21 May 2014

Frugal food and recipes

Yesterday we discussed menu plans, stockpiling and how to get the best value for money when shopping. I hope you read the comments too because they added a lot to the discussion. Today let's discuss the recipes and meals for our families. If you don't cook, or are are new to it, I encourage you to search online for the nutritional guidelines for your country. We all eat not just for the taste of the food, but because that is how we supply our bodies with the vitamins, fibre, carbohydrates, protein, fat and water we should be ingesting every day. If you're going to start cooking, you need to know the nutritional guidelines as well as a few good recipes. Sometimes a cook book will give you these guidelines, if you've been cooking for a while you'll know them, but at the start, do some research to make sure you're including everything you should.

I have a repertoire of about 30 from-scratch meals I can easily cook and these are the meals we eat on a day-to-day basis. I try to vary the type of protein I cook, and we usually eat chicken, pork, vegetable, egg, fish and lamb meals. The only beef we eat is topside mince when I make a meatloaf or meat sauce for pasta. I usually cook enough at one time to eat for two meals - that saves time, energy and washing up. Often we have the second meal on the following night, sometimes I freeze it for the following week. It's a good habit to get into.

Although I don't like encouraging anyone to buy products, I think there are a couple of kitchen appliances that can help with cooking. I do it because I firmly believe that if you set yourself up to cook and it turns out to be good food that's easy to prepare, you'll be more likely to keep cooking from scratch. I recommend a steamer - either bamboo or steel, a slow cooker or a pressure cooker and a bread maker. You can fit a steamer on top of a saucepan in which you're cooking potatoes or a stew, and in the steamer you can have any of your softer vegetables, like spinach, silver beet, peas etc. You'll save on gas or electricity because they both use the same place on the stove and the energy heating the saucepan also generates the steam to cook whatever is in the steamer. A slow cooker is great if you're working or busy in the home all day. You can pack it with your meal in the morning and leave it to cook on low all day. At the end of the day, it's ready to be dished up. A pressure cooker will cook stews, corned beef, soups etc in a very short time and is also a helping hand for the busy cook. A bread maker can be used to bake healthy bread tailored to your family's dietary requirements - no preservatives/sugar/salt, or you can use it to knead the bread and then bake the loaf in the regular oven. And if you want fresh bread for work and school lunches, you can pack the bread maker overnight and wake up to fresh bread first thing in the morning.

Look for some recipe books in the library that have meals you like the look of. If you can find frugal recipes, that's even better. I have two books here - The Austerity Cookbook and The Next-to-Nothing Cookbook, both have a range of healthy and cheap meals. I also am the proud owner of The Thrifty Kitchen which I adore.  It also preaches thriftiness but with a more modern slant. If you can't find any of those, look online at the many recipe sites and search by the ingredient you want to cook with. It will present you with a list of meals to suit that ingredient. When you cook a meal you and your family like and you cook it again, modify it to suit your tastes, then start building up your repertoire of 30 meals.  Try to have a variety of foods that use different proteins, and don't just rely on meat - it's expensive and many of us eat too much of it. Before too long you'll have enough meals for an entire month.

I cooked the chicken in this saucepan above. That is my steamer with the silverbeet sitting on top of the saucepan. After the photo, I cooked the vegetables with the lid on.

As an example of what I cook, on Monday I did the grocery shopping and found a tray of free range chicken (two breasts) reduced from $7.34 to $4.40. It expired the following day. So I bought it and cooked up a little chicken fricassee that day which we had for two meals. As well as the chicken I added vegetables and herbs from the garden and fridge, and I cooked up some pasta with butter and parsley and steamed silver beet to go with it. Delicious! When you cook that sort of meal, you brown the meat, then add the vegetables and herbs, season it to your taste - I added salt, pepper and paprika - then add enough water or stock to cover the meat and vegetables, put the lid on and cook it slowly for about 30 minutes. Right at the end, add more herbs, taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary and thicken the sauce with about two tablespoons of cornflour stirred into a paste with a little water. Stir thoroughly and cook for another minute. If you have enough for another meal the next day, wait until the food has cooled, pour it into a bowl or air proof container and store it in the fridge for the next day. We had this meal on Monday and yesterday. Today will be a vegetarian meal.

