The Dirty Secret Behind How We Cook At Home
You know how I always talk about the fact that we cook at home every night? Well, I think it’s time for me to come clean: we actually don’t. But don’t panic, we’re not getting takeout or going out to eat. I promise! Not to mention the fact that exactly zero restaurants deliver to our rural home… Rather, we have a hack we’d like to share.
And I say “we” because, as most of you know, Mr. Frugalwoods is our sole home cook. My chief contributions to cooking are that: 1) I eat it and; 2) I write about it. See? I’m so helpful! I dabble in the odd baked good, including baking our sandwich bread every week (although I cheat and use a hand-me-down bread machine, so I’m not sure that really counts for much… ). Otherwise, food prep is solely the domain of my husband. So really, this hack is his, but since this is my blog, I get to make it sound like it was my idea. Whee!
The Hottest Frugal Topic On The Planet (not hyperbole)
In the almost four years that I’ve been writing Frugalwoods, I can tell you without a doubt, hands down, and with zero hesitation that cooking at home is the most frequently discussed, most hated, most loved, most heavily debated element of frugal life. No contest. It’s one of those things that must be done every freaking day because we all have to eat (some of us more than others… speaking for my pregnant self here).
Cooking at home is such a fiery topic, in fact, that I have several epic tomes on how to do it (not kidding about epic… one of these posts is 6,107 words long. That’s like two chapters of a book. All about food. Yep). Here are but a few of these volumes in case you’re looking for inspiration:
- Our Complete Guide To Frugal, Healthy Eating (be forewarned: this is the one that’s 6,107 words long… )
- How To Stop Eating Out According To Frugalwoods Readers
- What Does A Frugal Person Eat?
- Six Things We Never Buy At The Grocery Store
- How We Broke Our Eating Out Habit In 9 Steps
- Our Frugal Grocery List Revealed
- Breakfast: The Hidden Destroyer
Hungry for even more about food? Check out my entire FOOD category (yes, believe it or not, I have EVEN MORE posts about food!). Featuring lots of photos of our food and an annoyed Mr. FW as I buzz around him in the kitchen with my camera, to which he replies, “Some people are trying to work here!” Yeah, yeah, me too!
Why oh why is food such a red hot, flaming pepper of a topic? Because cooking at home is essentially an ironclad prerequisite for a frugal lifestyle. There are few (no?) other things that come so close to being a frugal commandment, but I daresay cooking at home is commandment #1. While the occasional meal out is totally fine and can be managed with ease by most budgets; unless you’re a certified mega millionaire, you can’t eat out all the time and still expect to save tons of money and enjoy a financially secure life. The mark-up on restaurant meals and take-out is simply too astronomical. Mr. FW and I eat out about once a month, which seems to be a perfect balance for us. It’s a fun treat, it’s a fabulous date night, but it doesn’t impact our budget much at all. Eating out, or getting takeout, as an occasional, planned-for, budgeted-for treat is great! But dining out all the time and grabbing takeout at 8pm on a Tuesday because “there’s nothing in the fridge” is not so great. This type of eating out is both a drain on your monthly expenses and also serves to obliterate the novelty inherent to a meal out. When dining out becomes rote, it stops being a special treat.
When I talk about “cooking at home,” I’m referring to everything edible (or drinkable) we consume. Coffees, beers, lunches, dinners… you name it. Preparing this stuff at home and, for example, taking your lunch to work every day is often cited as the #1 way to–rather easily–start saving more money every month. Of the over 20,600 people who’ve taken my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge, I swear that nearly ALL of them have emailed me about how much they were able to save JUST by ceasing to buy coffee and food out. It’s the proverbial–and actual–low-hanging fruit of extreme frugality. Think I’m kidding? Start tracking your expenses and tally up every dollar you spend in a month on food and drink. Every. single. solitary. dollar.
Cooking: Hobby Or Bane Of Existence?
Often, it’s a bit of both. Some folks love to cook,
(weirdos) which is great for them! I, personally, hate to cook and so, Mr. FW is our household cook. He is one of those people who loves to cook, but here’s the caveat: only when he has tons of time, which between working, homestead labor, and parenting, is… basically never.
If he had hours of free time every day he would construct amazing dishes of divine proportions–I know this because that’s what he does on holidays. His Thanksgiving feasts could be in Better Homes and Gardens. But on regular old weekdays? He ain’t got the time. So how exactly do we eat? Through efficiency, routine, and a division of labor.
