussaka, picadillo. Or mix it with cooked rice, season with mint-garlic-dill-lemon-cinnamon a la Middle Eastern and use to stuff tomatoes, peppers, squash. Boneless skinless chicken breast on sale makes a good stir-fry. 4) Frozen tortellini (meat or cheese) makes a substantial soup if you start with stock (from your pot or a box), add a lot of canned tomatoes and tomato paste, throw in a can of TJ's Organic Marinara Sauce and a LOT of basil and garlic, and the cooked tortellini. 5) You can put anything on a pizza crust. 6) You can make a quiche of anything if you have a crust (bought), 3 eggs, and a cup of milk. 7) Freeze the extra panini bread to avoid waste. 8) Buy produce at ethnic or street markets. 9) Avoid expensive WholeFoods etc. 10) One rotisseried chicken from market = dinner, then take the meat off the bones and make chicken salad; add the carcass to your stock pot.
- do you eat shellfish? you can often find good deals on bags of frozen shrimp...i always keep them on hand because you can just defrost one or two servings right before cooking it (i'm typically cooking just for myself).
- the leftover herbs can be turned into pesto, or blended into homemade soup or bean dip.
- the leftover bread from panini can be toasted & cubed for croutons, staled and processed for bread crumbs, or used in a bread pudding or strata.
- polenta is an inexpensive starch you can prepare & serve a variety of ways.
- eggs are budget-friendly and offer a lot of options.
there have been a lot of threads in the past year about recession-friendly/frugal cooking and tips for making the most of what you've got. plenty of inspiration & ideas...
I assume you both work, so no elaborate meals with lengthy prep-times, right? Here are a few options I use:
We have a market close to us that specializes in local, organic meats. They vacuum pack single portions of various wonderful meats, often with a marinade, that make an easy foundation for quick meals. I'm sure you have similar options in Manhattan. Our market also sells interesting fresh caught fish. Its easy enough to come up with a meal based on a mixed grill.
I'm sure you have access to packaged fresh pasta: ravioli, tortellini, etc. I always have a package of those around for a quick meal. There are so many quick sauces you can make, or just dress with sage butter, or pesto, or olive oil and parm...
The other idea that we try to do (but only occasionally succeed) is to cook pots of stew, curry, soup, etc. on a Sunday that can be reheated for weekday meals. When you reheat a one-dish meal like that you should always finish it with some fresh herbs, twist of lemon... something to breath some life into it. With that its nice to bake biscuits, muffins, or even some ready-bake breads to have something fresh to go with it. Nothing wrong with Jiff cornbread in my book -- or if you want to spend more there are plenty of more gourmet mixes. Would it be acceptable to make two meals from the same base if the sides are different? Soups can be totally re-invented for a second meal by adding pasta, shrimp, other veggies, etc.
In a similar vein, we occasionally pull out our crock pot to make simple slow-cook stews or other similar dishes where you toss it all in the crock in the morning and come home to an aromatic, hearty meal. Crock pots are the best way to cook beans too.
Finally, Trader Joe's business is based on prepped-meals-for-working-couples. Their freezer section has a lot of better-than-rice-a-roni meals. Its also nice to have a bag of frozen blanched shrimp around, either for a quick shrimp cocktail course, or for saute dishes. Right now our freezer has a half-finished bag of pot stickers that make a fun quick course.
Maybe these ideas will start the pot stirring...
Yes, the Trader Joes freezer section is an old friend... ! Unfortunately, I find myself shunning the Trader Joes in Manhattan because of the crowds after work. I should get back on that, though I'd prefer cooking it myself from scratch if I can help it.
I think I overstated my husbands disdain for leftovers, by the way... it would totally be acceptable to make two meals from same base if the sides were different- thats exactly what I would like to know!
My issue is that if I make for instance, fish with steamed aspargus and brown rice. After the meal, I will have leftover rice and asparagus, what do do with it? (a stir fry). From the stri fry I have left over ginger, .. and on and on. Because im not in the swing of cooking everyday, Im curious what people who have a bit more of a routine make over and over out of the same ingredients.
BernalKC, what are your favorite soup turned second meals?
Leftover rice becomes fried rice in our house. Assuming the asparagus was al dente to begin with, in it goes... (Maybe this is as good a place as any to ask the board for frittata ideas. Any time I try frittata is comes out totally boring!)
Omlettes are another way to use leftover veggies provided they're not totally pooped.
Favorite re-invented soup? Hard to say because soup recipes are rarely repeated exactly. The general idea is to serve a relatively clear broth soup on day one and add greens, or pasta, or beans to make a minestrone variation on day two. Another approach is to puree the leftover soup, maybe add some milk or dairy, then finish it with a dollop of sour cream, pesto, or drizzle some nice oil, croutons, crushed nuts, herbs, green onion... to top it off.
my mouth actually just watered after reading the good live oil, crushed nuts, herbs, and green onion to top a soup off. Good tip!
think Im going to have to spend Sunday as a bulk cooking day of soups, etc. and freeze them.
