I enjoyed reading the post at The Common Room about cheap cooking. A follow up to this on the Fine Old Family blog continues the conversation. Do check both of them out... after you finish reading here, of course. :)
Perhaps the biggest challenge I had was learning to cook and shop for food differently. I never used a lot of processed foods because of my husband's health challenges. However, there is a huge difference between shopping on a budget and when one has very little to spend at all.
Here is an example of a celebration meal we had last night. Both of my guys love steak (okay, so do I) but we cannot afford it. We used to go to a steak house for celebrations. Then I came to a point where I bought one steak for each of us and cooked at home. Can't do that, anymore...
So, when the grocery store had sirloin steaks at a greatly reduced price during the Holidays, I bought three packages... one large steak to divide between us for a New Year's Day celebration and two smaller steaks for another time. I placed the two packages in a gallon size Zip Lock bag and put in the deep freeze.
Last night for dinner, I cut one of the sirloin steaks into strips with my kitchen scissors. I sliced four baked potatoes and started them browning in a large skillet at medium heat.
I usually have pre-baked potatoes in the frig because I hate to put only one item in the oven at a time, unless it is a pan of cookies or a cake. So, I pop in enough potatoes to have one each at that dinner and more to use during the week... leaving the skins on them for better nutrition.
In the Winter, I purchase bags of frozen onions and peppers at Kroger when they are on their 10 for $10.00 special. One half bag is all I need for most recipes, the other half gets carefully rolled up and placed in a Zip Lock bag for later use. (I reuse the one gallon and two gallon size Zip Lock bags over and over, stored in the freezer.) During seasons when peppers are inexpensive, I purchase them at the farmer's market, slice them, and freeze them myself. This year I wasn't able to do that so the Kroger's are much less expensive than buying them fresh.
I stir fry the frozen peppers and onions, then add the thin slices of sirloin steak until the meat is cooked to "medium", which is just a few minutes. The steak could be stir fried alone but the peppers and onion give it a very "steak house" taste as well as adding good nutrition for fifty cents. If mushrooms are on sale... fresh or in a can... they can be used instead for a different taste.
For the price of one steak on sale and four potatoes, I have enough food for each of us to have plenty for dinner and leftovers for my husband's lunch today. I happened to have broccoli with this last night but often we have canned green beans, mainly because that is what we can afford.
Now, we do not have meat for dinner every night and steak is very, very rare. I only used it last night because it was a small celebration for my husband completing three weeks of work... often opening to closing. In cold weather (and is it ever cold), I prefer to make soups and stews to stretch meat.
I'll continue writing more about how I cook for less. I also want to begin recommending great books that would be of help to everyone wanting to cut grocery expenses.
In my humble opinion, the very best book to begin learning about cooking for less is the book called... More-with-Less by the late Doris Janzen Longacre. Just reading the first few chapters will help you save money, as well as gain an understanding why it is important for us in richer countries to eat a simpler diet, regardless of income. I placed it on my Amazon widget to make it easy for you to view. It is one that allows you to "look inside".
There is a reason this book continues to sell well, almost forty years after the original publication. The recipes are tried and true, coming from Mennonites all over the world and they are good. It's not expensive so one can purchase it and use it over and over. There is also a book called Living More With Less which offers recommendations from all over the world about living for much less. My library has both on their shelves.
PANTRY ITEMS USED
steak purchased at great discount - freezer
green peppers, red peppers, and onion mix -freezer - purchased on sale
broccoli - freezer - purchased on sale
Total cost of celebration meal for three people (and leftovers): approx. $6.50