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Cooking for 2 on a budget?

w
wandajune6 Jan 10, 2012 05:59 AM

I cook dinner for my boyfriend and myself every night. We’re on a tighter budget at the moment and I tend to work late most nights. I’m also trying to lose weight and keep him healthier. In terms of food, he’s more traditional (meat and potatoes) kind of guy whereas I’m pretty adventurous (and less thrilled with meat) so finding meals that work for both of us without breaking the bank.

Does anyone have any favorite recipes to offer? I often find myself cooking meals for 4 then eating the leftovers for lunch. I’m not opposed to doing this but I get bored eating the same thing for 4 meals in a row!

A few other notes: I have a smaller fridge so I can’t store a ton of food (i.e. it’s hard to pack up a big pot of soup) but I have all of the tools, pots/pans, herbs/spices, oils and vinegars, etc. that a well-stocked home would have.

Thanks!

  1. j
    jav308 Feb 4, 2012 11:02 AM

    I'll typically make a variation of the same dish every week, because it's fast, relatively healthy, and pretty inexpensive.

    I'll brown up some sausage (I usually just use an hot italian pork sausage; chicken or turkey sausage would be ideal, but it's usually a little too expensive. I just use a little less of the pork sausage to cut fat and calories). Remove the browned sausage, add in some garlic and onion, saute for a few minutes, add in some kind of greens (i really like using kale or escarole, but spinach & chard would work too. really, whatever you want). Season with salt, pepper, spices. Then, add in some kind of liquid (again, I use what I have. broth, beer, wine, hell I've even used bourbon), once the greens are wilted, throw in a can of beans (cannellini or chick peas are what I usually use). Then just let the liquid reduce a bit. Serve with pasta, polenta, bread, or add several cups more broth and make a soup. I find that by buying the same three ingredients on a regular basis and doing something a little different with it each time, it kind of makes cooking it a no-brainer when I'm tired after work.

    Another recipe I like is one from the most recent issue of cooking light. Chicken with olives and lemons. http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/chick...

    To make this a little more budget friendly, I'll use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If I don't have the herbs, I'll sub dried herbs de provence, and I prefer kalamata olives to oil-cured. The olives are a little pricey, but they can also be used for another quick, great recipe....

    Which brings me to this chickpea salad. One can of chickpeas, some kalamata olives, diced red onion, chopped fresh parsley, lemon (juice & zest), extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper. Mash it up to use as a sandwich filling, serve over greens, or serve as side for a sandwich or something.

    1. k
      kathryng Jan 14, 2012 09:35 AM

      I cook for my husband and I, and face the same problem. It gets really boring eating the same thing two days in a row.

      What I've started doing is making something that serves 4, eating 2 servings for dinner, and then freezing the other to servings for next week or next month. That way you don't get sick of eating the same thing so many times in a row.

      I have a small fridge/freezer as well, but I try to store things really efficiently, which helps. There are a lot of tips you can find online for freezing things efficiently. Make sure you're not using your freezer as a dumping ground for gross food that you want to forget about, buy some wire shelves from office depot (used for organizing papers) that you can place in the freezer, and you should have a good amount of space.

      The best way to save money is not to waste any food (the average American wastes $1,200 of food each year). Try to freeze portions right after you make food (if you know you won't eat all of it) so that they're frozen at the peak of freshness. Reserve 1-2 nights a week for creative ingredient repurposing, so ingredients that you didn't end up using don't go to waste.

      7 Replies
      1. re: kathryng
        John E. Jan 14, 2012 10:40 AM

        That $1,200 figure you used can't be from the average American household, at least I don't believe it. It must be some kind of average that includes school cafeterias, industrial kitchens, food wholesalers and retailers, and food waste in the growing/harvesting process.

        1. re: John E.
          m
          michaeljc70 Jan 14, 2012 12:01 PM

          It says average American, not even household. Seeing as how I spent only about $2000 a year on groceries, that seems very unlikely. Even those that spend more, I can't imagine there is that much waste.

          When eating out, I rarely leave a thing on my plate.

          It wouldn't surprise me if a family of 4-6 that spent a lot on groceries and was careless could waste $1200.

          1. re: michaeljc70
            Wtg2Retire Jan 14, 2012 01:23 PM

            I can easily believe that each American wastes that much food each year. I am speaking from experience. That experience was when I had to learn to stop buying groceries for four. That transition took a long time, and I hate to admit it, but a lot of grocery items ended up being thrown away. I am finally better, but still struggling a bit. And believe me, I do not have the money to throw away!

        2. re: kathryng
          s
          sueatmo Jan 14, 2012 01:34 PM

          I always mistrust statistics like that food waste number. Please cite your source. And then, let me know what the source of the cited source is.

          1. re: sueatmo
            e
            escondido123 Jan 14, 2012 01:52 PM

            Anthropologist Tim Jones says each American family throws out $590 a year. For full info, here's the website:

            http://www.ce.cmu.edu/~gdrg/readings/...

            1. re: escondido123
              s
              sueatmo Jan 14, 2012 03:53 PM

              The project documented and quantified food losses throughout the U.S. food
              production and marketing system using a combination of primary data collection with
              contemporary archaeology techniques, interviews with commodity and industry
              experts as well as with lower level management, site visits, and secondary data
              sources. We measured losses in weight, value, and as a percentage of available food
              supplies. For fruits and vegetables existing farm-to-retail conversion factors were
              reviewed and updated based on primary data and commodity groups, and industry
              experts. Retail, household and foodservice losses were calculated using hand-sorted
              refuse data and quantitative measure of food purchased and used.
              --------------------------------------------------

              Well, OK. I would pay attention to findings of contemporary archaeologists who dig through the garbage of (I assume) individual households to find out how much of everything the individual households threw out. At least that's what I think they did.

