What's for tea?

18 March 2009
Putting nutritious food on the kitchen table is one of the tasks a homemaker must repeat every day. I cringe when I think of the many times I asked my mum "What's for tea?". That's the Australian way of asking what we would be eating for dinner that night. Both my mother and father were very good cooks and it wasn't a problem for them to cook whatever we wanted. The difficult part was deciding what to cook, doing it every day of the year, and making it nutritious, tasty and cost effective.

My mother's answer to my constant question was "What would you like?" and I'm pretty sure I always said I didn't care. Of course, my mother was trying to get some ideas for that night's meal, but I didn't make her job any easier with my answers. I rarely asked my children what they'd like for dinner, except when it was their birthday, then they could choose their favourite dinner and whatever it was, I'd put it on the table.

Now there is just Hanno and I and I try to cook meals that combine ingredients from the backyard with those from the pantry. This post will document one day last week and I hope to give an accurate costing of the food I served.


Porridge (oatmeal) soaked overnight and cooked with half water, half milk, served with some stewed apples, and black tea. Cost: about 55 cents.

Pikelets with homemade jam, and tea. Cost: about 40 cents.

Freshly baked bread with cheese, tomato and onion. Piece of fruit. Glass of water. Cost: about $1.20

Pasta with fresh tomato and mushroom sauce.

Cut up two onions, a capsicum (pepper), crush garlic and add it to a fry pan with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper while you cook. Seasoning your food with salt, pepper, spices or herbs makes the world of difference to a meal, particularly those with no meat or fish. Please find yourself some good salt - I cringe when I see table salt in a home. It's got anti-caking agents and who knows what else in it, when all you need is pure sea salt. Now, that can cost you an arm and a leg but it's also what old fashioned cooking salt is - it's just pure sea salt. I use the Australian brand Olssons and have always been happy with it. Learning how to season food during the cooking of it is one skill all good cooks need.

Add plenty of tomatoes and herbs - I used what I have growing in the garden, oregano and marjoram.

Cut up mushrooms. Never wash mushrooms because they act like a sponge and when you add a washed mushroom to your pan it will hold a lot of water. Get a clean dishcloth and wipe any dirt off, if you want to peel the top, do that. I find wiping is fine and so far we haven't died. ; - )

Stir the ingredients in a pan and add a small amount - ¼ teaspoon (at the most) of sugar. This will take the acid taste from tomatoes that are not home grown. You are not wanting to add sweetness.

Cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes - or until the tomatoes start to break down. Then pour over cooked pasta and add grated Parmesan cheese. Cost: about $4.

Fruit salad and yoghurt. Cost: about $3.

I slightly over estimated the cost of my ingredients and it comes out to $9.15. So on that day, from morning to night, it cost $18.30 to feed both Hanno and I. This is the most expensive time of the year for us with our food because we have very few vegetables ready for the table. As the year progresses, the cost of feeding us goes down, due to what we grow in the backyard.

This is a major challenge for us homemakers. Not only do we have to feed our families healthy meals they'll actually eat, but it also needs to be done within the confines of our budgets. And sometimes that's a hard task. I tend to make traditional home cooked meals and although I used to add interesting new recipes to my rotation in the past, I'm over that and now cook our favourite meals. We have enough of them to provide a variety of tastes and keep it interesting.

If you're trying to cut back on your home costs, food is a great place to start. But you have to develop a good range of wholesome cheap meals your family will eat - that, my friends, is the challenge. Putting those meals on the table that you know they love, but with a cost that won't break your budget is a task we all need to work on, but when you get it right, it makes a real difference. It's easy to barbecue a steak or roast some beef, add a side dish and you know they'll eat it. It's more difficult when you need to concentrate on cheaper cuts of meat or fish - or no meat at all. The recipes are out there, and there are many cheap recipes here on my blog, it's up to you to find those recipes your family might enjoy, test them at meal times, then, if they're a success, add them to your meal rotation. I'd be happy for any of you to share a particular family favourite in the comments. We might find some new favourites from something that is shared here.