I suppose asking people for their specific shopping lists for the week is a bit much, im going to have to hit the books!! I guess Im asking how to think like a chef, but that will come with time =!
Indeed it takes time.
So don't aim too high to start. If you take out 5 days a week, aim to reduce that to 3, then when that is the norm go down to 1, then none. Just learning to bank a few meals per week is enough of a challenge. It takes time to develop a good repetoire, and to acquire a shelf of trusted cook books.
You would not want the whole thing to come crashing down by unplugging take-out meals you like before you can deliver tasty replacements.
As you do more you will get the hang of things and learn what does/doesn't freeze well. Some thoughts on leftovers:
-I like dinner leftovers to heat for lunch the next day
-frozen tuna is less expensive here than fresh but, IMO, isn't acceptable for a tuna steak dinner. It is wonderful, however, for tuna burgers!
-leftover flank steak could become steak salad or fajitas
-baked potatoes can become home fries
-green veg can be incorporated into a quiche
-extra rice can be put into stir fry, curried rice (with some lentils!) or as the base of a casserole
-chicken (think cheaper cuts or take the skin off yourself) can be served two nights with two totally different sauces, made into salad for sandwiches or put into quesadillas.
-if you like to reheat shellfish then shrimp scampi one night, tossed with angel hair pasta the next.
-make two different mains but serve with the leftover sides
As others have said, I also think it helps to plan a menu and grocery list...none of that 4 o'clock "oh no! what will we have for dinner tonight?!"
I am currently trying to feed myself on $100 per MONTH! Don't always make it but I've become a bit of an expert on economizing.
I try not to shop more than every two weeks -- since I live in a small city and have a car and all, I can buy in larger quantities but in NYC that might not be possible! I find that shopping any more often than that (except to buy the occasional jug of milk or carton of eggs if I've run out) automatically increases my overall grocery expenditures. I still eat plenty of fresh food, and I definitely do shop the farmers' markets in season more often than every two weeks.
My menu plan goes a little like this: I plan around starches and preparations (i.e., Monday: pasta, Tuesday: risotto, Wednesday: something in the Crock Pot, Thursday: soup, Friday: dough-based like pizza, for instance). A bunch of reasons. Starches are everyday bargains with fairly consistent, predictable prices. They're infinitely adaptable -- as cheesecake17 said, there are a million ways to make pasta. A flexible plan allows you to get the best bargains on the freshest ingredients, to adapt meals based on your time constraints, and to have consistency without feeling like you're stuck with whatever's on the menu that particular day. It's actually much easier to be creative within certain parameters!
It's great that you avoid processed food -- not only will it probably kill you ;) but it's almost always more expensive than homemade. So you're already saving yourself money there.
Regarding leftovers, my advice is twofold: tell your husband (gently and sweetly) that if you want to save money, it would be lovely if he'd make an effort to conquer his aversion the idea of eating leftovers. (hehe) But secondly, there's no reason you have to eat EXACTLY the same thing twice! Make risotto one night and have lovely crisp risotto cakes on a big salad a couple nights later! Or take the leftover bread from panini and turn it into a savory bread pudding with spinach and sundried tomatoes and boconcini. Learning what freezes well goes a long way toward avoiding the trap of pitching food (example: cooked rice! I got this tip from no less legit a source than Masaharu Morimoto -- not in person, obviously, but in Food and Wine mag).
I could go ON and ON. Saving money in the kitchen is a hobby of mine... ;) Food is basically my only variable expense (everything else is pretty fixed) so I'm working out how to indulge my foodieness on a shoestring. It's an adventure!
LauraGrace, Please do go On and On!!
I'd love to hear more of what meals you turn into other meals. I get what you say in theory, but my reality always falls short and Im not sure why! I The risotto is and risotto cakes sound great.. you dont find aborio rice pricey? how do you do your risotto cakes? This is just what im looking for. How, specifically do you feed yourself for $100 a month? (is this creepy? dont mean to creep you out! :) )
Hehe... not creepy at all. I love sharing what I've learned with other folks.
I FIENDED on frugal-living/cooking blogs for weeks (hell, I still do) when I realized that private school teachers do not, in fact, make more money than public school teachers. :) I even started a frugal living blog!
Specific suggestions for meals that morph into other meals (incidentally, this is another reason why having starch-focused menu plans is a great idea):
-leftover pasta becomes spaghetti frittata, one of my favorite egg preparations
-leftover rice becomes... anything. Faux-risotto. Crispy rice and veggie patties. Fried rice. Filler in middle-eastern meatballs. Filler in homemade veggie burgers. Etc.
