With the busyness of fall looming, I’m working on getting my family's act together. Scheduling, gathering school supplies, improving organization and more is happening at the Harris household. One thing that I'm getting back on track is our meal planning, and part of that planning includes making sure I'm frugal in my recipe choices and techniques.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes my problem is that I'm not using the knowledge I already have. Sometimes I just need to remind myself what I know, instead of spending time learning new approaches. Just in case you also need to be reminded of no-brainers for eating a healthy diet on a budget, I'll share the things I jotted down for myself.
1. Legumes are your friend
This is so basic I almost don’t want to bring it up, but I have to admit that sometimes I forget to plan legume-based meals — even though we love them! I’m thinking of keeping a list of our favorite legume meals on hand as a reminder. There's no reason to avoid them. Try out this Slow Cooker White Beans recipe, or this especially frugal Curried Lentils recipe. Feeling a little lackluster about beans? Try out one of these 20 creative ways to use them!
2. Homemade broth
I'm a real fan of homemade broth. Broth is a big reason I chose to write a book on the topic of broths, soups and stews! But not only is it great tasting and easy to make, but it is so cheap to use! And if you use that broth to make soups and stews, you have the makings of a truly frugal meal. And did you know that you can make it for practically free? Yup, there are so many reasons we should be making homemade broth frequently.
3. Hearty homemade soups
If you combine the two above tips and make a protein-rich legume soup using homemade broth, you are well on your way to frugality. Legume soups are wonderful vegetarian-style, but they are also great for stretching out more expensive meats. Serve with garlic bread and a green salad, and you have a hearty and balanced meal in the making.
4. Stop food waste!
We waste an unfortunate amount of food. Use leftovers by creating a system of using food in the refrigerator before it goes bad, or follow these seven tips on reducing food waste to save up to 30-40 percent of your food. That could translate into a significant savings.
5. Stick with the basics
Frugal food isn’t always fancy. Stick with the healthy basics and don’t buy many specialty items. For example, I love the wide variety of legumes and grains out there. (Have you ever tried purple barley, and beautiful heirloom beans? I’d recommend it if you haven’t.) But I have no problem sticking to the basics. That means cheap organic brown lentils from the bulk section and bulk bags of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. I’ve found that you can start with these basic items and make a wide variety of delicious food, so the meal (and the meal-making) can be fun and not boring.
6. Be smart when dining out
We like to eat out. We live in Portland, Oregon, and there are so many wonderful places to eat at that serve good food! While all of us need a splurge now and then, eating out can quickly cut through your food budget if you are splurging all the time — especially once you have children. We’ve learned tricks that help us enjoy good food while eating out without spending a lot. What works for you will depend entirely on what’s available locally. Here's what works for us: Sharing food, ordering a side or two to fill out our meal (instead of ordering entrees for all of us), eating a light snack before we go out (so we don't over-order), and hunting out the best local deals. Living in a vibrant food community, combined with a little knowledge of the local haunts, we’ve been able to enjoy eating out without spending a ton.
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