              I can't help noting that it isn't the same dollar amount as the previous poster cited though. I would think that for us, the lower number would be closer, but I don't like to think we waste even that much.

              1. re: sueatmo
                John E. Jan 14, 2012 04:11 PM

                I don't think the losses are strictly household food waste. If they are there are a lot of people wasting thousands of dollars of food each year to account for families like mine who actually waste little food from our house each year. I still think the waste must include sources other than just the homes of American families.

        3. i
          Iowaboy3 Jan 13, 2012 06:18 PM

          One other idea from the healthier side is using soy crumbles. You can add them to a chili or pasta sauce in place of ground beef and make meal much healthier. Anywhere you would use ground you can use the crumbles. They'll take on the flavor of any seasonings.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Iowaboy3
            e
            escondido123 Jan 13, 2012 09:07 PM

            So true, they have them at my market in the bulk food area and if you're using ground meat, this should replace/augment half of it.

            1. re: Iowaboy3
              c
              cheesecake17 Jan 14, 2012 05:13 PM

              Cooked lentils can also sometimes take the place of meat. Recently made shepards pie with 1/2 lentils and 1/2 beef. Was delicious, just as beefy, and had some extra fiber.

              1. re: cheesecake17
                p
                pine time Feb 4, 2012 02:02 PM

                We love the soy crumbles and also use cooked lentils in lieu of meat sometimes, as well as meaty-tasting portabellas, which aren't cheap, but still much less than beef.

                1. re: pine time
                  c
                  cheesecake17 Feb 9, 2012 09:18 AM

                  Sometimes you can get marked-down portobellas in the supermarket. I've bought them in the past- they aren't past their prime but they can be broken up.

            2. e
              escondido123 Jan 13, 2012 09:11 AM

              You can also make a bigger and healthier meal by adding more vegetables, which are usually cheaper than meat. Last night I made beef curry which included tomatoes and onions. I added four sliced carrots and a whole head of cauliflower which made it a very large meal--all on brown basmati rice--with less than a pound of meat. And we have leftovers for lunch for two.

              1 Reply
              1. re: escondido123
                a
                AsperGirl Jan 13, 2012 09:31 AM

                Using seasonal veggies and buying the meat on sale can be an additional money saving step for curries.

                In winter I make a lot of seasonal-veggie curries based on whatever meat is on sale. Last night we had lamb shoulder Indian curry with pumpkin & sweet onion. I also have been known to make goat curries, chicken curries. It's such a versatile dish. The curry veggies can be sweet potatoes, squash, peas, tomatoes, greens...

              2. l
                LisaPA Jan 12, 2012 07:18 PM

                To satisfy his desire for meat without blowing the budget (and calorie count), don't serve it whole. A single sausage sliced in coins, or a ham steak diced looks like a lot more meat than sitting there alone on the plate. Or you could take the sausage out of the casing to make a quick meat sauce. Another bonus is that smaller pieces of meat will cook faster, so you can get dinner on the table sooner.

                Buy the less popular cuts of meat as well - bone in chicken thighs are much cheaper than boneless, skinless breasts and have more flavor too. Avoid packaged stuff as much as possible - that's what costs the most.

                I'm a soup lover, so I tend to just throw a bunch of stuff in a pot with chicken broth. My bf loves pasta, so no matter what I put on top of it, he'll at least try it. And you can make pizza dough in a bigger batch, split it and freeze it - the dough balls freeze up small and expand when you thaw them. Toss the dough in the fridge to defrost the night before and it takes very little time to make pizza when you get home. It's actually my preferred go to dinner on grocery night.

                I also recommend cooking bigger/longer things on the weekend, like a roast chicken on Sunday that you can take the meat from for meals later in the week. If you break it down it will take less space in your fridge too. If you have a pressure cooker or slow cooker, those are both great time savers in different ways.

                1. q
                  Querencia Jan 12, 2012 06:24 PM

                  1) Chain supermarkets publish their weekly sale ads in various places. There may be ads in your local paper on a certain day, a sale flyer may be available in the store, and the flyer may be online. Pay attention to these ads because some items will be "loss leaders"---featured at a low price to bring in trade---and that is where you focus your menus for the week. 2) If you have any freezer storage space at all---anything beyond the ice cube chamber of ancient refrigerators---you can stash away a few pints of chili, barbecue, or spaghetti sauce. Having to come and produce a fresh meal after work is sometimes a drag---plan ahead either by cooking and freezing multiple portions or by cooking a big pot of something on the weekend that you can dip into. 3) Another poster suggested that you use the leftovers to make a second meal: take this as an Article of Faith if you are economizing. Roast chicken tonight, take the rest of the meat off the bones, make stock out of the carcass (with onion and celery added). Use the rest of the meat in Chicken & Gravy, chicken salad, chicken enchiladas, chicken baked on (Stove Top) stuffing with canned gravy over the top, or chicken tortilla soup using the stock you just made. Freezing leftovers is ace because even though that food seems boring now, about three weeks from now when you are beat-out tired and come across it in the freezer you will welcome it with glad cries of joy. 4) Consider eggs for dinner as they are quick and cheap. You can fry up half a pound of mushrooms and scramble eggs with them, or make a cheese omelet. Accommodate the BF's appetite by adding frozen French Fries. Have lots of hot buttered toast. Makes a good dinner. 5) Since you work long hours, use a slow cooker to make hearty stewy soups that will be ready for both of you when you get home, whenever. These concoctions are also economical: a bit of meat or chicken, some potatoes, onions, carrots, some dried beans, a can of tomatoes or tomato puree, a bag of frozen tortellini etc---as you like it.

