25 March 2020

Simple and cheap meals

Potato pancakes AKA kartoffle puffer, Hanno's favourite.

Judi asked the following question on Monday so I've racked my brain to come up with this. I hope it helps Judi and many, many others.  Readers, if you can think of other Australian food ideas that fit this frugal category, please add your thoughts in the comments.

"I am now 63 and living on my own, I have been wife, mother, stay at home Mum, and now a carer, my income is now very low and after having been used to raising all our own meat and vegetables and really eating quite well, I am struggling to feed myself. Having to purchase food is one of my biggest expenses and I am wondering if you could please put your thinking cap on and give those of us struggling financially with a good weeks menu plan please. I have all your books and I do love the menu plan in the Down To Earth book but I can not afford to eat that well anymore. Help, please.

"I am in Australia, I have noticed over the last month a big increase in the cost of fresh produce here, thanks to the drought and bushfires, I really like to eat fresh but have given up having things like avocado on my salad as they are $4 each, I am looking for ideas from the 1950s when we ate a little bit more simply but most of the information you find on the internet is American and we eat differently to them. It is quite frustrating and I am struggling with brain fog, that does not help."

Vegetable casserole made with homemade beef broth

Judi, here are some of the meals I grew up eating and still cook to this day.
  • Tuna bake - is a mornay sauce with canned tuna, pasta and vegetables.
  • Zucchini slice - you can use any vegetable for this. Caramelised onion slice is delicious.
  • Salmon patties - the cheaper canned pink salmon is good for this.
  • Boiled eggs and salad.
  • Corned beef, cabbage and potatoes.
  • Next day - corned beef hash with eggs.  My recipe here.
  • Potato pancakes- my recipe is here
  • Pumpkin or sweet potato or pea or grean bean risotto.
  • Meatloaf - and lentil or chickpea version of meatloaf.  Spicy meatloaf recipe is here.
  • Curried vegetables with poached eggs. - I bake the vegetables in the oven with a little oil, curry powder or paste, then poach eggs in another pan.
  • Pea and ham soup.
  • Vegetable soup with herb dumplings, made with beef bone broth.  When you make the broth, boil them a second time and add salt and pepper for a lovely beef tea.
  • Lamb stew - using one lamb chop for flavour - and lots of vegies is very tasty and nutritious
  • Spinach or silverbeet pie in filo pastry.  Recipe here.
  • Homemade bread - search "bread" in my sidebar for recipes
  • Rice pudding - ½ cup white rice with 2 ½ cups of milk, 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla.  Cook slowly - excellent for breakfast.  
  • Bread and butter pudding to use up bread or old hot cross buns.  Recipe here.
  • Porridge.

Don't forget to buy generic groceries when they're available. I've been buying frozen AUSTRALIAN vegetables from Woolworths and they're been very good.  And look around for bagged or loose fruit on special.  Last week I got 2kg of Granny Smith apples for $4.

And here are some other ideas for general savings and staying out of the shops while we live with the threat of the coronavirus.

I've started using cloth wipes for #1s and will save the toilet paper for #2s.  Sorry is that's too much info but we live in trying times, my friends.  Yesterday I cut up a very old (circa 1965) pillowcase for my first wipes.  I want to make about 30 and wash them every two days.  One pillowcase makes 18 good size wipes so this afternoon I'll cut up another old pillowcase and that should do me for a while. I have to say, they're much nicer than using TP!  Wish I'd done it years ago.

The cleaning and washing aisle at the supermarket is one of the most expensive. Here is a link for alternative cleaning methods as well as the ever-excellent laundry liquid recipe. That laundry liquid alone will save you hundreds of dollars over a couple of years.

 Homemade bread is cheaper and more nutritious than supermarket bread.
Lamb stew - using one lamb chop for flavour - and lots of veggies is very tasty and nutritious.

I also wanted to pass on this email from Vicki, one of our readers.  "I just wanted to pass on what I think. ....home brand porridge for breakfast, home brand wholemeal or grain loaf if she can’t make her own bread, home brand mixed veg are only $1.59 in the supermarkets...and finally lentils and beans and potatoes... I think along with some fruit and other fresh veg that would be a sustainable, if boring, diet. I’m sorry but I have never been able to comment on your blog, hence my email."  Thanks Vicki.