Our Dirty Cooking Secret: Mr. FW only cooks dinner once a week!
GASP. Ok sometimes it’s twice. And then… wait for it… we eat those leftovers all week long. When Mr. FW cooks, it’s a certified event. He cooks primarily from scratch, because this is both cheaper and healthier. But it’s not quicker. He doesn’t rely on pre-made or pre-packaged foods, so there’s a lot of prep work that goes on: dicing onions, chopping garlic, slicing chard–you name it, he’s doing it. Given this, it can take him up to two hours to prepare a meal.
However, by consolidating his cooking to just one night a week, he reaps tremendous efficiencies. Last week, he made his delicious (and spicy!) chicken chili, which entails cutting up a lot of vegetables, roasting chickens in advance, and then combining everything in a giant pot that’s more of a vat/cavern really. It would be a total, utter, complete waste of labor and time if he made just one measly serving of that chili.
Since he’s already going through all the steps of dicing, slicing, chopping, and cooking, he might as well do it big! It’s almost as easy to make a single serving as it is a dozen. His vat of chili created no less than TWENTY-TWO meals for the three of us. We don’t eat the chili for 22 dinners straight, but rather, portion out enough to last us about a week and then freeze the rest in quart-size ziplock bags in our deep freeze. Thus, his two+ hours of labor are richly rewarded and his work flow made vastly more efficient.
In addition to the tremendous efficiencies of giant batch cooking, the cook-n-freeze methodology is a lifesaver for us busy parents/homesteaders. On a night when we’re out of meals and Mr. FW doesn’t have time to cook? We simply defrost a previously cooked and frozen meal. Voila! Healthy, homemade dinner on tap: it’s the true frugal takeout. By maintaining a stash of frozen homemade meals, we’re never caught in a lurch on a hectic day.
While it’s efficient from a labor perspective for Mr. FW to cook in large batches, it’s also less expensive. Buying in bulk is almost always cheaper than buying smaller amounts of ingredients. In this chicken chili example, he used no less than 4.5 pounds of chicken, which was purchased on sale (and some of which was a gift from our neighbors who raise chickens–yum–as a thank you for watching those same chickens while they were out of town. Nice circle of life, eh?).
We also stretch out expensive proteins–such as chicken–by pairing them with LOADS of beans and vegetables. This particular “chili” also contains black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili peppers, turkey stock (which Mr. FW made from our Thanksgiving turkey last year and then froze), spices, and more! That makes our investment of chicken go quite a long way indeed. To stretch these meals even further and make them even less expensive per serving, we always eat our meals atop either rice or a bed of salad greens. Rice is so cheap it’s not even funny. And wonderful, warm rice beneath a spicy bowl of chicken chili is a simply scrumptious complimentary food.
In the spirit of seasonal eating, this was our first chili of the fall as we’ve been eating from our garden since June. I am pretty certain we ate a stir fry of kale, chard, red chili peppers, and green beans (all harvested from our garden) for roughly 2.5 months straight. Earlier this week we harvested what was probably our last gasp of kale and chard and are eating that this week to close out the summer. On top of a bed of rice, of course! After several months of vegetarianism, we’re now moving into the more meat-heavy portion of our year (hence the chicken chili!).
One Pot Meals
For the most part, Mr. FW is a specialist in delicious, one pot meals. Sticking with the chicken chili example, rather than serve separate portions of chicken, beans, and vegetables, he throws them all together in the same pot (although he did roast the chicken separately in advance) in order to yield an even higher level of efficiency.
His rationale for this approach is as follows: the flavors meld together beautifully, he only has to watch one pot, it’s more amenable to serving over rice, it’s ultimately easier to cook, and it’s vastly easier to freeze. We’re able to defrost a (nearly) complete meal in a bag that only requires the preparation of a bit of rice!
Streamline Your Cooking
If you too do not relish the thought of cooking a full dinner every. single. night. of. the. week, find a way to streamline and create efficiencies in your cooking. And if you don’t want to eat the same meal every night? Cook huge batches of stuff once a week and freeze the leftovers. Then, you can rotate out those frozen meals for a different meal every night of the week (this is also a fantastic way to ensure you never waste food, which is terrible for your wallet, the environment, and a massive waste of your time).
I know people who dread cooking–like, totally hate it–and yet, they do it every single night. And hate it every night. People: stop doing this to yourselves!! Create efficiencies in your food prep (here are a slew of ideas from Frugalwoods readers), fire up the slow cooker, batch cook on Sundays, freeze the heck out of your leftovers, and ease up on the nightly cooking.