                  1. l
                    laliz Jan 12, 2012 11:23 AM

                    another lentil cheapie quickie goodie easy peasy :~)

                    1 can lentil soup (or make your own)
                    1 jar pasta sauce
                    10 oz frozen chopped spinach

                    over 1 lb. cooked pasta

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: laliz
                      w
                      wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:50 AM

                      I never would have thought of that. THanks!

                    2. s
                      souvenir Jan 11, 2012 06:32 PM

                      My meat and potatoes significant other really likes this Mark Bittman lettuce wraps recipe,
                      http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/3745626...

                      I leave out the mushrooms because he doesn't like mushrooms, and play with the recipe ingredient proportions a bit, depending on my mood and whether I am making lettuce wraps or serving it with sticky rice, or making spring rolls.

                      The recipe calls for ground chicken, but I also have used ground turkey, pork and beef at different times. I tend to prefer the ground turkey version. It serves 4, but you can serve it a couple of different ways within the space of a couple of days, or cut the recipe in half.

                      The pasta with broccoli raab and sweet Italian sausage (at the same URL) is also pretty good and easy to halve.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: souvenir
                        w
                        wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:49 AM

                        I may need to make those lettuce wraps tonight. Thanks!

                        1. re: wandajune6
                          s
                          souvenir Jan 13, 2012 06:08 PM

                          If you do make it, I'll be interested to read what you and your meat and potatoes eater think of it,.

                      2. maabso Jan 11, 2012 05:46 PM

                        You can cook up one of my favourite meals: foul mudammas. It is cheap, filling and extremely healthy. Dump one can of fava beans, one can of chick peas (rinsed and drained), 1/2 tsp of baking soda to soften them up, 1/4 cup of water, and 1 tsp of salt into a pot and simmer until the beans are soft. Take it off the heat, and stir in a sploosh of good quality olive oil, 2 large minced garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley (optional). Serve in bowls leaving enough room at the top for chopped tomatos, onions and pickles and drench in more olive oil. Scoop it up with pita bread and enjoy!

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: maabso
                          w
                          wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:49 AM

                          That sounds wonderful! What kind of pickles do you use? Dill? Sweet? I'm trying to imagine what would be best. I'm also thinking of roasted peppers in it....

                          1. re: wandajune6
                            maabso Jan 13, 2012 07:29 AM

                            I just use dill pickles. Those and the roasted peppers make it a little less authentic, but delicious none the less! My meat and potatoes hubby LOVES this meal, but make sure you have nowhere to be after you eat it, the garlic is intense!

                            1. re: wandajune6
                              c
                              cheesecake17 Jan 14, 2012 05:03 PM

                              it's delicious with middle eastern turnip pickles. you can make them yourself for practically nothing- turnips, one beet (for color), garlic, vinegar, water, salt.

                              1. re: cheesecake17
                                maabso Jan 14, 2012 07:44 PM

                                yummm.. "lifit"... I forgot to mention to add some water to the initially because it gets a little dry once the beans are mashed a little. My parents like to mash all the beans up but I like it part mashed, part whole beans.

                                1. re: maabso
                                  c
                                  cheesecake17 Jan 15, 2012 07:27 AM

                                  yep, we love lifit pickles. super cheap to make. also pickled cauliflower is delicious.

                          2. Hank Hanover Jan 11, 2012 05:14 PM

                            What is going to be difficult is getting off late and still having to cook. You can only withstand so much temptation against the dollar menu or pizza.

                            I highly recommend a 5 cubic foot chest freezer. Sometimes you can find them ultra cheap on craigslist.

                            You will have to go with the quick and easy dishes. Stir fry is great. It will satisfy your meat and potatoes guy and still meet your health, economic and speed requirements.

                            You can make a soup very quickly with boxed chicken stock and veggies and leftover chicken.

                            Pork Tenderloins are very quick and fairly cheap.

                            Rice pilafs are done in 30 minutes. All you do for a rice pilaf is brown some sausage and put it aside.
                            Sweat some veggies like onion, garlic, carrots in the sausage grease. Add the rice and let it toast a little in the grease. You may have to add some oil. The rice should be coated in oil and smell slightly nutty then add your stock (usually chicken 2-3 times the amount of rice). Stir it. Cover it and let it simmer on low for 20- 25 minutes. let it set for 5 minutes off the heat. Fluff and serve with bread and a salad.

                            Pastas are quick and easy. Make sure you have that in your pantry as a back up.

                            Skillet Lasagne is quick.

                            Try not to beat yourself up too much for succumbing to take out. Also, try to get boyfriend to help by getting stuff started.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Hank Hanover
                              c
                              cheesecake17 Jan 12, 2012 07:51 AM

                              It helps to get some things started the night before you're planning to cook. For tonight's dinner, I made a miso-carrot-ginger soup. Last night, before cleaning up the kitchen, I peeled and chopped the carrots, onion, and ginger and stored in the fridge. This morning all was ready to go the minute the baby went in for a nap.

                              It takes getting used to prepping the night before, but it can save you so much time the day of cooking.