That's all I have time for now. I hope it helps you.  Stay in touch, Judi and everyone. If there's a problem, let's solve it together. We'll be in this situation for a long time, sharing problems and joy will make that easier for all of us to deal with.  💕



  1. Scotch Broth is also nice: small pieces of lamb in beef stock with lots of chopped celery and onion, and barley - very nice. Good luck, Judi!

  2. I have to say Rhonda, that I was amazed at the timing of your post today. So needed and just wonderful, I had salmon patties and chips with a salad tonight for dinner; and potato pancakes (kartoffel puffer)are my almost very favourite thing. I have them with a little pork schnitzel and rotkohl once or twice per month. Of course there were some other ideas on the list as well. Thanks again.

  3. Very nice post today. I read all your posts and have two, maybe all three, of your books ;). Really enjoy your writing. Thanks again for the effort you put in!
    Hilogene in Arizona.

  4. thank you for your reply Rhonda this post is most helpful, I must get a new large pot to make the laundry detergent my other one is aluminium and you can't put borax in them, I will certainly write out these recipes to try out. Also years ago I used to make Spaghetti pancake to use up leftover corned beef, its just biol your pasta stir a couple of beaten eggs, chopped meat and grated cheese into the pasta , tip into greased deep sided frypan and cook gently until done on the bottom then put on a bit extra cheese and slide under the grill to cook the top. stay safe everyone, cheers Judi

    1. I hope these things keep you going, Judi. Good luck, love. xx

  5. Great ideas Rhonda
    One meal I have been coming back to is loaded potatoes. My lunch today was 2 small brush potatoes cooked in the microwave (pricked with a fork first). I then cut in quarters and add
    1 baked beans with some cheese topping.
    2 some pink salmon with greens.
    3 left over veg and cheese
    4 fried egg
    5 in summer coleslaw and mayonnaise.

    Easy, cheap and filling. I don't peel the potatoes to preserve the nutrients .

  6. Your cooking looks very delicious. I've been out two days in a row but couldn't find basic things I want like tp, eggs, ground beef, etc. I'm not sure if it's because I go out too late or because they just don't have the supply. This despite limiting the amounts people can buy and telling us there is no shortage of supply. I guess it is taking longer to get caught up to the frenzy of shopping that went on before the restricted shopping. One friend who works in a very busy grocery store says they haven't had tp for 2 weeks. Sadly I don't have any old pillow cases or towels that I would feel good about cutting up. I'll make do and continue to look further afield for pantry stock.

  7. I'm not living in Australia, but thought I would just mention one meal that helps us stretch the pennies, and is delicious. Bubble and squeak. Fried poatoes and cabbage. Cook cabbage and potatoes first, then fry till crispy at the edges. I usually put in a little onion, or eg. Peas, dependong on what I have. Everyone loves it and it's really cheap to make. Blessings, Pam

    1. Bubble and squeak is delicious. Thanks for the reminder, Pam. Stay well, dear. xx

    2. Pam that is something I love, uses up leftover vegies and we usually have an egg with it cheers Judi

  8. grow&make ~ live simplyMarch 25, 2020 3:54 pm

    Thanks for your blog Rhonda, have been following for many years : )
    Here is a soup I make frequently for myself and others. Excellent to freeze. I usually like to add in some chicken stock made in the slow cooker from 2-3 Chicken legs. Good for gut health. EnJOY!

    Vegetable Lentil Soup

    ● 2 onions, finely chopped / onion powder
    ● 2 cloves garlic, crushed / garlic powder
    ● 2 carrots
    ● 2 potatoes
    ● 1 sweet potato / more potatoes
    ● 1 cup + red / green lentils
    ● 12 cups water / stock / half & half
    ● 2 tbs tomato paste / 1 tin tomatoes
    ● Olive oil / butter

    Optional extra ingredients
    ● 2 stalks celery, diced
    ● 1 cup rice
    ● Fresh Parsley
    ● Spinach

    Optional flavours
    ● 2 dsp curry powder
    ● Dried herbs

    ● Dice, grate vegetables or put them through the blender
    ● In a large pot, saute onion and garlic until transparent
    ● Add vegetables and cook for 5 minutes with the lid on
    ● Stir in lentils, water / stock, tomato paste and any extra ingredients or flavours
    ● When lentils & vegetable are cooked, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30-35mins
    ● Use a blending stick to blitz for a smoother soup

    ● Make in bulk to freeze in small containers
    ● Substitute vegetables, based on what you have
    ● Add in chicken / tuna for added protein
    ● Substitue lentils for soup mix or other dried / tinned beans

    Serve with toast and butter
    Serves 12+

    1. This looks like a great recipe. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    2. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. I will definitely be making it!