It is 100% possible, and reasonable, to eat all of your meals at home and yet not cook on a daily basis. Create a schedule and workflow that meshes well with your lifestyle. As with most elements of frugality, planning ahead is your best friend. Know what you’re going to cook in advance, buy the ingredients you need ahead of time, and determine which night (or nights) you’ll be able to devote to cooking.
Back when we both worked in offices, Mr. FW cooked up our lunches (the famous Frugalwoods Rice-n-Beans Recipe) on Sunday afternoons and portioned them out into tupperware in the fridge. Grab-n-go lunches for the full week! I also used to boil eggs, chop carrots, and make other snacks for the work week on Sundays so that I’d be set for food all week long. Dinnertime is not an emergency, people. It happens every dang night. Plan ahead, prepare in advance, embrace imperfection, and make your life easy.
Embrace Misc. Dinners
Speaking of making your life easy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our proclivity for the occasional “misc. dinner.” Short for “miscellaneous dinner,” but more fun to say, misc. dinners are nights when Mr. FW doesn’t want to/can’t cook and we don’t want to defrost a meal. Misc. dinners are essentially defined by their name: they are miscellaneous.
On these nights, which I’d say happen roughly twice a month at our house, we eat non-traditional dinner foods, such as bread with olive oil, olives, and cheese. Or hummus with vegetables and popcorn! No one will die if you have sandwiches for dinner. No one will pass out if you eat cereal. A bowl of oatmeal for dinner, while non-traditional, will not kill you. It will be fine. Embrace the ethos of the misc. dinner and give yourself permission to eat one from time to time.
Frozen Pre-Made Food: Have Some In Your Freezer
I also must highlight the final element of our always-eat-at-home success: frozen pizzas. NOT pizzas we’ve made, but good old, store-bought, unhealthy frozen pizzas. I HIGHLY recommend your freezer contain something similar. These babies are our get out of jail free cards. These puppies are what you heat up on the worst of the worst nights of busy chaos and delirium.
They are your saving grace from emergency takeout. They are your emergency frozen pizzas (or frozen ravioli or frozen tofu burgers or whatever you please). They are a separate category from your homemade frozen foods as they serve a different purpose.
For us, frozen store bought pizzas (which are a mere $3.99 each versus the exorbitant price of delivery pizza), are both a treat and an emergency fail safe. While expensive and unhealthy, they are a lot cheaper and healthier than most takeout options. Have something like this in your freezer–you will not regret it. I guarantee it.
Eat Your Leftovers: No Excuses!
I leave you with a final missive: eat your leftovers. I really don’t care if you like leftovers or not, you still have to either eat them or freeze them. Food waste is an enormous problem, both for the environment and our wallets, and there’s no excuse for it (except for toddlers who spit out food and then refuse to eat it again… speaking from personal experience here… toddlers are gross). But if you’re not a toddler, you’ve got zero excuses buddy. And if you’re married to/living with someone who doesn’t like leftovers? Then they are most welcome to cook every night of the week. Just sayin’.
You need a system that works for everyone in your family, but it is righteously unfair to put the burden of daily cooking on one (probably already over-burdened) person. People who love to cook nightly are exempted of course–cook your cook-loving hearts out! Once again, if you don’t want to eat the same meal every night: freeze the leftovers immediately (so that they’ll come out of the freezer fresh-tasting) and then defrost different meals on a regular rotation.
While cooking at home is pretty much a prerequisite for frugality, it’s not a penance to slaving away in your kitchen day after day. Economize, streamline, create efficiencies, and enjoy the wonderful life that your frugality has allowed you to create.
P.S. As I shared on Monday, I WROTE A BOOK! (I’m a little bit excited, can you tell?!?) And this book is now available to be pre-ordered, for which I will mail you a signed bookplate. Check out this post for all the details.
How do you handle the cooking-at-home conundrum in your home?
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That chili looked so good! I believe I need to add that to our meal rotation!
We do the misc meals for sure, although I never thought to give it a name. I just would decide that I didn’t feel like cooking or we were busy that day so we ended up eating sandwiches.
We also like to do the big cooks at once when we can. We will either smoke a large hunk of meat and freeze in portions or grill out and throw all the meat we can find on the grill. Then we spread it out throughout the week. Those are some of my favorite meal times.