                              1. re: Hank Hanover
                                m
                                michaeljc70 Jan 12, 2012 09:33 AM

                                I agree about the freezer. I know the poster said they had a small fridge. If there is anywhere you can fit a freezer, that saves a ton of money. Essentially, you can stock up on meats and poultry, seafood when it is cheapest.

                                The important things are to keep it organized by labeling everything (date and what it is) and packaging it properly to avoid contact with air (I vacuum pack my stuff, but a tight wrap of saran can work, freezer bags less so).

                                I can make chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, lamb, pork or beef tomorrow knowing I got it at the lowest price (or close to it) and not be at the mercy of the grocery store just by pulling it out of the freezer.

                                I am not sure where you live, but in Chicago, meats and poultry are typically 1/2 off on sale or close to it. That makes a huge difference.

                                1. re: michaeljc70
                                  w
                                  wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:48 AM

                                  I'd love a freezer but, for as long as I'm in this apartment, it isn't happening. I'm planning to move this summer and am hoping to get one for the new place.

                                  I used to live in Chicago and loved Stanley's, Pete's and all of those other wonderful produce places. Plus, the meat sales could be amazing. Sadly, I'm in Cincinnati now. Produce isn't anywhere near as cheap as the places I was used to and meats don't get nearly as cheap.

                                  You're making me miss home....

                                  1. re: wandajune6
                                    LaLa Jan 13, 2012 04:25 PM

                                    Cincy is a great town! I suggest for lower price groceries dip down into KY to shop!

                              2. h
                                Heatherb Jan 11, 2012 03:01 PM

                                Vegetarian black bean chili is a favorite of mine. I have it over quinoa or barley with a little cotija. Make it into taco filler on another day. I freeze it in single serving containers that I defrost as needed.

                                Other thing I like to do is buy a bunch of winter vegetables and roast the bejesus out of them (butternut squash, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, parsnips, turnips, beets, etc.). Sometimes I puree the results with broth for soup.

                                Lentils and roasted beets also make for a great lunch salad. My favorite combo right now is feta, roasted beets, lentils, wilted/sauteed baby spinach, chives and a nice vinaigrette (usually red wine vinegar, honey, garlic, dijon, thyme and walnut oil).

                                1. o
                                  onrushpam Jan 11, 2012 02:53 PM

                                  I really like skinnytaste.com, mentioned already by someone else on this thread. I get lots of good ideas from it, using some recipes exactly, but often just using it for inspiration and applying to items on-hand. I also check the online ads for my grocery before making a meal plan and/or shopping list. Often, I'll plug on-sale items into the search function on that and other websites, looking for ideas.

                                  1. w
                                    wandajune6 Jan 11, 2012 02:32 PM

                                    Wow! Thank you all for all of the recommendations!

                                    I'm a bit overwhelmed with all of the feedback but have a ton of ideas for eating through my pantry and approaching my next grocery shopping trip.

                                    Thank you all!

                                    1. s
                                      sueatmo Jan 11, 2012 07:30 AM

                                      The mention of lentils reminded me that I make lentils and spinach for a budget meal. I cook lentils separately, saute onions, and then cook the spinach briefly in the oil and softened onion mixture. I add the drained lentils, and lightly mix.

                                      You can do a lot with this basic recipe, such as cook the lentils in chicken broth, add a few cherry tomatoes to the almost finished dish, season the spinach with nutmeg, add bacon bits or grated cheese, and so forth. I like Beluga lentils the very best for this, and its too bad they are so hard to find. The black lentils are so attractive with the bright green spinach, and the tastes are so compatible. And, if you are making this at the end of the day, it is helpful to have soaked the lentils beforehand. They cook up faster. Even though recipes say that you don't have to soak lenitls, I find they don't get done very quickly unless I soak them.

                                      I intend on making this dish this week.

                                      1. melpy Jan 10, 2012 09:58 AM

                                        You more or less described my entire life. I had to read you name to make sure this wasn't some ancient post of mine. I find if I really like what I make I don't mind the leftovers. However, cooking for four only means you have to eat the leftovers a couple days. They usually last a couple days so you can alternate with new leftovers too. Or just split your recipes in half. Shop the circular, buy on sale and if something is too big, cut in managable portions before freezing. We don't freeze a lot of stuff but fir stretching you budget as well as trimmin your waistline portion control is key! Two people to one chicken breast half. Making meat part of a dish but not te main event works wonders. Cooking light is an amazing resource. Try their Sweet Potato and Apple hash. Homemade pizza can also be very budget friendly and paired with a salad can be nutritious if you are conscious about what you are putting in or on it. You can also repurpose leftovers so you don't get bored. Day one roast the chicken, day two chicken fried rice (weight watchers has a good recipe) day three new meal but chicken salad for lunch. Meal planning is the key for budget success. I can buy groceriesfir two for between 40 and 90 dollars per weeke depending when something is on sale. If meat is on sale my bill is more than week versus the next week when I don't need to buy meat.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: melpy
                                          w
                                          wandajune6 Jan 11, 2012 02:42 PM

                                          It's funny that you mention that- I love the WW fried rice recipe. I've used it as a vehicle for all sorts of leftover meat and veggies. Just one lesson learned: cabbage is awful in it.

                                          Good call on the pizza too- I tend to make homemade pizza when I have a bunch of guys coming over for dinner but never really thought of it as a budget food. Good call! Thanks!