-leftover bread becomes bread crumbs, savory bread pudding, grilled cheese sandwiches to go with tomato bisque which freezes beautifully
Risotto cakes: take leftover, cold risotto, pat into cakes, flour, and fry in shallow oil until crispy and lovely and delicious. Serve with poached eggs or on a salad or both, for heaven's sake. Regarding arborio rice, yes it's a bit pricey, isn't it? I find it MUCH less so at Whole Foods in the bulk section. I buy most of my rice and other grains, as well as most of my beans and legumes, in bulk. So much less expensive!!!
How I feed myself for $100 per month (like I said, I don't always make it -- usually it's probably closer to $120 or $130) is not eating meat very often (maybe once a week), never buying processed food, baking my own bread, making basically everything from scratch, and having what I call "calculated indulgences." If I feel deprived, I'm that much more likely to say, "Screw the budget! I'm buying champagne AND a ribeye AND fancy cheese AND these three boxes of cookies and I'm getting takeout on the way home! So there!!" So once a month or so I get one really lovely thing. A bag of meyer lemons, or a wedge of really gorgeous cheese, or some incredibly over-priced gourmet ice cream or something. Keeps me sane. Beer also keeps me sane, so I have that in the (ahem, non-grocery) budget as well.
I also ALWAYS have food enough in my pantry and fridge so I absolutely cannot justify going out or ordering in. I always have eggs, canned tomatoes, onions, milk, pasta, rice, chicken stock in the freezer, frozen fruit and vegetables, fresh garlic, lentils, and spices on hand. With all that? There's no way I can rationalize going out. I mean, if worst comes to worst I can scramble eggs in five minutes, you know? Or have pasta and a quick tomato sauce in fifteen.
Ok, this is what my cheap vegetarian supper consisted of: a small stack of an experimental dosa / socca pancake hydrid and a can of lentils jazzed up with masala.
So basically, soak overnight in water
1 cup of rice (white or brown or a mix)
1/4 cup of peeled lentils (see your India store for Urad Dal)
The next day, drain and grind in your food pro with a bit of water (maybe a 1/2 cup for starters). Let the batter sit on a warmish overnight (put it to 350F for 30 secs, and then turn off) so it ferments (it didn't happen for me: too cool in my house). Anyhow, you can leave that in the fridge for a few days if you're not about to use it.
When ready to use, thin the batter out and add a half cup of chickpea flour, a tablespoon of oil, some ground cumin & coriander, salt and pepper.
Heat a teflon pan, use a tiny bit of oil, and make yourself a little stack of thin and golden savoury pancakes. Sprinkle some lemon juice over each pancake before slipping it into a warmed oven (I just happened to have a half lemon sitting on the counter).
While that’s cooking, quickly chop up one onion and one small red pepper, sauté them with cumin seed and a masala or curry mix. Add a drained can of lentils. Serve the lot with Indian pickles and chutneys, and a raita if you are inspired to make one.
The husband and I scarfed this down in happy surprise: I was not expecting this experiment to turn out very well.
Ingredients: Rice, dried lentils or dal, chickpea flour, onion, red bell pepper, 1 can of lentils (even cheaper if you prep from dry)... super cheap and no leftovers whatsover.
But about leftovers in general: they will great lunches for you, even if he’s turning his nose up (what a silly billy!)
It takes a bit of planning, obviously, but the hands-on time was super short.
I love Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian; lots of cheap, easy, fast ideas, and loads of variations to inspire you.
I like paging through it, picking out a few recipes and planning my shopping around them over the weekend. I actually write down the recipe titles and page numbers and put it on the fridge. I'll cook maybe one or two dishes, along with a soup, on Sunday to get us started and have a few lunches ready to go.
And then when I get home from work, tired and cranky and liable to phone in an order of something, I force myself to look at my list and go, "Oh yeah, that looked so good and fast, and ordering in would take longer!"
I cook for two also, and on a similar budget. I buy fruits and veggies according to what's in season and on sale or cheap. If I have leftover mushrooms or eggplant, I add it to baked ziti. The same with bread- if I buy a loaf to make sandwiches, I make the rest into crostini rounds or croutons.
Do you cook meat and poultry for your husband? If you do, you can always make yourself a piece of fish and him a piece of chicken. Lots of people like Chinatown for seafood. In my area of Brooklyn, the Chinese supermarkets have the cheapest and freshest fish.
Pasta is always cheap, and it can be dressed up a million different ways. Homemade pizza is also a great idea and very quick to prepare. For sides.. don't totally rule out more expensive salad greens. A few handfuls of arugula isn't so expensive and is really satisfying with a great dressing.
Presentation is also important.. if it's just thrown onto the plate as opposed to arranged, the food just doesn't look as tasty. I try to take a minute to two to arrange the asparagus, or fan out the potato slices.
You didn't mention if $80 covers the two of you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or only some meals...