Category Archives: Main Dishes

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

 

Minestrone soup is one of my favorite soups out there. Not only is it packed with veggies, it is also super easy to adapt to whatever odds and ends you have in your refrigerator, and is very filling.

Many soups leave you ravenous a few hours later, but with all the lovely fiber and nutrients from the veggies, and extra staying power from beans and noodles, this hot and hearty soup keeps your tummy from growling all day long.

You can thicken it up easily by pureeing half the beans, or using mashed potatoes rather than chunks of potatoes. Or you can thin it out by doubling up on the stock, adding extra water before serving, or adding extra tomato juice.

I’ve written before how easy it is to make minestrone in ten minutes, but sometimes you want deeper flavors. That is where the slow cooker comes in.

slow cooker minestrone soup

The slow cooker is a great option because you can just “dump and go”, then come home to a delicious smelling house and a hot and ready meal. It’s also great because, unlike a boiling pot on the stove, you don’t need to constantly watch and stir. The soup won’t burn or stick to the bottom, and there’s no risk of boiling over.

And a programmable slow cooker is the best option yet, that way there is no risk of over-cooking it either! But don’t worry, if you don’t have the kind with a timer it will still work just fine.

Leave it on longer, on low rather than high, for the lowest risk of burning or over cooking. You can add the pasta noodles at the beginning, if you want a truly one-step meal and don’t mind soft pasta. If you want “al dente” slightly harder pasta, it’s best to boil it separately and add just before serving.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Ingredients:

  • ~1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen green beans
  • ~1.5 cups cooked pinto beans (or any bean you prefer)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, small dice
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1 can tomatoes (whole, stewed, diced, etc)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen spinach
  • Either: 1 cup mashed potatoes or 2-3 small potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups broth, stock, or water
  • 1/ pound pasta noodles, any shape you like

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 1: Dice up your veggies, by hand or in a food processor.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 2: In slow cooker, combine all ingredients (except noodles, if you are cooking them just before serving). Cook on low 6-10 hours, or on high 3-4 hours.

slow cooker minestrone soup

Step 3: When you’re ready for dinner, just boil your pasta according to the directions. I prefer shapes, such as elbow macaroni, shells, or bowties, but any noodle works. Drain, mix in the noodles, and serve!

soup, salad, and smoothie

This soup is hearty enough to be a meal on its own, but it also pairs well with salads, or a nice thick garlic bread for dipping. It is super healthy, vegetarian but meat eaters will also love it, and quite cheap! Especially if you have a garden to get some of the vegetables.

You can easily change it up, for example if you hate green beans but have some fresh zucchini, go right ahead and swap. Bell peppers go great here, and you can use fresh diced tomato or canned or even juice. Or forget the tomato altogether and just use broth, you’re in charge!

Restaurant Review: Morgan’s Tavern & Grill

 

In case this is your first Review, let me remind you of the rules.

The Budget Epicurean has not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions are my own. For reviews, preference will be given to unique, local, family-owned establishments.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (Buckingham Palace)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

This is a review of a local diner in New Bern NC, called Morgan’s Tavern & Grill. We had come to historic New Bern for our anniversary knowing little about the town. After exploring the downtown Farmer’s Market, we were getting hungry. We wandered around, and just as we were about to pull out Google, we saw their adorable outdoor patio space, like a beacon in the dark.

It is made of beautiful multi-hued brick and wooden beams, and the interior is astounding. The super high cathedral ceilings and exposed brick, metal, and woodwork merge with multiple skylights and segmented dining areas to create a feeling of openness and airy comfort.

Morgan's Tavern Review

Their stated philosophy is simple: “Provide great service in a casual and comfortable atmosphere with quality ingredients.” They also say “At Morgan’s, we believe in tradition, not trends.”

The waiter was super pleasant and funny, he made us feel like we were lifelong friends. He made several suggestions based off our answers to questions about what we were looking for in our lunch. The sweet tea was hurts-your-teeth sweet, the way it should be, and I never saw the bottom of the glass long before another full one was set in front of me.

We also tried 2 of their local brews, Morgan’s Porter and Morgan’s Nut-Brown Ale. They were both splendid, smooth and crisp with no bitter hoppy after-taste (just the way I like it). Sort of dangerous, because you keep wanting more… unfortunately you can only get it there and on tap, so we couldn’t take some back to our airbnb.

Morgan's Tavern Review

Before anything else, your table gets a plate of fresh-from-the-oven flaky croissants drizzled with honey butter. These things were so light and buttery, we inhaled them in seconds flat. And wished we had more. I’m sure they would have brought more too, but we held ourselves in check, waiting for the good stuff to come.

We also decided to try the Lobster bisque as an appetizer, because we were at the coast, after all. It was light and creamy, and not at all ‘fishy’ tasting. There were some pretty good chunks of lobster meat as well. I normally don’t like bisque style soups, but this is one I could have eaten a whole bowl of by myself.

Many of the menu items had creative and clever names, and it was difficult to choose because they all sounded so good! Their lunch and dinner menus are similar, though the dinner one adds more delicacies from “Sound to Sea” and “Pasture to Plate”.

The menu was clearly written by someone with a great sense of humor. It included all kinds of classics like chicken sandwiches, a Reuben, a black & bleu cheeseburger. But they also have such offerings as portobello burgers, tuna lettuce wraps, and a grilled salad for the health conscious among us.

And for those who want the opposite of healthy? Well… they get what we ordered!

*The Why Did You Do This?
Our half a pound burger on our classic kaiser roll but this time
we top it with smoked bacon, melted cheddar cheese, fried onion
rings, fried cheese and roasted red pepper ranch sauce. This is
not for everyone!!!!! 12.50

Morgan's Tavern Review

This burger… was… massive! Why did we do this??

I’m glad this was mostly the boy’s responsibility to finish. I could barely get my mouth around the whole thing. The crispy fried cheese and onion rings were pretty awesome when combined with the burger and bacon, I must say. And the roasted red pepper sauce was on point.

Meanwhile, I wanted something slightly less filling.

Hot Turkey, Bacon & Raspberry
Thinly sliced roasted turkey topped with melted provolone cheese,
bacon, raspberry jam & ranch…… Sounds strange but it works. Your choice of sourdough or wheat berry.
Served with your choice of side item. 8.50

Morgan's Tavern Review

This sandwich sounded like Thanksgiving on a plate, and it was essentially that. The sweet jam and the salty bacon was an awesome combination. And the fries were seasoned with something slightly spicy which we both enjoyed. It was more than enough, I ended up eating half and taking the rest to go.

They also have a cart with all their desserts on it sitting in the aisle so you can’t help but walk past it once or twice. When I saw something molten and chocolatey I knew I wasn’t leaving without it! So even though we were stuffed by now, we went all in and ordered the molten lava cake with ice cream!

Morgan's Tavern Review

It was ooey gooey amazingness drizzled with even more chocolate and caramel sauce and I was in heaven! Pretty sure between that and the four glasses of sweet tea I’ve doubled my diabetes risk but what can I say… worth it.