    3. For simple and cheap meals, use what you have! The idea of substitution is a good principle as well as buying ingredients, rather than products and also growing as much produce as possible. I no longer really use that many recipes for meals, but simply just make them up, alternating flavours and rotate favourite meals based on the same ingredients bought in bulk each month. Happy DIY and cooking everyone : )


  9. Jack Monroe in the UK is an excellent food writer. She creates all sorts of meals, costed out (different in Australia obviously), and they really are cheap but nutritionally balanced too. Check out Jack Monroe, Cooking On A Bootstrap. She comes at this from years of experience as a single mum with a very low income.

    1. I know of Jack. She had a blog didn't she and then wrote books?

    2. I was just going to recommend Jack Monroe. (She both blogs and writes books.) I got a book of hers out from the library just before my city went into lockdown and I love it (this one is Cooking on a Bootstrap, and that's also the name of her blog). Do Australians like curries? She has a number of good recipes for those using tinned veg. Rhonda, all of your recipes sound delicious :-)

    3. I think we like curries, I do. We rarely go out to eat but we're part of Asia and there are a lot of Thai, and Indian food shops here. Thanks Deborah.

  10. Thank you Rhonda. As per comments here already timing was perfect.
    In 4 hours the whole of New Zealand is in lockdown for 4 weeks.
    Thank you for the encouragement
    Karen - NZ

  11. Breakfast:
    * pancakes (one egg + approximately one cup of milk + self raising flour to make a batter)
    * porridge (equal parts oats, water and milk cooked in the microwave)
    * banana smoothies when bananas are cheap (frozen banana + milk, optical yoghurt or cinnamon if you have it)

    * Pumpkin soup - roast pumpkin, saute onions/carrots/celery if available, add potatoes & garlic, then pumpkin and stock/water, blend)
    * meat & veg soup - I save veggie ends/scraps in a container in the freezer then once I have enough, cook them with a chicken carcus or lamb bones/offcuts to make stock. Drain the stock, salvage any meat (you get a surprising amount from lamb offcuts!) and discard the solids. Then to your stock add back the meat, fresh or frozen chopped veggies, soup mix or other legumes, pasta or rice as desired
    * risotto (at it's most basic onion, rice, stock + butter/cheese)
    * whole chicken in the slow cooker - place in whole, cook on high approx 7 hours. Meat will fall off the bone and leave you with a carcus for stock. Freeze meat in small portions and bulk out with veg/legumes.
    * baked beans & toast
    * curries made with veggies, chickpeas, coconut milk & curry powder, serve with rice
    * stir fried veggies and rice (carrots and onions are usually cheap, add one or two others plus some leftover protein of you have it)
    * fried rice

    * stewed fruit (from marked down fruit or the 'odd produce' range)
    * custard
    * fruit crumbles
    * yoghurt (homemade is even cheaper, or buy a kilo of plain yoghurt for about $5-6 then add jam, honey or fruit for flavor)
    I save my kids' half eaten fruit in the fridge, then when there is enough chop off the chewed bits, cut up the good bits and stew it to make dessert!

    I've found a good way to limit my grocery expenses is to self impose a limit of $4/kg for produce (with the exception of some salad ingredients) and $10/kg for meat (except whole chicken and drumsticks I stick to $4/kg). This is very challenging at times but frozen peas and corn are almost always less than this, so with only two or three fresh veggies and a fruit or two you have reasonable variety for the week. This becomes much easier if you have a decent greengrocer nearby. Pulses are also a great saver. I add lentils or kidney beans to anything with mince,chickpeas to curries etc. You can make spaghetti bolognaise with a quarter of the amount of mince if you add finely chopped veggies - anything works! - chop up broccoli and cauliflower stalks rather than throwing them out, zucchini, carrots, all sorts, then add some lentils and slowly simmer it for amazing flavour. Healthier, too.