                                        2. darklyglimmer Jan 10, 2012 09:42 AM

                                          You're getting lots of beans/lentils-and-rice suggestions - one lentil-and-rice dish we like is Mujadarrah. If your boyfriend really really has to have a slab of meat to go with it, he can always cook a chicken breast or something to go along with it. I mostly use Deborah Madison's recipe, which appears to be here:

                                          http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/2604...

                                          I make lots more onions than suggested and add 1/2 tsp of allspice to the rice/lentil mixture. If you'd rather use brown rice than white, it somehow seems to cook just fine if you add it with the lentils, even though it seems like there shouldn't be enough time. Greek yogurt on top really makes the dish. My husband is a pretty traditional guy, too, but he likes this.

                                          ETA: the only thing about this recipe that takes more than a half an hour is the onions, and you can do those ahead of time.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: darklyglimmer
                                            w
                                            wandajune6 Jan 11, 2012 02:40 PM

                                            I love mujadarah! It's funny that you mention it- I made it one night, thinking that we could eat off it for a few days (we were both crazy busy at work and I thought it would be easy for reheating). He loathed it! I don't know what it was but he wouldn't touch it. I ended up eating it for about a week and still have a bunch in the freezer. Admittedly, I made a huge batch but it was out of control.

                                            That might make a wonderful dinner for me tonight...

                                            In the future, do you think I could cook the rice and lentils together in the rice cooker? Maybe if I pre-soaked the lentils?

                                            Thanks!

                                            1. re: wandajune6
                                              darklyglimmer Jan 12, 2012 05:37 PM

                                              I have no idea about the rice cooker. Certainly seems like it should work, although I'm not super-familiar with rice cookers. Maybe someone else who is can chime in?

                                              Mujadarah is delicious, but it's not the prettiest meal out there. My husband is one of those people who decides the minute he looks at something whether he likes it or not. When we were dating, he used to ask for his nachos with no guacamole because he thought it looked icky. I put a stop to that right quick. :)

                                              1. re: darklyglimmer
                                                w
                                                wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:46 AM

                                                I'm hoping to have that effect soon!

                                                Maybe I'll try the lentils in a small quantity with the rice, just to see what happens. My ancient rice cooker died a few months back and I fell in love with the replacement- I'm constantly trying to find new combinations to cook in it!

                                                Thanks!

                                                1. re: wandajune6
                                                  c
                                                  cheesecake17 Jan 14, 2012 05:11 PM

                                                  Try serving it with classic accompaniments- carmelized onions & yogurt with cucumber and mint. Turned my hating husband into a questioning one. As in-- when can we have that again??

                                          2. shanagain Jan 10, 2012 09:05 AM

                                            I make lentil frybread tacos frequently - sometimes with a bit of ground beef in the mix - and if the fat from making frybread concerns you, just make wraps instead. This is close to my basic recipe (and where I found the original inspiration): http://allrecipes.com/recipe/tasty-le... but I tend to play with it a lot.

                                            The frybread I make is just two cups of flour, a tablespoon of baking powder, teaspoon of salt and a cup of milk (though I double it for leftovers in my house). Mix, let rest, knead a few times, let rest while your oil comes to about 370/375. Pinch off golfball sized pieces and pull/push/smush into rounds, with a slight hole or very thin area in the center and fry. I garnish with any number of things from sour cream, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, etc.

                                            I figured out one day that for my entire (hungry) family of five plus leftover frybread for breakfast the next day, this meal costs something like $3 sans meat, $6 with a pound of browned ground beef thrown in and can be as healthy as you'd like to make it. Plus, it's really, really good.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: shanagain
                                              w
                                              wandajune6 Jan 11, 2012 02:43 PM

                                              That sounds wonderful! I've always avoided learning to fry things- I figure that it's a dangerous skill for my waistline. But that might be enough to change my mind.

                                              Thanks!

                                            2. s
                                              sueatmo Jan 10, 2012 08:42 AM

                                              Since you are both working on healthier eating, I wonder if you are limiting carbs and/or fat? If you limiting carbs, then you will have to ration beans, unfortunately. If fat, then food preparation becomes paramount, as in low fat cooking. If you count calories, then a different set of parameters is involved. I'd put these concerns first. If the recipe is cheap but has too many carbs, fats or total calories, then it won't work for you as it is.

                                              I like the idea of ingredients as building blocks, which another poster suggested. If you don't want to eat a lot of meat, then you will have to find other reliable sources of lean protein. It might help to think of cheaper sources that are acceptable to you, and then design recipes around those. I find in my own life, that finding cheap, lean protein is the most challenging thing of all. Some pretty cheap sources are canned fish, eggs, fresh chicken, beans (which come with carbs but also come with fiber) and cottage cheese. For the rest of your meal, you choose lots of leafy vegetables and fewer starchy ones. You have to limit the intake of rice--even brown rice--and bread, or if you are concentrating on fats, then you have limit the amount of fat in preparing your foods.

                                              If you don't want to eat leftovers for lunch, then I advise halving a typical recipe when you prepare it. Most recipes for four can be cut in half.

                                              Some suggestions depending on what you are willing to eat: 4 egg omelet with veggies and a little cheese; chili with ground turkey and a few beans and the spice you love; sandwich with homemade hummus and grilled veggies; turkey tenderloin (buy this on sale) sliced for stir fry; black bean soup made thin with fewer beans and pureed after cooking; salad with added protein; grilled pork chops (bought on sale); baked fish with cooked cherry tomato sauce.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: sueatmo
                                                w
                                                wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:45 AM

                                                I should be honest- we're not trying that hard to be healthy. I need to lose some weight but am not hugely focused on it. Unfortunately, my boyfriend has fallen in love with my cooking (nice thing, really) but has started eating for 3 because of it. He's been gaining weight and wants to reverse the trend. I figure that it's for the best for both of us to be more careful.