All the food was amazing, the service was great, and the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable. We would definitely come back here again if we lived nearby to try more of the menu offerings. Overall I’d rate Morgan’s:

  • Taste: 9.5
  • Atmosphere: 9
  • Value: 8.5

 

Want more? Check out the Reviews page!

Weekly Eating – 7/16/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Monday was our travel home day from a family funeral. We were smart, and prepared a batch of blueberry muffins ahead of time, so we would have something on the plane. I had also packed a bag full of healthy granola bars, energy bars, and fruit snacks.

It was nice to get home, and check in on the gardens. Turns out 4 days of no watering isn’t enough to get these plants down!

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

The zucchini finally has oodles of little baby squash coming.
I CANNOT WAIT TO DROWN IN ZUCCHINI. I’m weird and I know it. #sorrynotsorry

The tomatoes are also starting to produce fruit, there are several dozen tiny green globes. Not quite large enough to pick for fried green tomatoes, but I am so antsy. I’m dying for a taste of home grown tomato sauce on pasta. I’m also stoked that the volunteer cucumber is doing so well, since the ones I planted on purpose never came up.

Oh, and since our fence got smashed by a tree in a storm a few weeks ago, we’ve caught deer in the yard a few times. I absolutely hate this, as they are very destructive towards those things I love so much, my plants. And, the poo in my yard. Which is apparently infinitely interesting to our dogs. To the point that they want to wear it as a fragrance.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
He knows what he did.

Yeah, green, stinky deer poop. The dog rolled in it. His face says it all.

Monday:

Breakfast – Blueberry muffins

Snack – Granola bars

Lunch – Leftover frozen burrito fixings

Dinner – White bean & pork soup. I pulled a frozen package of pork out of the refrigerator when we got home for burritos, then used some more of it to make a quick soup for dinner.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

White beans are a favorite of mine, so simple and delicious. I added some onion and carrot and radishes that were wilting in the produce drawer. Simmered on the stove for a few hours, it was a delightful just-got-home meal.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – thawed pancakes with raspberry jam

Lunch – Leftover soup from yesterday

Dinner – Quesadillas: pulled pork & BBQ for the boy, thawed black beans and cheddar for myself. With avocado, salsa, and plain Greek yogurt as toppings.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Snack – someone at work brought walnut brownies and was kind enough to share, so I had two of those

The brownies made me think Hey self, you have tons of black beans still, why not make black bean brownies?? They count as breakfast, snacks, dessert… so I did, and used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

They came out a little gooey, but that’s how I like my brownies. They were almost like chocolate-chip-dotted fudge. That I don’t have to feel at all guilty about eating!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Cherry Vanilla overnight oatmeal. I layered the last of my steel cut oats in a jar with some ground flaxseed, vanilla soymilk, and frozen cherries and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Lunch – Leftover black beans & rice with salsa

Dinner – I pulled out some chicken from the freezer, and threw it in the crock pot with a jar of my sweet pepper jam for the boy, and thawed a black bean burger for myself with steamed fresh broccoli and white corn to go with it.

Snack – an amazing black bean brownie

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Thursday:

Breakfast – cherry vanilla smoothie: I had some oatmeal left that I didn’t finish, so I tossed it in the blender with some cranberry juice, extra frozen cherries, and a banana

Lunch – Chickpea sweet potato curry with brown rice, thawed from the freezer

Snack – you’ll never guess…. yup, brownies!

Dinner – Vegan alfredo on wheat pasta, made with silken tofu.  Recipe from Saving the Crumbs.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Sounds crazy but I promise it was actually really amazing. The sauce was thick and creamy and the flavors complex thanks to a dash of nutmeg and cayenne. Even the boy said it was some of the best alfredo he’s ever had. Except it had “too much chunky stuff” LOL (that’d be zucchini & squash)

Friday:

Breakfast – smoothie with cantaloupe, frozen berries, banana, amla powder, cherry juice, and flaxseed

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Lunch – Leftover veggie alfredo

Snack – fresh fruits: pineapple, pears, blueberries

Dinner – Leftovers, or else out somewhere with the parents

The Weekend

The boy’s parents are in town this weekend, bringing us some things we’ve inherited. So we will be finding places to put things and use what we picked out, and will get to spend a little less stressful downtime together. This also means the ‘eating out’ costs will likely be high this weekend, and I probably won’t cook at home as much. I’m okay with that.

Food Total: $27.60 + $27.03 = $54.63

We used up a bunch of things from the freezer, which is awesome. The chest freezer is getting a little out of control, so it might be time for a deep clean and defrost soon.

I still have tons of bags of frozen vegetables, pork chops, various seafood, several types of ice cream and frozen treats. We will slowly work our way through these things and then I will only re-stock with pre-cooked items like rice and beans and veggie patties.

Fruit/Veg $27.09
forelle pears 2 1.77
avocados 2 4
yellow peaches 2 1.65
black plums 3 1.49
zucchini 2 yellow squash 1 2.94
kale 1 bunch 0.99
broccoli 2 4.58
mango 1 1
cauliflower 1 1.99
pineapple 1 2.99
yellow corn 5 2.5
bananas 6 1.19

Lessons Learned

I had my first attempt at Zero Waste shopping, at Harris Teeter. It wasn’t even pre-planned, which I am a little embarrassed about, but I did a great job of not needed plastic bags and bringing home very little waste, which I am thrilled about.

I bought solely fresh produce, so there were of course bar code stickers, and the cauliflower in particular I was sad about, since they were all individually wrapped in plastic.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
All the produce in the cover photo above fit in these 2 bags

However, this is plenty of produce for the week & weekend, in addition to another service which I will tell you more about soon! #Spoilers… The true test will come when I need to go re-stock pantry staples like pasta, rice, and oats. Oh, and there was 0.51 in tax on the groceries… but I thought food wasn’t taxed? Color me confused.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

BE’s Black Bean Burgers

 

A new favorite one pan dinner — asparagus and black bean burgers!

🍔 Black beans are SUPER healthy; they have tons of fiber and protein to fill you up, folate, potassium, and vitamin B6, and eating lots of legumes 🥜 can decrease your cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lower your risk of heart disease 💓 and cancer! Plus this burger is damn delicious. I call that a win-win.

BE Black Bean Burger

Burger recipe:

  • 1 can black beans drained (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (can use lentils or mushrooms instead)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup breadcrumbs (can use whole oats here instead)
  • 1/4 cup Olive oil (or vegetable or coconut)
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs – parsley, cilantro, chives
  • Spices to taste – I used dried onion, garlic salt, cayenne, & ~2 tbsp McCormick steak spice mix

Step 1: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse. Add a bit more breadcrumbs for drier texture, olive oil a few drops at a time to make it more moist.

Step 2: Shape into 4 large patties (they will not shrink when cooked as meat patties do) and place on oven safe pan with your choice of veggies drizzled with olive oil. Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, zucchini, beets, green beans, all good choices.

BE Black Bean Burger

Step 3: Roast at 350 , covered in foil, for 20 minutes. Uncover and roast another 20 minutes. Flip patties and roast a final 5-10 minutes, until veggies are tender. Patties should be slightly crispy on the outside.

Top as desired. I suggest fresh lettuce & tomato, whole grain mustard, and purple sauerkraut!