I also have just gotten our meals down to simple, quick meals most days. With a few that are more like appetizers, like pigs in blankets, that everyone loves to eat as a meal.
I do agree though. Food is easily the simplest to cut down and learn to control. It’s definitely the quick win most people trying to cut their budget need.
Great tips as usual.
We actually do the exact same thing. We cook once a week on Sundays for the rest of the week.
And just like you guys, we love delicious one pot meals.
One advice I would add is to try to make sure the kids don’t become picky eaters. How have you handled that with BabyWoods? Any advice for us new mommies?
We too have a great interest in expanding Babywoods’ palette and so I ate all kinds of foods (spicy, etc) while pregnant and breastfeeding and then we’ve given her all kinds of foods from the first day she ate solids (circa 6 months old). She now will eat spicy foods, kale, chard–you name it, she eats it! I also think it’s probably largely due to the kid–Babywoods 1 happens to be very interested in food and pretty much game to eat anything. We also don’t make her special or “kid” foods: we have the food we have and that’s it. She is unaware that such a thing as chicken fingers even exist! We also don’t give her any sweets–in fact, no sugar whatsoever. The sweetest thing she eats is fresh fruit. By having no sweets and a huge variety of spices, etc, our hope is that she’ll continue to be a good eater! That being said, she also went through a phase of only wanting to eat cottage cheese–but our pediatrician said as long as the food is all healthy, we shouldn’t worry about periodic food jags.
Ohhhhhh I miss the babywood days! When my kids were young they would eat almost anything. When my eldest was at his 7 year check up the MD asked what his favorite food was and he said “broccoli-rabe”! HOWEVER, as they got older they began to resist some of my tired and true meals/ingredients. Happily they are now teens and are back to eating most things I prepare – although one will only eat cherry tomatoes while the other would only eat regular tomatoes !. So my advice is to power through those in-between picky eater years!
Thanks, that’s some good tips especially starting early & eating all types of food while still pregnant.
Hi RR! Couldn’t agree with you more. I’m curious, how do you deal with the pickiness? My son is also an extremely picky eater and I’m not sure how to help him with that. Trying to get him to eat new foods will almost make him puke. This is in stark contrast to his little sister who’ll eat anything and yell “more food!”.
This is a great way of parenting!! We did the same with my daughter until she was around 2. At 2 she started spending more time with friends at their houses and being curious about what they were eating. We decided at that point not to forbid sweets if she was interested, and instead she just has a very small amount on special occasions. The good news is it hasn’t affected her other eating habits, she still eats veggies and everything else!! So I think laying the foundation for good eating is the most important thing. Love your philosophy on eating and parenting!!
Keep in mind, your experience has been with neuro-typically developing children. Children with special needs (e.g. most children with autism) often have aversions to certain foods and/or textures, and if this is labeled “pickiness”, then they won’t get any help and nothing will improve. You will make the problem worse if you try to force them past it. My son has Sensory Processing Disorder (among other neurological issues) but he wasn’t diagnosed until age 9. In the years prior, many friends/relatives who thought they were being helpful labeled him “picky” and were way too happy to tell me what I was supposedly doing wrong with him. With occupational therapy and the passage of time, he’s now a teenager who eats healthy food and just about everything, including many things he would not have touched earlier. Fortunately, I worked with him on these issues instead of fighting against him, and our relationship was not damaged. This was because I had a vivid memory of being forced to eat creamed tuna on toast and gagging on it and I knew I never wanted to do something similar to my child.
Lilypad, my 10 year old won’t eat much, and most of the real food that she does eat is white flour. I try to avoid power struggle with her, but I’m wondering if it’s a sensory thing. How did the occupational therapy work? Did it include food?
My wife and I are huge fan of using the crock pot to cook. We can set all the ingredients in the morning into the crock pot and hit cook 🙂 When we get home we have the amazing smell of veggies and meat permeating the air 🙂 Plus it’s virtually no work. We especially love it in the winter time 🙂
My MIL is staying with us, so she is helping with the cooking. But she is going back to China at the end of this year, so my hubby and I have been talking about using a crock pot to cook and save time.
We like to have a variety of dishes, but it takes lots of time 🙁
Really, this way of cooking SAVES time!
If you cook a big batch of something once per week, after a few weeks you’ll have a stash. You can eat something different every night for a month!
It’s a matter of getting your process down and having the right storage containers. Then you’ll find you save both time and money!
