Monday, August 16, 2010

Good Food, Small Budget, post 1B

A few more words on paring down the food budget...

Pay with cash. When I want to insure that I don't go over the budget I set, I take the money allotted for groceries out of the bank, and then leave my check card at home. This gives me no choice but to make careful, calculated purchases. And, it becomes a game to see how much I can buy with the money at hand.

When you think you can't go another day without going to the store, go one more day. Some of my most creative meals have come from the times when I think "we have nothing in the house to eat". This week is a great example of that.
Last Sunday night, I thought that I HAD to go to the store on Monday. We only had 3 eggs in the house, no sandwich bread, almost no cheese, and were low on fruit.
Additionally, I was having friends over for various meals several times during the week. I decided to make myself wait until Wednesday to go to the store, and to get creative with what was already in the pantry and fridge/freezer. Wednesday came and I decided I could wait a few more days. Now it is Sunday afternoon, and I still haven't been to the grocery store this week. I spent $31 at the health food store (kefir, bulk grains and nuts, butternut squash ravioli, toothpaste), and $2.50 at the farmer's market (mung bean sprouts). I now have 1 egg, still no sandwich bread, cheese, or fresh fruit (except for the pears that a friend brought over from their tree).
Last night, I was trying to think of a dish to make for our fellowship meal at church today. I kept thinking that I was going to HAVE to run to the store to make anything decent. I looked through the freezer and pantry several different times, waiting for inspiration to strike. In the end, I made a chow mein-like dish and some stewed pears.

Chow Mein (ish)
1 box of whole wheat spaghetti ($0.50, purchased on sale)
1 squash (free*)
1bell pepper (free*)
1 onion (free*)
mushrooms (free*)
mung bean sprouts (1/2 package, $1.25)
2 carrots ($0.25)
green beans (free*)
garlic ($0.25)

*These were all gifts from friends' gardens, with the exception of the mushrooms, which I received as a sample from a food show.
I sauteed all the vegetables (minus the mushrooms and sprouts) in a hot skillet with a little oil, just until they were warm but still crispy. After the spaghetti was cooked, and drained, I added it to the skillet of vegetables, along with the mushrooms and sprouts.

In a measuring cup, I whisked together:
1 T honey ($0.10)
2 T soy sauce ($0.10)
1 T worchestershire sauce ($0.05)
2 T garlic infused oil (free, gift)

I poured this over the mixture in the skillet, tossed, and salted to taste.
It was sooooo good and cost $2.50 to make (it easily served 6). I could have made it for much cheaper, if I had sprouted the beans myself.

In the words of Plato "Necessity is the motherhood of invention!"
Not only did I save a lot of money by staying out of the store, but I also have a yummy new dish to add to the rotation.

What are your best "make do with what you have recipes"? Do you have a dish you absolutely love, that you came up with when your pantry was bare?


  1. You are so talented, Laurel. That dish sounds so good. And the dish you whipped up for us during our visit was delicious! I am one that has to follow a recipe, so I have nothing to share as far as recipes go on an empty pantry. :(

    I want to be you when I grow up. :)

  2. you are amazing!! loved, loved reading this story...very inspiring!

  3. You'd think that I grew up during the Great Depression the way I hang onto food. That's why both my freezers are full. My philosophy has always been 'more is more'. Is this a lack of trust in God issue, I wonder?

    Maybe I'll try waiting to go to the store. But I do that already, just because I don't like going. I don't enjoy being creative in the kitchen the way you do, so it's only an irritation to me, not a challenge. Any suggestions?

  4. I love this Laurel!!!

  5. Diane Welker12:34 PM

    I put off going to the store, too, but for the same reasons Debbie does---not because I feel creative. But you're right, Laurel. Some really inspired dishes have come from just using the ingredients you have in the pantry & fridge. The only trouble is, I never write the recipe down---so when someone requests it, I have to admit I don't remember what I did!

  6. Hi Laurel! I'm not sure what kind of toothpaste you bought at the Health food store but I thought I'd let you in on a little secret. Big Lots has Tom's toothpaste for $2.50 (It's almost $4 at Walmart! They have several varities including children's silly strawberry.

  7. Laurel,
    Thanks for all the good tips! I really enjoyed reading both postings about saving $$ on food!!