                                                We probably eat too many carbs simply because they're so easy. A bowl of pasta or rice takes no time or effort and works beautifully with a little bit of this and that on top. I do need to get better about it though.

                                                Thanks!

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                                                escondido123 Jan 10, 2012 08:36 AM

                                                With one chicken my husband and I create three meals. We cut breasts off whole chicken, use them for a roasted, fried whatever dish that focuses on the chicken. Legs/thighs cut cut off and salted, put in the frig for a couple nights later, usually some kind of braises with beans or pasta. Meanwhile, the rest of the raw chicken is made into a big pot of stock and then frozen. When we feel like it, a two cup container of that stock is the essential ingredient for risotto for two.

                                                We also make pasta at least three nights a week, usually with a quick tomato based sauce or sauteed greens/broccoli. Added to two cups (dry) of penne or other macaroni, it makes a nice meal for two with leftovers for one. And when money is tight, we toss spaghetti with garlic and/or Romano and black pepper as a cheap but great main course. (We also get proscuitto ends at our market and dice them up to be the flavoring for all sorts of simple dishes.)

                                                15 Replies
                                                1. re: escondido123
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                                                  michaeljc70 Jan 11, 2012 02:31 PM

                                                  I agree- chicken is a good way to go. It is cheap, and if you plan it right, won't be dry reheated. For example, I almost always eat the white meat the day I roast the chicken. It will be dry if you reheat it. However, if I don't use all the white meat, I use it in a salad cold or I make a stir fry and add it at the very last second just to warm it through (it is cut into small chunks). A panini is also good for the white meat as the bread protects it from overheating and getting dry. If you take out cooked white meat from the fridge a little in advance, just tossing it with a pasta will heat it through (again, cut into small chunks). The dark meat is more forgiving when reheated.

                                                  1. re: michaeljc70
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                                                    escondido123 Jan 12, 2012 09:13 AM

                                                    That's why I cut the raw chicken apart, so that the white and dark meat can each be cooked properly. By the way, the chicken I buy is not cheap, it's at least $10 for one chicken, organic, free range, air dried and that's why I make sure not to waste an ounce.

                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                      m
                                                      michaeljc70 Jan 12, 2012 09:21 AM

                                                      We can get chickens here for 69 or 79 cents a pound on sale. Usually they are 3-4 LB so around $3 or $3.50 per chicken. Obviously they are not organic or free range, but I cannot imagine someone on a tight budget buying those.

                                                      The question I think was really about budget and time. You can cut them apart in advance, but that is additional work if you are tight on time. Even if you cook the white meat separate initially, if you reheat it it will be dry. Roasting a whole chicken is pretty simple. I use the Jean-George method of rotating it 2x (start on back, rotate to one side, then the other) and it produces a perfectly cooked chicken.

                                                      You can also buy a whole roasted chicken at costco for $5 and they are very good and pretty large.

                                                      1. re: michaeljc70
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                                                        escondido123 Jan 12, 2012 10:33 AM

                                                        I offset the price of the chicken by having other meals that are basically meat-free or meat only used an a seasoning. I never reheat the white meat, if there are leftovers they go into a salad or sandwich cold.

                                                        1. re: michaeljc70
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                                                          wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:40 AM

                                                          I used to buy the organic and/or free range chickens and I'll admit that they taste much better. Sadly, grad school and the subsequent student loans have changed my eating habits quite a bit. I do love roast chicken though and will have to try the J-G method. Thanks!

                                                          1. re: wandajune6
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                                                            michaeljc70 Jan 13, 2012 06:54 AM

                                                            Free range chicken are tougher than regular chickens because they are moving around more. Organic taste better because they are fed better food. Regardless, I think the cost difference is way to big to justify them personally.

                                                    2. re: escondido123
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                                                      wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:39 AM

                                                      I love all of these ideas! I never thought of prosciutto ends either- that sounds wonderful!

                                                      I have very mixed feelings about how to buy chicken. Because of my employer (a grocery chain, though I'm not in stores), I can get discounts on private label products. There is usually a very low level private label brand for whole chickens. With my discount they can be incredibly cheap. The downside is that they have lots of juice pumped into them and I worry a bit about hormones. It's a fine line but very tempting. The key for chickens I find is to buy them on Sunday- I never have the time to roast them, etc. during the work week.

                                                      This threat (sub thread?) is great for the chicken suggestions. Thank you all!

                                                      1. re: wandajune6
                                                        John E. Jan 13, 2012 07:31 PM

                                                        I read recently on another thread recently that U.S. chickens do not have added hormones as it is illegal to do so. I also read that some chicken supoers are putting "hormone free" on their labels which is a bit misleading as they are all hormone free. Sort of like putting "fat free" on a roll of Lifesavers.

                                                        1. re: John E.
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                                                          michaeljc70 Jan 13, 2012 09:21 PM

                                                          I find it somewhat funny that a lot of people pay out the nose for organic, free range, etc (not just chicken) even though no study has proven any health benefit. The "old" kind were eaten for 100 years and people were thinner and healthier than they are today. A lot of it is marketing in my judgement.

                                                          A lot of people buy these supposed "healthier" types of food and then cook them in unhealthy ways.