I’m not sure what you’re cooking, but I found that Chinese food takes a decent amount of prep time. I’ve lived in China for almost six years – loved the food but had a hard time fixing any of it quickly – especially if you want more than one dish. One thing I found that froze well was a fried rice base. I’d double my meat/veggie base and pull off half of it to freeze before I added the rice. Then some other time I’d thaw the frozen base, stir fry it a little and add rice from earlier in the week. That might work well to use up leftovers from other dishes. Fix a bigger batch of yu xiang rou si, freeze some of it and then turn it into fried rice later. I think serving it as fried rice hides the frozen/reheated damage done to it. Most Chinese food is just made to be eaten fresh. So western dishes it is. Crock pots are a good option. Soups are good. I’d be interested to know if anyone has decent, authentic, Chinese recipes that work well as frozen leftovers.
One of our favorite meals is our “picnic meals” (which Mr. Adventure Rich treated me to on our first date while mountain biking). We eat a delicious spread of bread, cheese, tomato, avocado (if we are lucky!), almonds and whatever else we scrounge up in our house. Pair that with some red wine and we are all set! It reminds me of your “misc. meals” 🙂
I haven’t done much with batch cooking due to the prospect of eating the same thing all week, but I like your “freeze it!” hack. I think that will make batch cooking much more appealing in the future. Thanks for the tips!
Love the picnic meal! Sounds much more romantic than “misc dinner” 😉
We call it “Tapas” so it sounds fancy 😉
Leftovers for my work lunches isn’t one of our biggest money-saving ventures. i used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on eating out at work. I’m glad those days are behind me.
Yay for batch cooking. It sounds like Mr, Frugalwoods does it up right at home! You’ve inspired me to incorporate bigger and less frequent cooking events into our lives. All too often we’re scrambling to get dinner on the table – you know, in between homework and baths.
I think I’ll start today with a big casserole! Thanks for the inspiration!
I love cooking, but definitely need to get better at making larger batches and freezing leftovers. It’s been so warm this fall that I haven’t started making soups and chilis yet this year. I need to get on it and get some different meals in the freezer! Thanks for the motivation!
We also do batch cooking! Most Sundays I cook two large pots of food and then portion out into lunches and larger containers for leftovers during the week. I do make fresh salads from garden greens in the spring/summer/fall most nights too. (That gets me some time outside harvesting after a long day in cubicle-land.)
I love to cook, but don’t have time to do it every day, since starting my blog (these things take a lot of time). But I’m learning now how to freeze leftovers (not difficult, but intimidating). Thanks for the big reveal!
Excellent advice as usual and I’m sure that I speak for many others in the Frugalwoods community when I say we are just as excited about the Book as the author is!
For us, there is always the wonderful fallback supper—Omelette aux fine herbes with a glass of red wine. That’s our go-to meal when chaos and busyness overwhelm our schedule. Of course an omlette can made of anything—leftover veggies, cheeses of all kinds, or fruit jam. Bon appetite … and stay frugal!
Oh yes! I forgot to mention the beauty of scrambled eggs and omelettes! A perfect quick dinner. I like that you pair it with red wine 😉
I too love the topic of cooking and eating in the personal finance community. It’s one of the biggest expenses in our budget. We all know that cooking at home is healthy and cheaper than eating out, but we all eat out at one point or another.
We spent more than $1,000 on our groceries last month, and we didn’t even eat out that much. We are still working on our food budget that has gone through the roof >.<
I Love the “misc. dinner” though we call it a “free Night” you can pick and choose what you want from what’s in the fridge and you don’t have to eat what the other people are eating. The lonely chicken breast can become a salad for my roommate and I’ll take the not enough for a meal pasta and pair it with the last legs apple and peanut butter.
I’m glad you included the frozen pizza because having a backup meal on hand is important. If you have a tough day or you’re scrambling around with sports, activities and other commitments it’s great to have something quick and easy to fall back on rather than resorting to eating out or ordering in.
Mrs. FF is a great cook and I’m a great eater. 🙂 She does most of the cooking, except for wings – I make damn fine Buffalo Wings!
She does usually make more then we eat in one meal so we have plenty of leftovers that we eat on other days. Nothing like 22 meals though. That’s smart and impressive.
I do have my own dirty secret though – we eat out more than we used to. Since we FIREd and downsized into downtown Philly, we can’t walk anywhere without passing yummy-looking restaurants. Sometimes temptation is just too much.