Another quick tip is when you're braising or slow cooking on the stove top, bring the food up to the boil, then turn the heat right down and keep the lid on. The same applies to boiling vegetables and eggs too. Cooking with the lid on keeps the heat in the pan and saves a little bit of energy on that day. If you add it up over a year, you save quite a bit from just that one tiny measure.

Here is my recipe for lentil soup. You can use whatever lentils you like, including the green or yellow dahl peas usually used in pea soup. Always wash lentils, or any grain, before cooking.  In Australia, the lentils will cost about $3 for this amount. Smoked pork bones cost about $3.50 for this amount. Lentils are high in protein so this could serve a large family for their main meal, maybe with the addition of some crusty home-baked bread. You'll be able to serve this nutritious soup for under $10 for eight people or make it for a smaller family and use the left overs the following day.

500 grams/1 lb dried lentils
250 grams/½ lb bacon bones or any smoked ham/bacon bones that will fit in the slow cooker
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
6 pieces of parsley
1 lay leaf
salt and pepper
8 cups of water or stock

Wash the lentils in cold running water and place in a crock pot with all the other ingredients, except the liquid. When you're sure it all fits in, pour in water or stock. Put the lid on and turn on to low for eight hours or high for five hours.  Check the soup 30 minutes before the due time, remove the bones and stir the soup.  Check for seasoning. Allow to simmer for another 30 minutes, add more parsley right at the end and serve.

The important thing is to cook meals that fit within the budget and that your family look forward to. The evening meal is often the one chance in the day to sit around the kitchen table, relax and talk about what everyone did that day. It's a good way of reconnecting with your family and working out if everyone is okay, or not. And remember, no phones, ipads or games at the table. This is old school - just you and your family. It's worth it, this is an important part of the day for every family.



  1. Hi Rhonda, I recently started writing about food and recipes again on my blog and I realized that many people don't know how to cook and it's a grind rather than a pleasure. Perhaps this is because the older generation has not passed it on to this generation but the skills have been forgotten until recently. One of the points I made on my blog was that we can do simple things to lay good foundations for meals. Things like meat stocks and simpe tomato sauce for a variety of meals. I love dishes that can be done in the oven over a couple of hours as am often out with my children in the afternoons for sport. We get the meal on at 3:30 and then it's ready with only a few touches at 6. One if our money saving meals is roasting a big leg or shoulder of lamb or pork shoulder or two chickens (we are a big family) and then keeping half for another meal later in the week. For instance last night we made a leg of lamb and tonight we turned the left overs in briyani. When I do two chickens we eat the dark meat and have 4 breasts formative fry the next night and then the carcasses to make stock of for soup on the third day. Perhaps not the beginner meals you were after but money saving for us all the same.

    1. I agree with you on the older generations not passing down cooking skills to the younger folks. Looking back to growing up in the 70's and 80's, my mom worked full time and she relied on convenience foods and, sadly, fast food. But, we did eat together around the table whether it was Hamburger Helper or take out. ;)

  2. These are great tips! I'm always looking for ways to reduce my spending in the store or ways to make a recipe more cheaply. One thing I do when I cook is to look at the recipe and ask myself questions about it. Can I make it more inexpensively? Does it call for cheese? Would it taste good with half the amount called for? Can I use 1/2 or 3/4 of a pound of meat instead of the full pound? Is there some type of fresh vegetable from my garden that I can add that will stretch this meal for leftovers tomorrow? Does it call for an ingredient (like cream soups) that I can make from scratch myself? Will this taste as good if I substitute a cheaper spice for a more expensive one? Really thinking about my cooking has helped me become a better "from scratch" cook and has saved us a lot of money in the stores. I have a cookbook that was published in 1932 and it has so many "from scratch" recipes that I have adapted to fit the likes of my family. There weren't many convenience foods back then.

    1. Excellent ideas. Things I had not thought to do but sure will now! Thanks so much!

    2. I agree wholeheartedly with your advice and it can make a real difference in the cost of preparing a good meal. I live in eastern Europe and a lot of ingredients that we all take for granted are either unavailable here or are just inferior, so I have had to change my thinking on even my basic recipes, through necessity, rather than choice. But an enjoyable challenge all the same!

  3. I have been wanting to try Lentil soup. I have a bag of lentils and have just been putting it off. Now I think I will give it a shot! Using your recipe of course! Thanks a bunch!