                                                          1. re: michaeljc70
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                                                            escondido123 Jan 14, 2012 08:49 AM

                                                            The "old" kind of chicken were often ones that were raised on farms where they were given feed, allowed to hunt and peck for other food, were not shot full of hormones/antibiotics and were not "enhanced" with water prior to shipping. Many times they were cooked in what we might think of as unhealthy ways--deep fried, smothered in milk gravy etc--that were not exactly good for people though it gave them the calories they needed to do physical labor. Some people were thinner because they worked hard, but they had a shorter lifespan than people today.

                                                            1. re: escondido123
                                                              John E. Jan 14, 2012 09:07 AM

                                                              Those 'old days' were more than 40 years ago. By the way, as I posted upthread, I learned from another 'hound that chickens are not 'pumped full of hormones' in fact the only hormones they have is what is produced naturally. I'm not sure about antibiotics.

                                                              1. re: John E.
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                                                                michaeljc70 Jan 14, 2012 11:28 AM

                                                                Agreed that chickens used to be raised differently (on real old fashioned farms), but like you said, that was before I was born.

                                                                I guess it is nice to have options. If you don't like the modern grocery store chicken which was raised to keep costs low, you can buy more expensive options that are raised differently.

                                                                I just think that since the poster was on a budget, those are not budget items when a very similar (mass farmed chicken) cheaper alternative is available.

                                                                1. re: michaeljc70
                                                                  John E. Jan 14, 2012 12:17 PM

                                                                  While we can afford to eat 'free range' chicken we seldom do so. It's just not convenient. The larger the chicken the more 'chicken' flavor there is. We do eat a lot of grass-fed beef however, well not that much, but the beef we do eat is mostly grass-fed. (Mostly our own 'grass'. We have some farmland in northern Minnesota and a local cattleman bales the clover off our fields and we get beef in return).

                                                                  1. re: John E.
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                                                                    michaeljc70 Jan 14, 2012 12:26 PM

                                                                    While I can afford whatever chicken I want, I just choose to get the most bang for my buck. The differences to me are subtle in organic/free range vs. regular chicken. I prefer to put the money toward better cuts of beef, fresh herbs, etc. where you will notice a big difference in the overall meal.

                                                                    If you are approaching it from a moral point of view (welfare of the chicken, environment, etc) , which I don't, then maybe the differences are bigger. I am approaching it from a taste and economical perspective.

                                                      2. re: escondido123
                                                        MunchkinRedux Jan 15, 2012 01:54 PM

                                                        What about the wings? We reserve those in the freezer until we have enough for a meal, either on their own or to supplement a small-ish pack of them gleaned from the Manager's Special bin.

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                                                        cheesecake17 Jan 10, 2012 07:32 AM

                                                        My husband and I are the same way when it comes to eating habits.

                                                        We eat meat one night a week, chicken one night, and vegetarian the other nights. Lots of soup in the winter, as it's filling and satisfying but relatively inexpensive to prepare.

                                                        Beans and lentils are your friend here, especially dried. Black beans can be soup one night (black bean & sweet potato stew is a favorite) and a dip for veggies for lunch the next day. Chickpeas can be falafel, hummus, rice & chickpeas, chicpea cakes.

                                                        I have a VERY small freezer. I use it mainly to store frozen containers of soup, frozen vegetables, and meat. It's much cheaper to buy family packs of meat and break up the packs than to go shopping for 2 or 3 chicken cutlets or 1/2lb of ground beef. I freeze chicken cutlets/tenders/thighs/drumsticks on a tray, then store in labelled ziplock bags. If the butcher is not busy, I'll ask him to cut a roast in half or cube chicken cutlets for me. When frozen vegetables are on sale, stock up. They can be much cheaper than fresh and they don't go bad. Corn, edamame, peas, broccoli, carrots, pepper/onion mix, artichokes... all stay nicely in the freezer and cook up well.

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: cheesecake17
                                                          pikawicca Jan 12, 2012 06:31 PM

                                                          Last I heard, chicken is meat.

                                                          1. re: pikawicca
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                                                            cheesecake17 Jan 14, 2012 05:01 PM

                                                            Yes, chicken is meat, but when I think of meat I think "ground beef" or "steak."
                                                            In the kosher world, chicken cutlets are $3.99/lb and steak is $11.99/lb.
                                                            When we were kids, tues and wed were 'meat' nights, one was chicken the other was beef.

                                                          2. re: cheesecake17
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                                                            wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:36 AM

                                                            How do you like frozen artichokes? I love artichokes but the idea of frozen has always been a bit intimidating. I work for a grocery chain and get a discount so it's not that big of a leap but I hate the idea of wasting money on something that can't be easily repurposed!

                                                            I love your ideas on chickpeas. I love them myself but haven't found forms that he likes. Chickpea cakes and the like may be enough to change his mind. Thanks!

                                                            1. re: wandajune6
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                                                              cheesecake17 Jan 14, 2012 05:06 PM

                                                              I LOVE frozen artichokes. LOVE. I buy the frozen artichoke bottoms, not the hearts. The hearts can be expensive, but I can get the bottoms for $1.99/bag. I roast them, boil them with lemon, throw them in vegetable soup, put them on pizza, mix them with pasta and pesto. My inlaws claim I make a mean chicken dish with whole grain mustard and artichokes.

                                                              1. re: cheesecake17
                                                                John E. Jan 14, 2012 06:55 PM

                                                                Isn't the artichoke heart and bottom basically the same thing? I have not seen frozen artichoke bottoms in the frozen food section, can you tell us the brand on the bag?