I'll be back soon to answer the questions from the previous two days. Thank you for the sweet and generous comments and welcome to the newcomers.


  1. I hang out each morning waiting for your post! I love this one and I find no better satisfaction than gathering produce from my garden and whipping up a pasta dish.

    do you grow your own mushrooms?

    oh and a question about the dishcloths: I bought some 8ply cotton yesterday but wasn't sure what size needles to use. I think you said a size 7, is that metric size or the old size needles?

  2. I gasped in horror when I saw your
    meals cost $18.30. I couldn't see
    how that could cost so much. Then
    I figured you were using Australian
    dollars. I looked the exchange up
    and figured out $18.30Aus=$12.00US.
    Your pictures look wonderfully
    delicious.I wish I was smart enough,organized enough or whatever
    to eat like that all of the time.
    One of my goals.

  3. Rhonda jean,

    Thank you so much for the help on finding a good baking pumpkin. The link to the Etsy seller was especially helpful. Loved today's post; but made me hungry :) no worries about forgetting to respond, I know you are one busy lady!

    Thanks Again, Jenny

  4. I found this post very useful.I do find it a real challenge to provide nutritious,tasty meals every day for my family that are cost effective and am very grateful for any recipes that help me with this.I am going to source sea salt also!

  5. Rhonda
    Thank you for sharing your day of meals. I love to see what others eat and do.

    We are on a much stricter budget and as a family of five we live on less than $10.00US.

    We began raising chickens to supplement with eggs, and then slowly meat. Then we traded for ducks and geese to add to the diet, and I learned I love to bake with duck eggs.

    We then worked at a ranch for sheep, to increase a flock...for meat eventually. Now we are just using for wool. They are native sheep to the region and forage so they are very low cost to keep.

    Then we cut wood for a mini flock of goats, and have been blessed with one that had triplets and now we have goat milk for cheese and milk.

    And we have a garden, which is just coming up as it is spring here...but our season is nearly 10 months.

    Everything we eat is low cost made from scratch, and as well balanced as possible. I find the more I am frugal the more I work to maintain a well balanced meal for the family.

  6. I have found that incorporating vegetarian meals for my meat eating family helps, as does the type of meat we eat. We spent between $100-$200 per week for 4 of us (2 under 3) depending on how well I plan my meals and how well I stick to it!

  7. A very timely post Rhonda. I've cut costs by baking for our shop morning teas, making bread and your lemon cordial mixture -- we like a cold flavoured drink at lunchtime. It really is those little things that add up. I stretch meat such as mince in lasagne by using layers of eggplant and zuchinni.

    The pay off is not just cents saved but healthier meals. I think I am really getting this "living mindfully".

  8. It's interesting how the different climates make for different "lean times". This is our time of abundance in southern coastal NSW. The lean times come around August/September/October, after the winter veg finish and before the spring/summer veg start growing.

  9. I have heaps of ideas on my blog for Eating on a Budget, Meal Planning, and Ways to Reduce Your Grocery Bill... for anyone interested! A Rotating Meal Plan is the easiest way to avoid having to think up meals each night or week... put your families favourites in there to keep everyone happy!

  10. I'm with Rebecca - we too incorporate a vegitarian meal each week - it helps cut down cost and also it is healthy.

    This year we hope to eat more out of the garden than years past - would like to make one meal a week completely out of the garden. About the only thing I might have to add is some bread, tortillas, or rice.


  11. My daughter used to tell me she didn't care, when I asked her what she wanted. I broke her of that habit by telling her that I would make what I wanted and she would have to eat it even if she didn't like it. It just took a couple of times. Now, if I could just get my husband to stop saying he doesn't care when I ask him what he wants!