BE Black Bean Burger

Weekly Eating – 7/09/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Gosh, it feels good to be back y’all!

This summer has been a lil crazy, and we haven’t been great about meal planning with being gone or hosting family pretty much every weekend. But that’s ok, sometimes life is like that.

Over the weekend I made a huge ol pork roast and a big batch of ground turkey, because the boy was sad about how long it had been since we had burritos. So… lots of meat in the fridge. He was pleased. I also made a giant crock pot full of black beans which became my best black bean soup and black bean burgers.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

While my sister was in town last weekend, we also went shopping and picked up a ginormous box of honey cheerios on sale, because she has discovered that she has a gluten, soy, and corn intolerances. As you can imagine, that significantly limits ones food choices. Turns out cheerios is one cereal that has no HFCS or soy or wheat in it.

And, we also made a batch of macarons! Because almond flour is just fine. And I’ve always wanted to make them! They turned out pretty darn good looking too. I added a few fresh strawberries to the filling and we put cocoa in the batter for some chocolate strawberry flavors going on. Delish.

Oh I also got a big-a$$ watermelon, and turned it into all kinds of goodies! I pickled a big batch of rinds for a Food Swap next week, we ate tons of it fresh, it became a watermelon-feta-mint salad, and several smoothies.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Monday:

Breakfast – Honey cheerios + a banana + soymilk

Lunch – Black bean soup!

Dinner – Enchilada casserole. This used up some small corn tortillas, black and pinto beans, pulled pork, corn, and tomatoes. Topped with pickled jalapenos, cheddar, guac, and salsa. SO DANG GOOD.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Snack – a macaron

Tuesday:

Breakfast – same cereal, bc I’m boring!

Lunch – leftover enchilada and a salad that happened to match the skirt I was wearing that day, haha

Dinner – portobello stir fry

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, frozen blueberries, blueberry kefir, and greens

Lunch – leftover stir fry, and a Greek salad

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Dinner – Leftovers! We are going out of town again for the weekend, so I’m busy using up or freezing all the perishables

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Thursday:

Breakfast – smoothie with watermelon, pineapple, frozen blueberries, blueberry kefir, and amla powder

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Lunch – uhhh it was a bit of a crazy day, so I didn’t get a lunch per se. I did sneak a maple bacon donut that was brought in to work. #noregrets

Snack – a cranberry yogurt

Dinner –we were tired of all the leftovers, so we decided on a spontaneous date night to AYCE sushi at RocknRolls!!

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
In case it was unclear, I REALLY love salmon sushi. Also I ate three teenage boys next to us under the table!

Friday:

Breakfast – I finally successfully used up all the watermelon, so today’s smoothie was frozen blueberries and cherries, pineapple and flaxseed powder

Lunch – Black beans & rice

Dinner – whatever we can scrounge up before heading to the airport. Everything else will get frozen while we’re gone.

The Weekend

We had a death in the family, so we are out of town for the weekend. It will definitely be interesting seeing how expensive and wasteful traveling is. I am going to try to plan ahead and pack at least some nuts or trail mix to take so I don’t give into temptation to buy things at the airport.

Y’all are in for something BIG on Monday, so stay tuned!

Food Total: $5.92

All the major expenses happened last week or earlier, so I’m not counting them for this week. When we return though I’ll have to do a stock up trip. If you really want me to fess up, that pic at the top was an ALDI stock up last week that cost us $68.79.

The only things purchased were on a whim, a stop-in at Walmart on my way to work. I desperately needed Ibuprofen (one to keep in my car) and some cold sore medication (BOO cold sores, the worst) and while there I grabbed some bananas and avocados.

Luckily, I remembered to grab one of my reusable canvas bags from the car! So no plastic bag, yay!

Lessons Learned

So, the boy actually eat way less meat than I think he does. Especially now as I am borderline vegetarian and am not very helpful in eating it. And I think… that… I may have actually burnt him out on burritoes! I did not know that was possible. But he said he actually got tired of the ground turkey and pork (I guess that’s what happens when that is all there is to eat for lunch and dinner for a week straight…)

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

5 Freezer Meals for 1 or 2 in 30 minutes

 

I know that’s a lot of numbers in the title, but what do you expect from a finance & food blog? 😉 There are many ways to save money on one of most people’s biggest budget categories (after housing): food.

  1. Eat at your parents house
  2. Eat only Ramen noodles
  3. One meal per day
  4. Intermittent fasting
  5. Freeganism
  6. Vegetable garden/farming
  7. Bulk buying
  8. Couponing
  9. Meal planning
  10. Freezer meals

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

But every tip will not work for every person and every situation.

If you are in a dorm with just a small refrigerator and 6 months until you move again, your life is drastically different from a family with four children in the suburbs with two chest freezers.

I’ve designed meal plans for the Dollar Tree, one week of dinners from one pork roast, and 10 freezer meals in one hour.

The Freezer Meals For 2 Plan

This plan is designed for smaller households, who have a freezer.

One or two people.

I made all of these meals for a friend who was about to have a baby. Having freezer meals on hand makes feeding yourself when sleep deprived and stressed so much easier! But these meals are also great for single people or couples who don’t like to cook, as they are super easy and stress free.

So if you have a big family or a big appetite, these recipes might not be for you. However they are very easy to scale up, simply double or triple the ingredients, and use larger freezer bags.

This is also designed to go straight from ingredients –> bag –> freezer –> thaw in refrigerator –> oven or crock pot.

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

To complete these 5 freezer meals, in addition to the food ingredients you will need:

  • 5 quart sized freezer bags
  • Sharpie or other permanent marker
  • Container in which to thaw the bags in the refrigerator (otherwise they will leak condensation all over)

The ingredients are pantry staples (at least in my house!) and items you can easily find at most any grocery store. You can of course step up your game slightly and use dried beans you cook yourself, or produce straight from your garden. These tricks will lower the total cost even further.

But the total for this should be less than $30, for 5 nights of meals for 2 servings each, possibly with leftovers. I will also include some tips at the end on how you can jazz up each one to make it your own.

Per serving total = $3 or less

Recipes included:
  • Chicken & Rice Casserole
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • 3 Bean Vegetarian Chili
  • White Bean & Barley Soup
  • Corn & Potato Chowder

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

Entire Ingredients List:

  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can corn (can use frozen)
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 large chicken breast, cut in half, or 2 total
  • 1 cup barley
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1-2 large baking potato
  • 1 onion, diced, or dried onion
  • Garlic powder or fresh garlic
  • Italian seasonings
  • Chili powder
  • Bouillon
  •  1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup rice

You will be using half or a third of some of these cans, I did not measure it out, I just eyeballed it. If you feel more comfortable with exact numbers, go ahead and get out a measuring cup.

Step 1: Cut up your carrots and potato and onion into a small dice. I did not peel either the potatoes or carrot, but you can if you want. You can also use canned potatoes, though the end product will be soggier. You can also use dried onion, like I did.

Step 2: Label your bags and write the instructions out. Trust me, you want to do this part before the bag is full and possibly wet outside.

Step 3: Open and drain all your cans.

