Friday, August 10, 2007

Cheap easy meals for 2

Time for another Frugal Friday!

As much as I like good food, I really do like cheap food too. As a stop gap about eating out too much, I like to keep a few cheap easy meals in my pantry and my recipe book that I can make without much fuss.

When you are initially trying to cut your grocery budget, try to include one of these cheap easy meals per week in your regular meal rotation. They're also quite handy if you come to the end of the month and realize you have almost nothing left in your budget.

As always, I really love food, so these are meals that I consider really good eats or I wouldn't serve them.

Baked potatoes

These strike me as really good quality comfort food while being the ultimate cheap easy meal. I always buy baking potatoes from the loose bin rather than using bagged potatoes (which I find useful and frugal for other purposes like mashing or slicing) because I like to hand pick some big beautiful potatoes. I always have trouble getting mine to bake long enough, so I start them in the microwave. I just puncture them a few times, microwave for about 3 minutes, then roll them in oil and kosher salt and put them in a 350 degree oven for about an hour to get a nice skin on them (yes I eat the skin. Mmmmmm. )

You can top a potato with just about anything. It's most frugal, if you're in a pinch, to just eat it with a little butter or sour cream and some salt and pepper, but that's also BORING. I like steamed broccoli (you dont' need much, so I usually wait until I have leftovers) and cheese, leftover shredded barbecue meat, or chili. It's still cheap even if you use chili from a can, but it's yummier and more frugal if you use homemade.

Chili

Yes, in my opinion, chili itself is a cheap easy meal. You can use the cheapest of meats - a cheap roast of beef or pork, or some 70-30 hamburger or ground turkey you got for $1 a pound - or even make it without meat by increasing the beans or adding TVP. I say beans because, in my opinion, chili is better and MUCH more frugal if you make it with beans (my apologies to Texas). Personally I like a variety of white beans, black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans, but hubby just likes the kidney beans so that's how we make it here.

We make a big pot of this at a time. We simply brown whatever meat we're going to use in the bottom of the pot, sweat some onions if you like them, then add in your beans, some tomato paste or sauce, some water, and a variety of spices (we've bought the seasoning mix packets, and they aren't bad, but we tend now to just use chili powder from a can along with cumin, garlic powder, and some pepper). Cook it for hours. You can do this in a crockpot also, and that way you can leave the house while it cooks.

We usually eat it by itself at least once, then portion the rest into several smaller containers. The chili can be stretched even further by serving it over rice (flavored race, from a packet or homemade, is divine), and you can make several different cheap easy meals by making chili mac, chili pie, even frito pie if you are from certain parts of the country. And of course, I always save enough to serve over baked potatoes.

Pasta

Pasta is definitely my drug of choice. I know it's not the most healthy food in the world, but it makes me feel calm and happy. It also makes an incredibly cheap and easy meal.

We try to keep several containers of homemade "cooked all day with a bay leaf and secret seasoning mix" sauce in our freezer for pasta and pizza at a moment's notice, but when we run out, I have a quick fix that carries the day. I buy petite diced tomatoes by the can when they are on sale. When I need sauce in a hurry, I just put some olive oil and garlic, maybe onion if I have it, in a sauce pan, add the tomatoes and some dried basil and toss until it's coated and heated through. If you don't like the tomato chunks in your pasta (as I do and hubby of course does not), you can hit this with a stick blender or throw it in you food processor for a more authentic sauce.

This post has gotten quite long, so I will stop there for today and hopefully get back with more cheap easy meals at some point in the future.

7 comments:

Ewokgirl said...

Great meal tips! I may be thumbing my nose at my heritage, but this Texan prefers beans in her chili. It's not as greasy that way!

I found that chili can also make a great, frugal gift. I have a friend who loves spicy things, but his wife won't eat anything spicy, so he doesn't get them very often. When his birthday rolled around, I pulled some of my individually-portioned chili out of the freezer and presented him with it. It was a strange sort of birthday gift, but he loved it!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I like potato skin too - crispy is so good! I hate the soggy wrapped in foil to bake it skin. :) But my husband says I use WAY too much butter (margarine, Parkay, whatever).

Jennifer

Chief Family Officer said...

Great ideas! Don't forget sweet potatoes are delicious baked and have more nutrients than regular potatoes. They also have more flavor than regular potatoes so you can eat them with fewer toppings if you're running low. Twice baked sweet potatoes are fantastic, too.

mommy to four j's said...

thanks for the tips.
char

Laane said...

Baked potatoes here are made of the left over potatoes.
Little bit of button in the pan, slices of potatoe. Untill they're brown.

Sometimes I like to add bacon, or scrambled eggs.
It's great with lettuce.

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