  12. What a great post! Our family has been trying to use meat as a side dish since we pay more for the grass-fed meat from a local farmer. One of the things that I just started doing is cooking with dried beans and found them to be much cheaper and tastier with a wonderful texture. I constantly think about how to make nutritious low-cost meals for my family. Thanks for the wonderful insight!

  13. I stopped using plain sea salt a few years ago and returned to using iodised table salt after reading reports that there was a rise in thyroid problems and mental retardation due to the dramatic decrease in iodised salt in our diets. Iodine being important for us in many ways and deficiencies are common. My 'saxa iodised table salt" is sea salt but with the iodine and unfortunately the caking agent. I have sea salt without the caking agent too which I for particularly favourite dishes.

  14. I love reading about your garden and cooking.

  15. Hi Rhonda
    What an interesting post. It caught my attention because I had just finished a lovely bowl of porridge when I sat down to read it.
    In contrast to your US readers I couldn't believe your breakfast was so cheap! The crucial difference is probably that we make an effort to eat only organic where possible, but still it peaked my curiosity so I set out to analyse the cost of our breakfast.
    We buy organic groats like these
    which we roll ourselves the night before and put straight into water to soak (grains lose lots of their nutritional value quickly after processing). We use about a cup for three of us which works out to $1.11
    We cooked it with an organic banana ($2 a kilo from our local food co-op) I'm guessing about 100gr so 20c and about a quarter of an organic vanilla pod. Vanilla pod can be ridiculously expensive but we got these in bulk for about 80c a pod, so another 20c. I think we should include the cost of the roller we use
    over a year that's 71c per day. So it comes to about $2.22. My two year old was hungry this morning and ate the same amount as each of us so I was pleasantly surprised to find our all-organic superhealthy breakfast only cost 74c per person. Now to work out the rest of the day...

  16. I'm trying hard to cook all our meals, and sometimes it's a struggle to find nutritious, yummy meals to make. It's more difficult because I'm learning to cook at the same time.

    When I was in college, I always ate at home, but I also ate a lot of potatoes, and a lot of eggs. Now I'm cooking for two, and I have to come up with travel-able lunches for Casey. He is more used to going out for dinner- but if I choke on paying $30 (USD) to feed both of us for just one meal. When I was in college, $30 was what I spent on my whole week's worth of groceries.

  17. I"m so glad Miss R posted a link to your wonderful blog.
    I find your blog heart warming as for dinner tonight we had corn beef, steam veggies which included pok-choy, carrots, celery, and onions. Then my hubby got the red potatoes ready for dinner.
    I add cottage cheese to my potatoes for dinner which was marked down to seventy five cent.

    Coffee is on but I do have tea also.

  18. There you go. Oh to have the time to say it the way you do...Sing it from the hill tops.
    Something I have found with the children is the form of the food. It is how it looks or the bit size or consistency that if altered and taken into consideration can make a regular meal one of their favorites.

  19. Those are the three most dreaded words at home - whats for tea... and the even worse reply - I dont care or whatever you make - lol... it IS hard to think of something nutritious or healthy or just nice to serve each day! Will be taking note of some of your ideas here Rhonda!

  20. Rhonda I have recently developed a recipe which incorporates veges (for kids) and a cheap cut of meat - pork mince. It is Pork and Apple Bolognese and you'll find it listed among others in my right hand side bar on my blog for anyone interested. I have found that people wanting to eat healthily, to reduce consumption of things which increase weight, cause dental concern and they are intolerant to, have loved having this list handy to reference whenever they visit me.

    My concern is making meals for my family which both cost little and meet our health needs so I am constantly creating and attempting to satisfy needs. It is a challenge I love.

  21. I worked out it cost us about $50 each to eat too.

    Porridge is frightening here when you go to buy it.

    We are having:


  22. I just stopped by to say how much I enjoy your blog. We've a little family farm that we're going to get moved into one of these days. We already have a garden out there, and your blog is full of information I can use! Thanks so much for your tutorials!