Step 4: Cut a large boneless skinless chicken breast in half, or use two smaller cuts. You can leave the breast whole, or dice it up, either way works. You could also use canned chicken, 1 per recipe.

 

Once you have your labeled bags ready, just dump the ingredients into them, in the order listed. You want to put the meat in last, so it is the first thing to come out when you cook it. Then push out any air in the bag, and seal. Freeze laying flat if possible, as they are then easier to stack and take up less freezer space.

 

Chicken & Rice Casserole

  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 bag frozen mixed veggies
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 bouillon cube
  • 1 chicken breast

*Thaw overnight. Bake at 350 in a casserole dish for 1 hour, or in crock pot on low for 2-3 hours, shred chicken before serving.

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 1 can pinto beans (or black beans)
  • 1/3 can diced tomatoes or 1 cup salsa
  • 1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • Diced or dried onion
  • 1 chicken breast

*Thaw, simmer on stove for 1 hour, or in crock pot on low 2-3 hours. Top with tortilla chips, sour cream, cheddar cheese, avocado…

 

3 Bean Vegetarian Chili

  •       1 can of 3 different kinds of beans
  •       1/3 can diced tomatoes
  •       Dried onion, garlic powder
  •       2 tbsp chili powder

*Thaw overnight. Add to slow cooker with 3 cups water, cook on low 6-8 hours, or high for 4-6 hours, stirring every hour or so if possible.

 

White Bean & Barley Soup

  •       1 cup white beans (or 1 can)
  •       1 cup barley
  •       ½ – 1 cup cut up carrots
  •       ½ white onion, diced
  •       1-2 cubes bouillon
  •       1/3 can diced tomatoes

*Thaw overnight. Add 6 cups water, simmer 2 hours on the stove or cook in crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Corn & Potato Chowder

  •       2 potatoes, diced
  •       ½ can corn
  •       ½ cup flour
  •       Garlic, onion, bouillon
  •       Optional: 1tbsp Italian seasoning

*Thaw, add 2 cups water and simmer 2 hours on the stove or cook in slow cooker on low 4-6 hours.

 

5 freezer meals in 30 minutes

 

 

 

Restaurant Review: The Little Dipper

In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

Tucked inside the North Building of Brightleaf Square on the outskirts of downtown Durham NC is a hidden gem. Called “The Little Dipper: Fondue on Main”, Durham is its second location. The owner is from Durham, and followed a girl to Wilmington. Their first date was at the Wilmington location, and it must have made quite the impression. When they eventually married and moved back to Durham, they decided to take a leap and open their own here.

The Durham location opened in April of 2013 as a full service fondue restaurant. Each table has at least one burner built into the center for the table to share. The owners also designed, built, and painted the entire interior from booths to eclectic decor to crazy sand wall art. They are known for our specialty sauces, all homemade and delicious for dipping cooked meats and seafood.

The Durham location also offers a “LOCAL ‘919’ MENU,” which includes options for each course made with locally sourced farm ingredients.  The Durham Dipper is proud to be part of such a strong community who supports local farmers by offering seasonal features and sustainable menu items changing on a regular basis.

The Menu is insanely huge and can feel a bit overwhelming at first glance. It is set up to be a three-course experience, so make sure you have plenty of time set aside to fully enjoy this meal! You get to choose your cheese dipper appetizer, a soup or salad, and you main entrees and cooking style.

The desserts are priced separately, but honestly it is the best part of the experience! Make sure you also have a lot of room, and very stretchy pants 😉

review the little dipper durham

The servers are extremely helpful and friendly as well, and can answer all your questions and provide suggestions based on what you like and are looking for. We decided on a premium fontina and basil starter. They light your burner, and bring over a massive cast iron pot full of molten cheese and a sampler tray, and then the fun begins!

They supply long fondue forks which you use to spear your fruit or veg, and then dip into the lava like bowl of cheese. I was a little leery of the fruits, but it turns out cheese covered grapes are delicious. We ate and ate and then realized we had 3 more courses to go!

review the little dipper durham

Once you throw in the towel on the cheese, they whisk it away and bring your salads. It is not the star of the show to be sure, but it felt nice to have a light lettuce moment between the heavy cheese and the goodies to come. And the salad itself is large enough to be a meal, so I ended up packing up half to take home.

Then your main course arrives. We went with the traditional peanut oil, which is again brought out in a huge iron pot. You can choose a pre-selected variety of meats, or like we did, the “undecided” where you get 3 different protein options.

I went with tuna, dumplings, and filet while my dining companion chose scallops, shrimp and filet. It comes with your choice of 3 of their homemade daily dipping sauces, as well as a plate of mushrooms which you stuff with their aphrodite herbed cream cheese, dip in breading and fry.

There is a handy tip sheet on suggested cooking times for each item, in case you don’t know how many seconds in boiling peanut oil it takes for a scallop to be considered done. They also supply a long “rescue spoon” for anything that happens to jump off the fondue fork for a swim.

It was great fun dipping and dropping different cuts into the pot while chatting about life and stuffing our faces. The wasabi lime sauce on the filet was my personal favorite of the night.

review the little dipper durham

Drumroll please……

Then they cleared the table, and brought out the steaming bowl of molten chocolate laced with caramel and topped with pecans that I’d been waiting for! Oh yeah, you better believe we went with the Turtle dipper. And a ‘classic dippers’ plate, because we’re indecisive like that.

You can also go with just fruit dippers, or upgrade to the “supreme dippers” or “Swanky Fondue” options for things like rice crispies, oreos, or liquor-laced dipping sauces.

review the little dipper durham

The Turtle fondue was so amazing, I wanted to just eat it with a spoon. Thankfully I was in so much pain from being too full so I couldn’t do it! 😉

The whole meal took about 2 hours total, and was a very relaxing experience. I loved the funky atmosphere, and the energy of the place. I cannot wait to go back!

 

Overall I’d rate The Little Dipper:

  • Taste: 10
  • Atmosphere: 10
  • Value: 9

Weekly Eating – 4/16/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

The weekend was as expected, Saturday was gorgeous and sunny, and we had a fun time grilling and sitting around the bonfire in the back yard. Sunday was wetter, with increasing chance of rain until it hit 100% by the evening. Nonetheless, we decided to get out and explore a little before the storm hit.

Umstead state park

I also meal prepped a little bit, by making a big batch of these Cauliflower Cashew Barley Bowls for lunches. I also made a batch of chocolate chip cookies with my friends’ super secret recipe! We sort of messed it up a little, but they were still really tasty. Some of the best cookie dough I’ve ever eaten haha

This week is also a grand experiment: The boy will be in charge of dinner all week! Yup, I’ve talked him into it (meaning, kept asking until he finally agreed) and every dinner will be made by him. I even offered to go grocery shopping for whatever he wanted, but he said we had enough ingredients in the freezer and pantry, so we didn’t spend any money on groceries this week. Of course that means I’ve agreed to do all dishes this week, so… I may or may not have won?

Mostly I just want to see what will happen. I have a method to my madness, and I want to see how dinner in the boy’s mind works. He might give me some new, great ideas.