  4. I like to make lamb koftas (lamb mince, minced onion, turmeric, gr coriander and ground cumin formed into oval meatballs and cooked in the oven. Also pork mince, onion, thyme and lemon zest, into round meatballs and oven cooked. Then loads of onion, fried until caramelised, add celery and carrot and garlic and cook until transluscent. Divide into 2 pans and add whatever extra veg; mushrooms, peppers, courgette, aubergines. Then to pan 1, I add gr. cumin, coriander and turmeric and some creamed coconut and maybe a little stock = curry sauce for lamb plus rice (I like a smooth sauce so blend it once cooked). Pan 2 gets tinned tomatoes and basil added and this is blended once cooked but we like it a little less than smooth = sauce for pork meatballs with pasta. Both freeze well. Sometimes I cook loads of caramelised onions and freeze, sometimes I get to the stage of adding carrot and celery then freeze, sometimes the whole sauces. Either sauce is good on it's own with rice/pasta.

  5. I work 4 days a week. I try to cook a big meal on Sunday night which can be used throughout the week. Its usually something in the slow cooker as that leaves my Sunday night free as well. This week it was a curry which will do us for three meals with rice. I cook extra rice and that becomes fried rice the next night then the night after is leftover curry and rice (the third meal gets frozen). The left over fried rice is used for the next meal as a side dish. This way there isn't too much cooking during the week when I'm tired and the temptation to get take away is much less. There are also frozen meals in the freezer for the weeks when I just wasn't organized.

  6. I buy my lentils....all colours and types..., dried beans and chickpeas bulk from the wholefoods store. When I get them home, I wash and cook them, then freeze them in their varieties in meal size portions, or enough for a couple of meals. It's really easy to pull out a packet and add fresh vegetables, whatever spices go with the type of meal I'm wanting and rice and I have a quick nutritious meal ready in no time. I might make a soupy type meal, and add a salad or coleslaw.....from the garden....or thicker like a vegetarian stew or curry. Or I might make it all into patties to make a burger, or put the filling into pastry like a pastie or samosa. I'm vegetarian, but find there are so many options to cooking with legumes and pulses.

    1. What a great idea to cook and freeze ready to go!

      One thing I'm never sure of is reheating. If you defrost the legumes and cook them into a stew can you then reheat it? And could you freeze some for later given the legume component has already been frozen?

      Thanks! Madeleine

  7. Excellent post Rhonda, thank you.

    Below is a recipe for what we call Poor Man's Whitebait Patties. Whitebait is a (now very expensive) NZ delicacy and this recipe has noodles instead!

    These are very easy to make. Older kids should be able to handle them without any problems. They're budget friendly and one of the best things about them is they taste really nice cold as well as hot, so they are great to put in lunches, take on picnics or to a BBQ or have for a snack as well.

    Recipe: Poor Man's Whitebait Patties

    (You don’t need to be too particular about the quantities, just do what seems best to you. It’s a very forgiving mixture).

    Cook and drain about two cups of instant (two minute type) noodles as per the instructions. I use a colander so I get 'em drained good.

    Put them back in the same saucepan (saves on the washing up).

    Add 3 or 4 eggs.

    Flake out and add one small can of salmon (about a cup). Use two cans if you feel like it. If you don't have salmon, ham or tuna would probably be good substitutes as well.

    At this point you can add other things you might be in the mood for like a diced onion, red pepper or some fresh or dried herbs.

    Mix it all together in the saucepan with a fork till it is well mixed. That's it!

    Heat a little oil in a wok or frying pan. Put large spoonfuls in the wok or pan to form fritters and shallow fry on each side for approximately 3 to 4 minutes. I tend to leave them a bit longer because I like the noodles a little crispy.

    Eat them just like that or dip them in whatever sauce takes your fancy. Sweet chilli sauce is one good option.

    These also go nicely with a green salad.

    1. What are instant noodles? I'm from USA and don't think I have heard of these before. Are you talking about Raumen noodles?

  8. We are going mad on soups, at the moment it's butternut pumpkin straight from the garden, with onion, carrot, vege stock and garam masala... Perfect for lunches for my hubby and me. I will get home from work and get dinner going and then put soup on and let it cook while dinner finishes and we eat and then just have to finish it off, cheap, nutritious and perfect for winter, especially with some fresh baked bread!