    Hope you found a new idea or two. Definitely trying times for lots of people. Good luck!

  12. Nearly forgot - frittata! Chuck all your leftover veggies in a dish, whisk together eggs and milk, pour over and top with cheese if you have it. Simple, filling dish for any meal.

  13. Thank you Rhonda. With 4 kids and a possible job loss for months. These recipes are more important than ever.
    Stay well, Casey x

  14. One of my favorite resources is budgetbytes.com. She is an American but her focus is big on flavor, light on the wallet. She has been bean recipes and teaches you how to make meat stretch.

  15. Jack Monroe's peach chickpea curry recipe is a favorite here. Pantry cooking at its finest!!
    Rhonda, I was talking to my mum the other day and we agreed that wee wipes were something we are going to try in the coming week. Interesting that you mentioned this in the article, You must have heard us talking, she lives not far from you. Have a great day!!! Mandi

    1. The wee wipes just make so much sense, Mandi and mum, and they feel much better than TP. Where is mum, Mandi?

  16. ATTENTION JENNY. Please submit your comment again without the link. I don't have time to check all the links so I'm not allowing any. Thanks for your understanding.

  17. I've made the laundry liquid several times now and am actually making it again tomorrow ! So satisfying to save money this way and better for the planet.Thank you

  18. Aisling KiernanMarch 26, 2020 7:36 am

    Another wonderful article. I love reading your posts and the comments too. Seeing all these ideas helps me think of new recipes and remember lots of old one that I had forgotten about. Your blog always makes me feel connected and part of a global homemaking team Rhonda. It's so wonderful to cheer each other on, thank you for all the inspiration. You are my " go to" whenever I need a little boost. 👏👏👏

    1. I feel that connection to everyone too, Aisling. It is one of the things that keeps me writing. Thanks for your feedback. xx

    2. I agree Aisling this is my favourite blog by far.

  19. Another thought I had was that you can check at local bakeries for "yesterday's bakes". They are often much cheaper. Our little local bakery has a stand just inside their door where they'll put things baked the day before and that didn't sell. My husband brought home a fruit and cinnamon loaf the other day and I sliced that up and made a bread and butter pudding with it. Meg:)

    1. Meg , please share your bread and butter pudding recipe ! :)

  20. What a coincidence, I just grated up some potatoes and made hash browns last night. I think it helps to find a store that offers produce on sale. I was buying at an Armenian market, but recently joined a co-op that has much fresher items, at an excellent price. I like to make simple meals like meatloaf, tacos, and Mexican rice. You can do a lot of things with rice bought in bulk that are cheap. Remember that recipe that you gave us, Rhonda, with the rice, meat, and cheese? It's on your blog somewhere. I reuse my bones for broth, over and over. That saves money, and you can cook barley, beef stew with half the meat, or make chicken broth for lots of recipes. We have an organization that provides free food every other week to people in need. We give them all kinds of things: pulled pork, chicken, milk, coffee, yogurt, granola bars, etc. It's all donated. Maybe there is something like this near you. I would search for it. Perhaps a neighbor has extra produce they will share or barter with you. I give my neighbors oranges, lemons, and pomegranates.

  21. I have been trying to find your recipe for orange Marmalade Biscuits without sucess. Would you be willing to share it? Thanks

    Verna in western Canada.

    1. Hi Verna. They're just thumbprint biscuits. I use the cheap and easy biscuits recipe and fill the thumbprint with orange marmalade. Search for "cheap and easy biscuits" in the sidebar.

  22. One of your most valuable posts Rhonda, thank you.

  23. I’ve also cut up some wipes for #1s, I used some fleece fabric that I had. I wondered Rhonda, what temperature would it be best to wash them at?
    Debbie in London

    1. Debbie, this is the first time I've used cloth wipes with the intent of it being along-term thing so I'm not as experienced as I hope to be. I've put them in a large mesh bag in a wash with nothing else in the machine. The cycle goes for 30 minutes, I'm using cold water, homemade laundry lquid and a cap full of Disan laundry sanitiser which contains eucalyptus oil. I'm trying to balance between overkill and just right.