Monday:

Breakfast – Leftover crepes

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl & a salad

Dinner – Chicken breasts with salad and couscous

Snack – chocolate chip cookie

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Waffles with blueberries

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl

Dinner – Pasta and meatballs, with green chilie sauce. The boy said he wanted a ‘different’ flavor, and we had cans of green chilies in the pantry, so that’s what happened. It was better than I expected.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – last of the crepes with strawberry jam

Lunch – Cauliflower Barley bowl

Dinner – Bacon wrapped pork chops! With rolls and a side salad

Tonight I also put together a couple freezer meals for a friend having a baby soon. They scheduled a c-section for Friday, so they know the due date in advance, which is nice. I figured 5 nights of meals they don’t have to think about would be a helpful gift.

Thursday:

Breakfast – Toast with PB & a pear

Lunch – Last of the cauliflower barley bowl, and some grilled veggies and beans leftover from the weekend grill out

Snack – Seriously STOP with the Reese eggs already! I Cannot help myself… Last one, I swear…

Dinner – Out to the Durham Co-op $3 Thursday dinner! A friend lives near there and I’ve been meaning to go. Every Thursday they host a $3 community dinner; tonight was pasta & meatballs with an option for vegan sausage.

I of course tried one of each. The meatball was delish, but the vegan sausage … I was a little let down tbh. It was like chewy salty bread. But the side salad was impressive, it was actual fancy lettuce, not just like a head of iceberg. So even though I carbo-loaded I felt like I got at least some veggies in too.

Friday:

Breakfast – Hashbrowns with bacon & eggs. We have bacon soooo rarely now, and when you haven’t had bacon in months, and then you have it… it’s salty crunchy bliss. I’m sorry.

Lunch – Chickpea salad sandwich & leftover vegan chili. Pro tip: use chickpeas you cook yourself from dried, or simmer the ones from the can a bit. I cheated and used canned for this one, and they were still very firm. It was extra hard to get them to mash.

chickpea salad sandwich and chili

Dinner – Pork roast with potato wedges and canned green beans. The boy had a ridiculously stressful day, so I took over for the last night’s dinner. He had already pulled the roast from the freezer to defrost, so I just seasoned it and put it in the oven. I adore canned green beans, but he hates them, so I legit ended up eating a whole can on my own. No regrets.

I also made a batch of pretzel bites. We were having a game night Sat and the next Food Swap is next week, so I wanted to try out a new recipe. They are SO GOOD I ate nearly the whole first batch immediately… oops. Still no regrets.

The Weekend

The weekend will be chilly but sunny, into the 60s. I may try to get a second planting of peas and beans into the ground. It is still a bit too cold to get nightshades planted, that will have to wait until mid-May.

Also we are hosting board game night on Saturday! I am suuuuuuper excited! I love hosting parties and games and making food for people so this is right up my alley. I’m hoping for a nice day too, so we can pull out corn hole and have a fire as well.

Food Total: $0!

Lessons Learned

Having the boy be in charge of dinner was a great way to use up some of the meat still in our freezers. Since trying to be mostly vegetarian this year, I’ve bought very little meat to replace what we use up, but there are still a few roasts, chicken quarters, meatballs, and various things in the freezer. It’s good to use those up. And as hard as it was, I did not go to the grocery store. And we survived! So I consider this week a great win, even if I did have far more meat than usual.

Uh, also, I really need to call our server for this site… I can no longer upload any photos. Ran out of folder space, or something? So that’s a huge problem…

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

Dollar Tree Meal Plan

 

It should come as no news to anyone that access to fresh produce and quality food is a good indicator of overall health. It is further not surprising that poverty and food insecurity are strongly linked.

If you do not have the financial means to pay for fresh food, it is likely your diet will consist of fast food, packaged and processed foods, and frozen meals.

If you live in a “food desert”, whether you can pay for produce or not doesn’t matter because there isn’t any for you to buy.

There is more and more evidence that this can become a vicious cycle as well. You or your family is at or below the poverty level, and the only places you can afford to live lack access to food and the money to pay for, and this contributes to poor nutrition and obesity, which in turn may stifle earning potential and opportunities further.

The issues of poverty, food insecurity, and the increasingly wide-spread and frightening rise of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other ‘lifestyle diseases’ has been on my mind more and more.

It seems we have lost our way, as a country, and things keep happening to make it seem worse and worse.

How do we fix this?

How do we keep ourselves, our family, and our children fed and healthy, without going over budget?

It is a long road, and not an issue I can tackle and solve myself. But I can try to do small things to help. Like creating as healthy of a meal plan as possible that would be relatable to the people who need it the most. So I went to my local Dollar Tree to scope out the options.

Most households in America, even if they are not near a grocery store, should be within walking or bus distance of a Dollar Tree or Dollar General or similar type store.

I figured this would be a good base to work with, and provide the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ that most people on a very low income are looking for.

Let’s be real, even as a dual income family with more than enough room in the budget to not have to care what we spend on food, we still care a lot, and stick to a budget. We are all potentially just one disaster away from poverty.

Whether you are a single mom or dad trying to feed your growing family on a part-time income, a struggling college kid paying your way with a scholarship, part time job, and a ridiculous loan, a newly married couple just trying to figure out how money works, or a retiree on a fixed income, I hope that this information can be helpful.

 

Dollar Tree shelves frozen section

If the store has a frozen section, this can be a great place to start. Though there will be options to avoid (I’ll mention more about that next) you will be most likely to find the healthiest choices here with frozen fruits and vegetables.

Produce that is frozen is usually picked at the peak of ripeness, and then flash frozen for storage and transport. Though it isn’t right out of a field, it will still contain much of its original nutrition, and sometimes even be more nutritious than fresh, similar produce.

Frozen fruit makes a great snack, addition to smoothies, or are perfect to add in to oatmeal for a filling and healthy breakfast or anytime meal. When it comes to potatoes, just be careful about the ingredients and amount of added fat. French fries are still fries, even if you make them in your own oven.

Frozen vegetable blends are my personal favorite. They are great to heat quickly in the microwave as an easy side dish, you can mix onion and peppers into scrambled eggs, top baked potatoes with broccoli, add mixes to soup and stews and tacos, or toss into stir fry. Try to eat at least 5-7 servings of vegetables every day. A serving is about 1/2 cup frozen, or about 1/6 of a bag of frozen vegetables.

I noticed at my store that they had frozen fish filets as well. Salmon, tilapia, and flounder were on offer. I can get into all the details about how to choose sustainable fish, but at this level I think any fish is a luxury and you don’t care where it came from, as long as it’s cheap.

Fish does provide lots of lean protein, and is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish is also an important protein in the Mediterranean diet, and a far better choice in general than red meats, or even lean meat like chicken or turkey. So if you are able, add one to two servings of fish per week to your diet.

dollar tree freezer

This is an example of some of the less desirable frozen food options, nutritionally speaking. Pancakes, biscuits, and waffles can be made healthy if you make it yourself from whole grain flours, but these pre-made and frozen options are likely full of preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and other ingredients you don’t want.

Try instead this simple blender pancake recipe, this slightly healthier one with added banana and oats, or this one with only 3 required ingredients. Even the box of mix from the store with some milk or water would likely be healthier.