  9. I always save any leftovers we have but they are get fewer these days as my family grow. I usually use the leftovers for lunch during the week sometimes making a meal out if them or having them as they are. We eat very little meat here as I am vegetarian and do all the food buying and cooking! We buy a whole chicken once a month from the farmers market and roast it, I buy a big one and can get three or four meals out if it, adding the leftovers to lunches. I usually freeze the leftovers so that they last longer.

    My favourite simple meal that I cooked lots this last winter was colcannon with lentils. Colcannon is potatoes cooked and mashed, greens of some sort I have used cabbage, kale, sprout tops, broccoli leaves for this, shredded and steamed over your potatoes. An onion and garlic clove finely chopped and gently fried for a few minutes mix all these ingredients together I sometimes add cream cheese to the mix too and pop in the oven at 180°C for about fifteen minutes. I make a simple lentil Dahl to go with it.

    If the spring and summer my favourite meals are salads made with whatever I can find in the garden with a chopped boiled egg and a drizzle of dressing.

    All this talk of food is making me hungry!

  10. I reckon in my family, we skipped one generation of the passing on the cooking - now my mum and dad say that I should cook for them, and want me as their personal cook :P I live in Scotland and they in Norway though, and so I only get to treat them whenever I go over and visit. I cannot make a better chocolate cake, carrot cake or waffles than mum does though, and dad makes the best pizza!
    I always tend to do meal planning on a Sunday, to see me through up until and including the Wednesday, making sure I don't have to pop to the shop for random bits and bobs before then (always ending in spending extra money), and then I mostly improvise for the rest of the week with what I've got left, and sometimes I go out and eat with friends :) It's a good wee rota I think! Thanks for a lovely post once more miss! x

  11. Hi Rhonda, what a great post today! My grandmother taught me the value of a pressure cooker and a slow cooker. Tonights meal was what my family refer to as a "fast food" dinner, as I made it in the pressure cooker. I used the ham bone from christmas that was in the freezer and took the vegetables that didn't look as good as they should(my sons call these vegetable the dead and the dying) and threw some soup mix all into the pressure cooker and made soup, While that was cooking I made a simple damper to go with it and everything was done within 1 1/2 hours. Some of the soup will be frozen and the rest will do for lunch. I find on Monday mornings our supermarket will reduce the price of meat and I often pick up the cheaper cuts of meat at a bargain price. I managed to pick up some lamb forequarter chops this week at just under $5.00. Tonight I have made a sweet lamb curry with them, and they are slowly cooking away in the slow cooker as I type this, so tomorrow nights tea is done. Many thanks for such a lovely blog and all your helpful tips. I started reading your blog over 12months ago and started making your laundry soap then and I don't think I will ever go back to the shop bought ever. I love the smell of the fresh laundry these days and nobody ever complains about itchy skin nowdays. Regards Tracey

  12. Thanks Rhonda a great post. I have The Thrifty Kitchen too and love it.

    One of my stand by, from scratch favourites is Moroccan meatballs.
    Really just meatballs in tomato sauce but add ground cumin to the meatballs and add chopped coriander to the sauce at the end and serve on cous cous. The best part about this recipe is you cook the meatballs in the tomato sauce, no frying first. Just roll into balls and plonk in the sauce for 15 mins.
    As kids and young adults we always ate as a family and I do it with my family too. We say a blessing before we start, just a little gratitude. It makes us all pause for a moment before enjoying our meal.

  13. Even though we have not long finished tea, my mouth was watering again as I read your post, Rhonda! I love reading recipes and cooking hints of any kind, even if I already know about things and use them myself. Still good to read what other people do. I usually steam vegetables too, if I'm not roasting or stirfrying them. Mum used to boil everything like many mums did in the fifties, and it would just be a grey gluggy mash, which we took for granted as kids.
    I have an old Sunbeam Deep Fryer which I have only ever used for making stock and soups, cooking corned beef, or long slow cooking of anything else. It works for me, so why buy another appliance to do the same thing? I can't justify a breadmaker though, as with only two of us and no extended family to cook for, it would be a waste of time for me, as much as I love fresh bread. Also, Hubby isn't eating bread much any more, after the doctor told him to reduce his carbohydrate intake to lose weight. So I buy maybe one loaf a week at our local Bakers Delight, and that does me for a week.