  23. Rhonda,
    Have this great vegetarian meal thought you might like?

    Italian Stew

    1 onion
    200g mushrooms
    3 medium tomatoes
    420g tin red kidney beans
    250 pasta twists
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    500ml water (or little more to just cover ingredients)
    1 tablespoon cornflour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
    pinch nutmeg

    In large saucepan heat oil with diced onion and mushrooms. Cook for 2mins, stirring.
    Add cornflour and mix well.
    Add water slowly, then all other ingredients, stir and then let simmer till pasta is cooked. Serve in bowls with bread.
    Very filling meal!

  24. Hi Dear Rhonda Jean(what a sweet old fashioned name :)),
    Like miss*R my query regards dishcloths.....I can knit like a Grandma possessed but the only yarn I can find here in West Oz costs $4 for 50gms which is toooo much. Do you have a link for cheaper yarn?
    We do eat as simply as you and wouldn't have it any other way. Also feed 10yr old Bonnie much the same as you feed yr "puppies" and she is as "daft as a brush" in her the gentle middle age!
    Love yr blog to bits and thank you so much for sharing,

    Sue Caissy

  25. Fabulous! I adore this time of year with the return of oatmeal, and yet tomatoes are still plentiful. I can imagine it's a bit tricky with the the garden supplying less. Even so, that's a delish menu you've concocted on a shoestring.

  26. Your food always looks so beautiful!

    The photos were helpful because i realized that what you've been calling capiscum (pepper) is what this American calls a red bell pepper, or, if green, a green pepper, NOT, as I thought, a hot pepper. Glad I learned that!

    You can also "sweeten" tomato sauce by adding a bit ( about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon) of baking soda, which will foam up and neutralize the acid. Let's see....I think you call it "bicarb"??

    Thanks for the tips!

  27. What time should I be over for dinner? Looks delicious!

  28. Hi Rhonda,
    I am a little confused. In your budget you have 340.00 a month for food. However if it cost about 18.40 a day for the two of you to eat a day ads up to way more than 340.00 a month.Could you please clear this up for me.I am trying to get a feel of it cost to feed 2 people.

  29. Thank you for adding me to your blog list. My traffic site showed a huge boost! You have much influence!

    I love your blog. I am getting ready to go outside and plant strawberries and blogs such as yours really inspire me!

  30. One of our fave meatless meals is cottage cheese blintzes. I add a green salad plus veggies. I haven't figured out the cost of this meal..I got the cottage cheese at half price, I love it when I find good specials.
    Yesterday I sewed up a few more napkins and finished another knitted square.

  31. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    As always, your post is CHOCK FULL of valuable information. You make it all look so easy - but I know it is NOT!!!! I grew up helping my parents to feed 11 (yes eleven) ouths at the table every day. Then when I had my own family, there were only 6 mouths at our table - all ready to devour whatever I chose to prepare that day! I did it on $25.00 (U.S.) for two weeks supply!!!! I don't know I did that. Now it's just two of us and we are constantly breaking the bank! LOL
    A friend told me that a little grated carrot in tomato sauce also reduces the acid - for those that don't want to add any more sugar to their day.
    love, lilmom

  32. Miss R, thank you for your email, I haven't had time to reply yet. We don't grow mushrooms, we used to when the kids were here but now there are only two of us, there are too many growing at one time for us to cope with. I use 4 or 5mm needles, but I change all the time.

    You're welcome, Jenny.

    Jennifer, I was very interested in your comment. You're doing some wonderful work there with your family.

    Kimchi, do you have a recipe for kimchi? My son's girlfriend, Sunny, is Korean and I would love to be able to make at least one Korean dish.

    Bella, I think those who eat a mostly refined diet should use iodine, however, we eat a lot of fish, nori rolls, green veg, dairy foods all from local grass fed animals and we've never had thyroid problems. Thank you for that reminder though for others who might not eat as we do to source iodised sea salt.