Pudding and granola bars may seem like a good ‘convenience’ item to pack in lunches and have on hand for breakfasts or snacking. But be wary of the sugar content. Some granola bars can have a sugar content equal to or greater than a candy bar!

You can easily make your own granola bars too using just oats, honey, peanut butter, and maybe some bananas or dried fruits or nuts. The best news is that oats are generally pretty cheap too, so per serving regular oatmeal for breakfast, granola bars, or plain baked granola are really affordable options.

There are a lot of packaged beverage options, especially juices. Kids in particular tend to adore juice, at breakfast, after school, with dinner, before bed… but you need to be careful of the sugar content.

Many juice types these days is only 5% actual fruit juice, if that! They are instead colored and flavored sugar water, with the vast majority of their calories coming from high fructose corn syrup.

The healthiest beverage, always, is water.

And the best part is, water is free from the tap! If you are trying to get your kids (or yourself) to drink less juice, for health or financial reasons, try diluting it with water slowly over time.

Pour one glass of juice, about 80% full, and top it off with water. Then work your way to half and half. Eventually you have a glass of water with just a splash of juice for flavor.

Another good source for fruits, if you don’t have access to fresh produce or it is not in season, is canned fruit.

I most often see canned pears and peaches, but I also saw pineapples and mandarin orange slices. These are all awesome snack or side options. It is best to choose “packed in water” or “packed in its own juices” over “canned in syrup” or heavy syrup.

It is worth glancing at the ingredients list as well, and the total sugar and calorie content.

Dollar Tree shelves canned vegetables

Canned vegetables are another good choice in lieu of fresh produce.

Cans last even longer and store better than frozen options, and better yet do not require a freezer or electricity. Canned vegetables tend to be overall pretty healthy, just check the sodium content.

Similarly with canned soups, check the salt levels. Some can contain nearly 100% of your daily recommended sodium in one serving.

Canned corn can be tossed into soups or burritos, or eaten with some butter and salt alone as a side dish. Canned green beans make a similarly easy and delicious side, can become casserole, or be tossed into minestrone or veggie soup.

Canned beets are surprisingly delightful on salads, or even eaten plain. And plain canned pumpkin is a great baking option, it can be mixed into waffles, pancake mix, cakes and pies and cookies.

Pasta, a definite frugal food favorite. At some grocery stores you can find it even cheaper, 0.95, 0.88, or even 0.50! But here, everything is a dollar. That doesn’t change the fact that when money is super tight, pasta becomes a life-saver. Maybe literally.

Pasta can be made healthier by pumping it up with extra vegetables.

It goes well with just about any frozen mix you can find, and most canned vegetables as well. Just dump the veggies right into your pot with the pasta during the last 3-4 minutes of boiling.

If you want to be sneaky healthy and have a blender, you can also blend canned or frozen veggies or beans into the sauce, and no one will even know!

And where would pasta be without its best friend, sauce!

Most people cannot fathom one without the other. The good news is that pasta sauce is relatively good for you, since tomatoes actually become more nutritious after cooking.

The bad news is, all the packaged sauces probably contain high fructose corn syrup as a cheap filler…

You’re better off just simmering a can of diced tomatoes as your sauce, and adding any spices you enjoy such as Italian seasoning, thyme, basil, garlic salt, etc.

Dried beans and rice are classic frugal favorites, and for good reason. Beans are a powerhouse of nutrition, containing lots of micronutrients, magnesium, iron, protein, and tons of great-for-your-gut fiber. One cup of dry beans plumps up to 2-3 cups once cooked, giving you even more value for your money.

The same can be said of rice, white or brown, which provides 200-250 calories per cup for roughly $0.10.

To cook beans from dry, you simply let them soak in water overnight or for 8 hours, then change the water and boil them for a few hours, until soft. Or cook them in a crock pot, if you have that luxury.

Now that you have cooked beans, layer as many different types of beans as you can find into a hearty chili, toss them into tacos and burritos and enchiladas, whirl them in a blender to make homemade hummus, or cook up some hearty red beans and rice.

Ah, rice. The food all frugal foodies sing praises to. And for good reason as well.

Rice is cheap per pound ($1/lb here, you can get it much cheaper in bulk but also sometimes you just can’t swing $15 for 25 pounds) but delivers tons of carbs (aka ENERGY) and a nice punch of nutrition in return. You can easily have a full week of meals for a dollar or two and a couple minutes of simmering.

To cook rice, simply mix rice and water in a one to two ratio (for example, 1/2 cup rice + 1 cup water) and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid and simmer 20 minutes. That’s it!

It is also super easy to cook, as noted, and ridiculously versatile.

It can bulk up just about any meal to make it stretch: burritos, tacos, soups, stir fry, casseroles, curry… It is also the partner in crime to the other frugal foodie favorite, beans.

Try adding some to bulk up vegetable soups, add some simple spices and a can of tomatoes, corn, and/or beans for Spanish rice, or mix with frozen broccoli and some cheddar cheese for a delicious side dish or casserole.

Canned ravioli, Spaghetti-Os, and chili is not the best bet, they will have sky-high sodium, but if you are desperate for protein in an easy-to-open and store container, you could do worse.

I would highly recommend making actual pasta rather than go for the cans, especially for double the cost (1 box pasta + 1 can sauce vs 1 can of spaghettios). You get way more than double the food; more like 5 times as much!

As for soup stock, you can make your own for almost free! Just save vegetable scraps like potato and carrot skins, the ends of onions and celery stalks, pits of peppers and tomatoes, in a bag in the freezer. Once you have enough to fill a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour or so, and strain the solids out.

That liquid is pure homemade vegetable stock! You can use it to make soups, to fry instead of oils, and to cook rice in for extra flavor.

Dollar Tree shelves canned tuna and meats

Canned fish is definitely a great low-cost protein option. When you are on a seriously-ridiculous-bare-bones budget, you cannot worry about needs as high up the chain as ethically sourced mercury-free fish. You just want cheap sources of proteins.

Canned tuna and salmon makes great sandwiches, tuna noodle casserole, or latkes. Flake it over a salad or into any pasta dish, even adding it to soups or casseroles. Canned clams can make a frugal knockoff clam chowder, clam linguini, or top a pizza with them.

Boxed mac n cheese has all kinds of additives, fake cheese-like product, preservatives, and colorants.

You are better off cooking a box of actual pasta, and adding in a block of actual cheese to make your mac n cheese. But if even $3 is out of your price range (1 box pasta + 1 block cheese + 1 bottle milk) then the boxed kind will keep your belly full for a while.

Boxed pasta salad mixes are also not really worth the “extras”, which includes anti-caking agents, dehydrated flakes, “flavoring”, etc.

Just make a box of pasta, and add a bag of frozen peppers & onion mix. If you have one more dollar, get Italian dressing and mix it in too. It will taste better and be better for you, with actual vegetable pieces.

As mentioned above, if you have enough wiggle room in the budget to add dressing, Italian is my favorite. It is very versatile, bringing flavor to pasta salads, actual lettuce salads, or roasted chicken.

The Dollar Tree does not have any fresh produce, so we won’t have any real salad to go with it… but it does perk up pasta salads well, and is great over steamed frozen veggies.