  14. I'm loving this recipe when I need to be frugal - I vary the vegetables and the spices a little depending on what I have on hand.

  15. What a fabulous post - so informative! May I ask if you would recommend a brand of bread maker?

    1. I have a Sunbeam and I'm happy with it. Don't forget you might be able to pick up a second hand machine at the op stop.

  16. My bread machine saves money in many ways. I bake our loaf bread in it but also make the dough for pizzas, bagel and sandwich buns. Bagels cost me about 90 cents per dozen and with the machine to make the dough I only have about 20 minutes of hands on work to do. Pizza goes into the oven in about 10 minutes after the machine does the dough for me. You will not regret purchasing a bread machine.

  17. For this simple life journey i need Inspiration - this is the one thing that keeps me energized for the Perspiration-part: reading well-informed blogs (like this one;-), enjoying the multitude of cookbooks available - library, online, bookshops - trying out the recipes (there are always - honest - volunteer eaters), finding or making! like-minded friends and then supporting each other with new ideas, sharing recipes, even seven year old sourdough starters...this journey is worth it.

  18. Another great informative post, Rhonda.. I make a lot of no knead bread as it is healthy and simple to do although I have a bread maker..I need to dig it out again, I think.. Your silver beet I have not heard of before.. We always try to buy just the sales and make our menus from what is on hand as you do.... Love your cookbooks and will try to find the Thrifty one on the internet..Thanks ,,, xo

  19. I love looking in the pantry and trying to come up with a meal, bit like my own mystery box!
    At the moment we are having this quick, nutritious and super cheap meal on sunday nights - instead of take away. It's so quick and simple. You just tip 1-2 tins of baked beans into a frypan, crack in 4-6 whole eggs, depending on how many people (we have 1-2 eggs each). Put on a lid so the eggs poach, but keep them runny. Toast some home baked bread and spread with avocado and top with the beans and eggs. We add paprika and chilli and a good sprinkling of fresh mint, parsley and basil from the garden - delicious!

  20. A very good post, Rhonda.
    Due to necessity (DB`s redundancy last year and now ill health) I have been even more frugal with my cooking than before. I`m one of those lucky generations that had learned an awful lot from mum and grandma before having been put through B-tech education and consequently qualified as housekeeper.
    Therefore, I was also in a good position to teach my own children the basics of cooking from an early age. It is such useful knowledge and should be at the forefront of every family. Teaching these skills should not be left to schools to hand on. Education starts at home. I`m grateful to my mum who was instrumental in persuading me to join the B-tech education. Being able to budget and create nourishing meals for your family even on limited funds is something I actually enjoy now. It presents a certain challenge that I relish. Having made good meals from scratch does give you a satisfying feeling of being competent in what you achieve. Frugal meals don`t have to be boring. Simple ingredients put together with flair can make the most delicious of meals despite limited funds for groceries. Fried mushrooms on toast served with a poached egg is a filling and quick meal option I enjoy making as a Sunday Brunch.
    Peppers and scrambled eggs used together as a sandwich filling is another of my frugal favourites. Simple beans in tomato sauce served on home made, toasted granary bread is a great breakfast. There are many alternatives for frugal meals. I`ve only just started my own little blog where I share my frugal food ideas as well as household hints and tips. Whatever little knowledge we can pass on to others will be doing our blogging friends a valuable service. You`ve always led us here by example and I`m no doing my bit to share whatever I can through my blog, too. http://sarinasfrugalkitchen.blogspot.co.uk/

  21. Hi Rhonda,
    Thank you for this post, well actually all of them. I have been following this blog for around a year, this is my first comment. I made a very similar recipe to the above on the weekend after reading this. It was delicious and was enough to last 2 nights. I have been struggling to stick to a budget regarding food shopping for a couple of years since becoming a stay at home mum. We have a family of 5 and I'm sure that I'm spending way too much despite growing some of our own vegetables. I also make your washing powder these days and am converting to natural homemade cleaners. I have been making stock and bread for the first time ever in my life too which I find very satisfying. I want the choice to retire before I'm 70 if that's what I chose when the time comes so I really want to reduce our families expenses and start saving. I have read your book Down To Earth and have the The Simple Life on order at our Library. Thanks for all the effort you put into this blog and your books. You are teaching me many life skills.


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