                                                                1. re: John E.
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                                                                  cheesecake17 Jan 15, 2012 07:26 AM

                                                                  No, the heart is quarted and it has leaves. Birdseye brand makes the hearts.

                                                                  The bottoms that I buy are the "meaty" part of the artichoke, kind of scoop shaped, perfect for stuffing. I've only really seen them in the middle eastern stores. One brand is Galil, the other brands just have arabic writing on them.

                                                                  1. re: cheesecake17
                                                                    John E. Jan 15, 2012 08:46 AM

                                                                    Thanks, I see if I can find the bottoms.

                                                          3. Berheenia Jan 10, 2012 06:53 AM

                                                            Here's one you should both like- freeze half for later
                                                            http://www.skinnytaste.com/2010/06/sk...

                                                            1. caseyjo Jan 10, 2012 06:36 AM

                                                              Your freezer is your friend here. I like to make large pots of soups, stews, and chilis, then portion them into individual servings. Some servings go towards dinner, some are lunches, and some get saved in the freezer for when I'm less bored with the food.

                                                              Plan your meals with an eye towards using the leftovers as ingredients in another dish. If you roast a chicken on Sunday, you can use the leftovers for pot-pie, or chicken tacos, or a topping for salads and sandwiches, that sort of thing. Friday frittatas with all your leftover vegetables can be an easy, hearty, meatless meal. You can also do pizzas with leftovers.

                                                              Also, plan your meals in general. Go shopping once a week or so. I usually buy enough for a big dish, some salads (I often do salad prep in advance so I can grab all the stuff I need on my way out the door), and a quick dinner or two. If you know you're gonna be super busy on a certain night, plan accordingly.

                                                              Stock your cupboard and freezer with the necessary ingredients for quick, convenient meals. I make a bunch of pork dumplings to keep in the freezer (just steam them while I'm making rice in the rice cooker), as well as cans of garbanzo beans to roast, and frozen vegetables to throw into a pan with pan roasted meats or fish. A favorite is soba noodles with chicken broth, tons of vegetables, hot chili peppers, and whatever else I want in it (sometimes dumplings). Since you have a smaller fridge, really focus on the cupboard things here.

                                                              Get to know the people behind the meat and deli counters. You can get a third of a pound of ground veal, but only if you ask for it. Ditto cheeses for sandwiches and the like.

                                                              Finally, just stick with it. It's tricky to eat well, feed small amounts of people, and stay on budget. You'll probably buy too much, or too little, or spend too much, but eventually you'll get there!

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: caseyjo
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                                                                wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:33 AM

                                                                The soba sounds wonderful! All of those ideas sound great!

                                                                I wish I could have more freezer space. I'm in a crappy apartment at the moment and, since I know it's a shorter-term situation, I've decided not to invest in things like a freezer. Plus, there's no place to put one.

                                                                I love the frittata idea as well. Pondering what I have in the fridge to add to one...

                                                                Thanks!

                                                              2. todao Jan 10, 2012 06:15 AM

                                                                Recipes might help you find creative ways to prepare meals for two, but developing and using creative cooking imagination will help more. Try looking at your ingredients as building blocks. For example, preparing a small roast or ham tonight as an entree and using it in a casserole or a meaty sauce the next night (or a couple of nights later) provides both variety and cost savings.
                                                                There isn't enough space here to go into the specifics, but you get the idea.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: todao
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                                                                  wandajune6 Jan 13, 2012 06:34 AM

                                                                  That's a great call, thanks!

                                                                  I didn't grow up eating a lot of meat so that's a pretty natural approach to me. I'm just trying to get my boyfriend trained on it-- I can't cook a chunk of meat without him trying to eat the whole thing!

                                                                  1. re: wandajune6
                                                                    MunchkinRedux Jan 15, 2012 11:26 AM

                                                                    Set aside the extras before dishing up and serving the meal.

                                                                    1. re: MunchkinRedux
                                                                      melpy Jan 19, 2012 07:58 AM

                                                                      And threaten that it's for your lunch.

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                                                                  wyogal Jan 10, 2012 06:14 AM

                                                                  Beans and rice can really stretch the food dollar, as well as being healthy. It seems every region in the world has a signature dish. Depending on the herbs, spices, protein, one can change it up easily, too.
                                                                  My favorite rice is the Lundberg brand, which can be a bit pricier than some others, but it is delicious. I like brown basmati, and brown jasmine, which one can find store-brand. You can also get a short grain brown rice for risotto and other uses where you want a stickier rice.
                                                                  I have a couple of rice cookers, one is small enough to make just a few servings. Another useful tool is a small slow-cooker. I use it for a couple of pork chops or sirloins, or soups, especially when cooking for two, a regular size one is just too big.
                                                                  I know some people hate them, but I find keeping bags of frozen chicken tenders handy. Not sure how much freezer space you have, though.
                                                                  As far as recipes go, I don't usually use them, other than for ingredient ideas and proportions. Knowing techniques frees me from having to find a recipe for two.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: wyogal
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                                                                    singlemalt Jan 11, 2012 03:14 PM

                                                                    Are you the person who called The Splendid Table radio show last Sunday with the same question? You might be able to go to NPR's website and listen to her response. Basically, she advised Middle Eastern and Mexican. Most meats is regular Mexican or TexMex are cheaper cuts but are prepared to make delicious dishes. Example: skirt steak for fajitas and "shank" to be used in Caldo de Res. You have a lot of very good suggestions here also. I am lucky that way in that I love beans of all kinds.

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