For your baking needs, they do have smaller packages of salt, sugar, flour, and even shredded coconut. If I was on a super-tight budget, shredded coconut would not top my list. But if you have room and enjoy its taste, it is a great addition to oatmeal, soups, and baking.

Flour and water together can lead to your own super-frugal tortillas for your bean and rice burritos.

You can whip up you own naan for scooping curry and chili.

And if you can get ahold of any yeast, or a fermented sourdough starter, you can be well on your way to homemade bread, biscuits, pizza dough, and rolls as well.

For $1, this is a decent size jar of jelly. It makes me cringe just a little to see the high fructose corn syrup and how much sugar per serving is in there, jam made with actual fruit would be so much better.

But, again, this is about survival.

Food that will fill bellies and keep kids happy (or yourself) while keeping the lights on and gas in the car.

So when a PB&J is the compromise, you need the J part. It can also make a great topping for biscuits, toast, or pancakes.

Dollar Tree shelves - peanut butter

And of course the PB part of a PBJ. I was a little disappointed to see how small these jars were… 10 oz compared to jelly’s 19 oz. Can you tell we subsidize corn syrup in this country and not peanuts?

Oh, and if you have peanut allergies, well, tough luck. There is nothing fancy like almond butter or sunbutter options here.

I was pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of bread options!

Obviously, making your own without sugar or preservatives is healthier. But who has time for that nonsense between jobs and childcare?

At least you can choose whole wheat bread and rolls, and they even had a really nice looking multigrain option. For $1, this is actually much cheaper than a regular grocery store.

If you’re on a very limited budget, I highly recommend you switch to water as your main, or only beverage.

Actually I recommend that in general.

Water is the healthiest liquid you could drink, and has the added benefit of being free and clean from your very own tap. 24/7.

However, sometimes a warm or sweet beverage can be a needed pick me up, and I get that.

I noticed they had pre-cooked pizza crusts, and pizza sauce and small pepperonis. Any processed meat like sausage, pepperoni, etc. is not the best. But if you are going to have pizza anyways, making your own is FAR healthier and cheaper than going out. Even a $5 hot-and-ready is $5 compared to $3 to make your own.

In the refrigerated section, you will find 8-count eggs and yogurt. If you and your family does eat dairy, a 4-pack of yogurt for $1 is a pretty good deal, and will provide calories and some protein. Eggs are a good cheap source of protein. Though sometimes you can find better deals at ‘regular stores’, we are assuming there isn’t one.

 

The Meal Plan

I designed this plan to serve 2 people with average adult appetites for 3 meals for 7 days.

This may not apply to you, and you may need to change the amounts a little if you have little kids, or hungry teens, or a large family, or more or less meals per week to provide.

Scale up or down accordingly.

It is also designed with the least amount of cooking required as possible, which is not the best financial move.

But I understand that when times are tough and time is tight, making things from scratch is not the priority.

Grocery List:
  • 1 pack of 8 eggs
  • 1lb margerine sticks or a bottle of oil
  • 1 box mac n cheese (or 1 box pasta, 1 small jug of milk, and 1 block of cheddar cheese)
  • 1 box pancake mix
  • 1 bag frozen fruit: tropical blend, strawberries, mango
  • 4 bags frozen vegetables: stir fry blend, spinach, broccoli, California blend in 10, 12, or 14 oz
  • 3 cans sliced pineapple, mangoes, oranges, peaches, or pears
  • 3 – 1 lb pasta boxes, any shape you like
  • 1 34 oz pasta sauce can
  • 1 bag of 2 lbs white rice, or 1lb brown rice
  • At least 1 bag: 1.5 lbs pinto beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas
  • 1 16oz can or bottle tomato juice
  • Bottle of chili powder
  • 10 oz peanut butter
  • 19 oz jelly
  • 2 loaves of bread
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 can cream of mushroom
  • 1 pizza base
  • Optional beverages: tea, coffee, hot cocoa, hot cider
  • Optional snacks: granola bars, 25.4 oz jar applesauce, yogurts
  • Optional seasonings: Italian blend, garlic salt, soy sauce

Grocery total: $27 (+ depending on your optional choices)

Day One

B – 2 eggs scrambled per person, plus toast

L – PB&J sandwiches

D – Make a big pot of chili

Day Two

B – Toast with PB and/or jelly, 1/2 can fruit

L – leftover chili

D – Mac n cheese using the box, or 1 box pasta + cheese

Day Three

B – Fruit pancakes (make a big batch, and refrigerate enough for the next 2 days)

L – Chili mac! Top leftover macaroni with leftover chili. Very filling.

D – Red beans & rice

Day Four

B – Leftover pancakes – you can pop them in the toaster to reheat!

L –  Leftover red beans & rice

D – Pasta with veggies (save about 1/2 cup sauce for pizza)

Day Five

B – Leftover pancakes

L – Leftover pasta with veggies

D – Pizza night! To make it extra healthy, microwave a bag of frozen mixed vegetables and drain. Top pizza with sauce and veggies, then bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Day Six

B – 1/2 can of fruit plus toast (with PB) per person

L –  PB&J

D – Veggie stir fry

Day Seven

B – 1/2 can of fruit plus toast (with PB) per person

L – Leftover stir fry or anything else left in the fridge

D – Tuna noodle casserole

 

How Do I Make That:

Vegetarian chili: 2-3 cans different beans (or ~4 cups from dried), 1 can diced tomatoes or bottle tomato juice, chili powder = $4. Put all ingredients in a slow cooker on low 6-8 hours, or simmer on stove top for about 1 hour up to 4 hours, stirring often to prevent burning.

Macaroni and cheese: 1 box pasta, 1 block cheese, 1 small jar milk = $3. Boil pasta noodles and drain. Return noodles to the pan, add the cheese (cutting into smaller pieces or shredding will help it melt faster) and 1/2 cup milk. Stir on medium heat until cheese melts. You can also add a bag of frozen mixed veggies for extra nutrition.

Fruit pancakes: 1 bag or can fruit + 1 box pancake mix = $2
Either drain a can of fruit & chop into small pieces, or microwave 1 cup of frozen fruit and drain. Add to the pancake batter in place of some liquid. For example, if you need 1 cup of water, add 1 cup fruit and about 1/3 cup water instead. Adjust liquid to your desired batter thickness. Cook on hot pan or griddle until brown, flip and cook the other side.

Red beans & rice: Cook 2 cups rice, cook 2 cups beans (or 1 can pinto /kidney), optional 1 cup frozen pepper & onion mix = $3. The key to this one is to simmer on low for a long time. It makes the beans break down a bit and thicken, add some chili powder for extra kick.

Pasta with sauce & veggies: 1 box pasta, 1 bag frozen mixed veggies, 1 can pasta sauce = $3. Boil pasta according to directions, add frozen veggies at the last 3-5 minutes to thaw. Drain, add sauce.

Pizza: thin crust, bag pepperoni, (optional) mozzarella cheese sticks or shredded cheese, can of sauce = $4. Top crust with sauce, toppings, and cheese if using. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Stir fry: rice, frozen mixed veggies, 2 eggs = $3. Cook 2 cups of rice and set aside. Microwave or boil veggies to thaw and cook. Scramble 2 eggs, and mix into the rice. Top with veggies. Soy sauce optional.