    Jade, it's good to see you're eating organic food. Everything we produce here is organic but our budget doesn't stretch enough to include organics when we but most foods.

    Sue, you can often get cheaper yarn on ebay. Have you looked there?

    Sorry to confuse you, Holly. Thanks for the tips.

    Elizabeth, I chose this day to show the differing costs of our foods. Hanno also queried the cost of that meal and said it didn't cost that much. And he was right, those tomatoes were given to us, not bought for $5 a kilo, which is their current cost at the shops. I included their shop price because we hadn't grown them here. I often make soup that will cost about $5 to make, but when frozen will give us five or six meals spread out over a couple of weeks. When we use our own produce, often I make meals entirely from our backyard, they cost very little (cents) because I only use olive oil, vinegar, flour or butter in the making of those meals. For instance, a garden salad and boiled eggs will cost only the price of the dressing I use. So over the course of a month $340 is still accurate for us, although we sometimes have a bit left over from our food budget.

    welcome hot belly mama.

    lilmom, you're right, it's not easy but it gets easier the longer you do it because you work out your own shortcuts. But some days it gets to us and we need to have a break from it. That's the beauty of this way of life, when your system is up and running well you can have down time and take short breaks.

    Thanks to all for the recipes and tips left here. It's always interesting reading about how others work in their kitchens and gardens.

  33. Rhonda, I'm not sure about the refined food causing iodine deficiency, more the lack of fish and soil content... I certainly don't eat a refined or processed diet. Many developing countries have had an increase in iodine problems, and they eat mostly unrefined foods. I do know that it is a huge health problem particularly in Germany, but also other developed nations.
    Cheers Bella

  34. Hi Bella, I read about refined food leading to many deficiencies, including iodine deficiency, but went looking now for it. I found this that you might find interesting, it's from Nutrition Australia:

    Thanks for your comments. I always enjoy them.

  35. Hi Rhonda, no need to publish this comment but I noticed that the your link to Nutrition Australia has not come up complete, just the one line. Having had a look, the one I gave you the other day about Amy Dacyczyn has the same problem!

    I'm very much enjoying your posts and the archives. I'm busy knitting a dishcloth still, thought it wouldn't take me long until I realised I had only read half the instructions! By the time I get onto knitting the squares for the Shaker rug - I think it might end up as a dolly blanket - LOL

  36. I too enjoy reading your words and learning from you the many things I do not know how to do, or have not yet tried.
    I have a unique home life here and it is a challenge to meet everyone's needs from the standpoint of good nutrition.
    Our youngest daughter is plagued with chronic Crohn's disease as well as celiac's disease. Our menus often reflect her nutrition needs and are heavy in rice ( the only grain she can eat) and in food items that have a higher omega content.
    We have found a few good and tasty breads and crackers (including recipes) and she has adapted to her diet limitations well...the rest of the family has been patient
    while we have gone from a totally gluten free environment for her safety to learning to have separate food prep areas, pans, appliances like toasters, bread machines and cooking utensils, to once again having a variety of foods for everyone in the same kitchen.
    Learning to can and preserve our foods has become a very important endeavor for me...it is so much healthier for all of us and especially for our daughter. I absolutely love coming to your site for encouragement in the skills I was not sure I possessed.
    There are many vegetables and fruits that are now off limits for our daughter and we are learning to try new varieties and finding new favorites. We feel a little adventurous at times!
    Thank you so much for your gracious encouragement and wonderful wisdom in so many areas affecting the lives of women.

  37. I love making homemade tomato sauce as well. I will slice the tomatoes into quarters and then put them on a baking sheet. Then I drizzle them with a bit of olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper and whatever herbs I like. After they roast in the oven for a bit, I puree them in the food processor and serve them over freshly cooked pasta. Yum! It makes for a bit more washing up, but I adore the flavour that comes from roasting them.

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