      I'm not sure fleece would be the best choice for wipes - they contain plastic. See how you go with them. Good luck. xx

  24. I whipped up something tasty last night.

    1 onion and 1-2 chopped garlic
    2 chicken breasts
    Heaped tablespoon of red curry paste
    1/2 can coconut milk
    1 head of broccoli, chopped

    Fry onion and garlic until soft. Slice chicken breast and add to fry pan. Cook for about 4-5mins. Stir red curry paste into coconut milk and add mixture to pan. Add chopped broccoli and simmer until broccoli is tender. Serve with rice. To make it even more cost effective and vegetarian I'd recommend chickpeas.. equivalent of a can or two depending on how many people you're feeding. For our family it was for 4 ppl.

    1. That sounds good, Diana. Thanks for sharing with us.

  25. Thanks Rhonda. The fleece is just what I happen to have, I’ve had it years. I didn’t know about the plastic then, and hadn’t thought of it now until you said. I’ll have a rethink. I may have a sheet I can sacrifice!

  26. Great list of recipes Rhonda, simple and delicious. I bought a can of tomato soup this week and used it to cook mince and veges. It was yummy and took me back to my childhood. It was probably a fancy meal then.

  27. Thank-you Rhonda and everyone else for the recipes and ideas ... we may all be having to change our lifestyles for now and keep our distance from friends and loved ones but we still have this blog to keep us all in touch with the things that really matter so it's not all bad.

    Stay well everyone.

  28. Hi Rhonda, I love your blog and read it for years. I have similar ideas for living, cooking from scratch, growing veggies, keeping a few chooks for eggs,sowing, knitting etc. From 1986 to 1991 we used to live in Australia, in Melbourne and we enjoyed this time very much. (Now we live in Belgium, in a small village near the german border)During our Australian times, I once bought a very remarkable book, that I still would like to recommend for people with low income, it has so much nice ideas, unfortunately I can't send a picture, so here is the title: "Hard Times Hand book" by Keith& Irene Smith,published by Nelson Australia, it has a lovely Chapter about hard times tucker, may be one can still buy it secondhand. Now I hope you all stay healthy, get well over this corona crisis, (our border is now closed and we can't visit and see our children and grandchildren, love xxx Christina Knittel

  29. Walmart, apparently is staying well stocked with toilet paper. We went to the store today and had no problem. The odd thing is, they had no tomatoes.

  30. A couple of months ago I started making seitan, sometimes called wheat meat, from plain flour as a cheap source of protein to add to meat stews and casseroles. Seitan has been used as a meat substitute for years. I make it in batches and freeze it, pulling a small amount out when I need. If you are still able to buy flour and don't mind the hands on work it can be quite tasty and fun to make. I sometimes enjoy it fried with onions and topped with chicken gravy for lunch. A 1kg bag of Australian home-brand flour coast $1.00 and has 100g of protein, one of the cheapest prices per gram of protein I have found.

  31. Great post. Here in the USA I have seen posts claiming to be frugal basic recipes that then call for expensive ingredients like pounds of shrimp. Your ideas are what I really call basics and I am glad to find like minded ideas here. Here in the Southern US we love any beans over rice. I use all the the leftover bread ends cubed up for French Toast casserole. I store the cubes in the freezer until I have a big bag full and then use them. We also rely on homemade granola without all the expensive nuts and fruits for breakfast. Most any recipe can have the meat cut in half and be bulked out with beans or more vegetables. I am thankful that we were never huge meat eaters since it is in such short supply. If you have a bread machine or can pick one up second hand that is a great way to save money.

  32. There's a free downloadable pdf recipe book on www.leannebrown.com . She is american and budgets meals at $4 a day (from memory). Leanne donates a lot of print books and they are full of great ideas. :-)

  33. Curried sausages are an easy cheap hearty meal that stretches out well with rice. You can use cheap or more expensive sausages, par boi l ed then sliced. Make with either canned tomatoes as a base or milk and flour. Make it spicey and savory vwith whatever vegetables you want or the sweeter version with a handful of saltanas, a chopped apple or even a spoonful of appricot jam.


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