Peanut butter & jelly: 2 slices bread, 2 tbsp peanut butter, 2 tbsp jelly = $4 (not quite, because you only use 2 slices bread not the whole loaf)

Tuna noodle casserole: 1 can tuna (drained), 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 box pasta: $3. Mix together and either bake at 350 for 20 minutes or just stir together while pasta is still hot. For extra nutrition, add a thawed bag of frozen mixed vegetables.

 

And there you have it, 3 meals per day for 7 days for 2 people, or 42 meals for just $27 or just 64 cents per serving.

You can also at any point make a big pot of vegetable soup with a bag or two of frozen mixed veggies and stock or water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes to a few hours, adding whatever spices you like. This can be easily just a few cents per serving, and you can add rice and/or beans or serve with bread/rolls to bulk it up further.

Yes, it is quite carb heavy and not the healthiest ever. But you have to do what you have to do sometimes. And sneaking in some canned fruits and frozen veggies is better than pop-tarts, or nothing!

 

Please share with the class! What are your classic frugal meal ideas? Have you ever experienced hard times? Is this at all realistic and useful?

Weekly Eating – 4/9/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

 

Monday:

Breakfast – The very last sweet potato biscuit with honey, and the very last crepe with strawberry jam. This was my favorite, why wasn’t I doing jam all along?! Next batch I will know better.

strawberry crepe and sweet potato biscuit with honey

Lunch – Last of the Chana Saag and basmati rice. So healthy, so cheap, so easy, so filling. What’s not to love.

Snack – So remember the whole Starbucks points and stars thing? I had earned enough for a free food or drink item. I save these up until I really need an extra coffee or forgot lunch/breakfast, and today was a 2-coffee day (my FitBit can prove how crap my sleep was!). I saw the Hazelnut coconutmilk mocha last week and wanted it badly. But it’s a “specialty” drink and thus more expensive, so I figured this free rewards was the best way to go.

Well… turns out you cannot redeem rewards at the one near me 🙁 Which I found out, once I got up to the counter, with a huge line behind me… a more iron-willed frugalista would have said thanks and walked away. But I wanted the sugar and caffeine real bad… so I gave in and got one anyways, just the smallest size they have (a Short, btw, in case you want fewer calories! Same # espresso shots, less sugar). At least I still had money on the gift card so I didn’t pay for it per se, and now I know what it tastes like and won’t actually use my free reward on it.

Later in the afternoon I had another CLIF cherry-apple-chia bar. I am even more sad I didn’t buy more because the boy loves them too, and ate half the box! I’m NOT complaining, more fruit in the daily diet is always a good thing. Maybe I need to figure out how to make them.

Dinner – I had two health coaching clients with a time gap between which was too short to make sense to try to go home, so I got to go to my fave Indian restaurant! I got the Aloo something or other, with bell pepper and onion and cauliflower.

Indian aloo gobi cauliflower curry

IT WAS AWESOME and the garlic Naan was manna from heaven. I had to force myself to save half and not inhale it all immediately. Gave me a serious need for more cauliflower in my life.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Chickpea salad sandwich! I had a batch already made and who says lunch things can’t be breakfast things? Crazy people.

Lunch – Leftover cauliflower and rice and naan. Just as good the second time, if not better.

Snack – Handful of dried prunes. No I’m not an old person I just honestly love their taste and chewiness, what of it?

Dinner – Quinoa with stir fried veggies

Snack #2 – I put out a call for cauliflower suggestions, and Sarah from SmileandConquor reminded me that Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” are a thing! Boy am I glad she did.

roasted buffalo cauliflower 'wings'

I whipped up a batch immediately, and the boy and I proceeded to demolish a half a head of cauliflower in under 5 minutes.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Blueberry great grains and soymilk. I was a little leery of dried blueberries, because the ones I’ve had previously were really tough, but they worked in this cereal.

Lunch – 5 Bean Vegan Chili. I made a small batch yesterday and just wasn’t feeling it for dinner, so I packed up the leftovers into single serve containers for lunch for myself and the boy today.

Dinner –Falafel burgers. I had a few cups of chickpeas to use up, and a ton of breadcrumbs. I save the heels and pieces of bread we don’t eat in the freezer until I’ve got a big batch, then roast ’em into breadcrumbs. Saves food waste and means I don’t have to buy them at the store! So I added some spices and called it burgers.

falafel burger

Snack – I wanted to try out a copycat Larabar recipe, but of course ended up using whatever I had. I blitzed an apple and a half cup of dried craisins in the food processor, and then added cinnamon, salt, almonds, and some dates. Pressed into a thin bar, they were chewy and sweet and a perfect snack. I cut it into 10 bars and refrigerated the 8 I didn’t eat immediately.

Thursday:

Breakfast – Coffee & an apple date bar

Lunch – Salad with quinoa, edamame, frozen peppers and onions, and sprouts with some lemon tahini dressing.

Snack – Whoever brought Reese eggs, I hate you and I love you

Dinner – Peanut noodle stir fry with broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms

Friday:

Breakfast – PB&J toast

Lunch – Leftover miso soup from the weekend

Snack – 1 lonely leftover swiss roll, and a fruit bar

Dinner – Ravioli & a salad

The Weekend

This weekend is supposed to be sunny and warm and amazing and I am really excited about it! We are spending Saturday doing some spring cleaning and yard work, and having a little cookout. I need to find our metal kebab skewers for the zucchini and peppers and onions and mushrooms.

Then on Sunday I have a Health Coaching client follow up to start my day, and if I can convince the boy I want to take a long hike. Or, we might finish anything that we didn’t get to Saturday. Or, I could plant another set of beans and peas, or weed the front garden and plant my basil sprouts and marigolds. Maybe we will be lazy and play video games all day. Who knows!

Food Total: $70.80

Not bad for 2 different store stops. This does include the Kroger meat and cheese sales ($1.99/lb ground turkey and $0.99/lb cheese of which we got 4 each) for the boy’s burritos, along with some tofu, plain Greek yogurt that we use instead of sour cream, and oodles of veggies.

Spring mix 5oz 0.99
Brocc/cauli steam mix 12oz 1.69
Clover sprouts 0.79
Green bean, onion, mushroom mix 1.99
zucchini / squash mix 1.99
Cauliflower heads 2 for $2 4
Pitted dates 40 oz 8.99
Anjou pears 2 1.25
Bananas 3 0.86
Shelled org edamame 2 14oz 4
Spinach big box 5.99
bananas 8 1.53
avocado Haas 3 2.07

We also spent about $20 on allergy meds: Benadryl, DayQuil, eye drops. Spring allergies are no joke in the south. Cars literally turn yellow with a coat of pollen, and we stay that way for months. Oh well, I’ll take a yellow car over a white one any day!

Lessons Learned

Harris Teeter does produce markdowns on Tuesdays! Haha sort of kidding… but seriously you should consider checking out your local stores on different days of the week and at different times if you are able. You never know when things you use often will be on clearance. The caveat with produce is you have to be sure you will use it soon, or else need to freeze or otherwise preserve it.

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?