Frozen pizzas have been a sanity saver for us recently. We’ve been doing frozen meat lovers pizza and use fresh veggies/basil on top to make custom and so much more flavorful than the Works frozen pizzas. In case you want to try a little bit of variety!
I do things like make big batches of soup on weekend (little hands on time, most of that is just bubbling away time) and freeze for lunches. I make beans in the crockpot, and freeze those so I can whip up meals in 15 minutes or less (burritos, quesadillas, tacos). I make meatloaf in a muffin tin and freeze the individual pieces. Couscous is my friend when time is short – only 5 minutes. Typically dinner is something thawed from the freezer along with a freshly made salad, or a freshly cooked vegetable. Another life safer product is Trader Joe’s Greek flatbreads. They make an excellent pizza crust, and whatever is on hand goes on top. Great way to use up leftovers when there is too much to throw out, but not enough for a full meal.
Elaborate meals are only on the weekends, if ever.
We do a picnic (almost) every Friday night similar to the Adventure Rich family. Everyone enjoys that! As for the “misc. dinner” I grew up in a household who had C.O.R.N. for dinner every couple of weeks. That stood for Clean Out Refrigerator Night…and we do it as well if I can’t disguise it as part of the picnic.
I love all your posts about food, because we spend so much in this area. We have done really well with not eating out now that we’re all in school and working, and your idea about cooking only a few nights a week fits in really well with how we’ve been doing things. We tend to have one or two cooked meals, and the rest are from leftovers. We also have a LOT of “misc. dinners” where we stir fry whatever veggies are in the fridge, and throw in some hot dogs for protein. The kids will pretty much eat any dinner with hot dogs. Lily from A Frugal Gene posted about how her family eats the same types of food all the time–in her case, rice, veggies, Chinese food–and I think that fits in well with what you’re saying. It makes a lot more sense to make a big batch of something (or a similar type of food) and eat that all week. It really cuts down on waste.
It would be a big help to us newbies if you could add a special Mr. F’s recipes section to the blog. 🙂
I would say he should start his own, but he seems pretty busy already. And you are the writer of the two. Only fair right lol?
The problem is that he doesn’t cook from recipes! He’s more of a throw it all together type of cook. I wish I had specific recipes to point you to, but his meals are different every single time :).
I have a few friends that cook like that – they don’t measure anything and everything is delicious. However, some of us need a little guidance. 🙂 I’m with Ashley. If you could share your top five freezer meals the same way you shared your rice and beans, those would be very popular posts. For anyone looking for specific recipes I highly recommend budgetbytes.com
I hear ya! Anytime I cook, I need the most detailed recipe imaginable ;). I will try to pin down Mr. FW for some recipes, but he is a natural cook at this point and sort of whizzes around the kitchen chopping things! Fun to watch, impossible for me to understand 😉
I now eat Mr. Frugalwoods beans, made from the Asian Sauce/paste, every week for a couple of meals. I had never tasted that sauce before I read your blog, and it is amazing on beans! Yes, you can teach an older person like me new foods…lol
Mr. FW has recommended watching Good Eats and I agree (I also have all 3 of the companion cookbooks which were NOT frugal purchases but may have been worth it anyway). Alton Brown taught me a lot of what I know about cooking. Once you have a few of those under your belt it’s surprisingly easy to understand how flavors work together and the different methods of cooking (roasting, grilling, baking, frying, sauteeing, boiling). Next just a short hop to searching for recipes using whatever you have on hand (for me that was lentils and pumpkin today) and adjusting to your personal taste.
It sounds like Mr. Frugalwoods starts with basic concepts like: just about any chopped veggie sautéed in soy sauce is a basic tasty stir-fry. Just about any root or winter veg stewed in savory broth is the start of a hearty, well, stew. Chili is a stew. Pot roast is basically a stew. There are many low or no-meat classic peasant dishes like cassoulet or ratatouille that can be adjusted with as much or little meat as you feel like paying for. Once you have mastered some of these you can adjust endlessly based on what you like or what you have to work with.
If it’s not possible to watch Good Eats many of his recipes are on http://www.foodnetwork.com. Bad quality videos are also sometimes on YouTube. As Mrs. Frugalwoods mentions, there are many blogs full of $5 dinner (or less) and other frugal cookery recipes. It gets a lot easier with practice to put together cheap and tasty meals.
I love to cook from scratch and even more so using veggies from our small garden. Like Mr. Frugalwoods, I love it a lot more when I have time to enjoy the creative process.
When I wans a single parent with elementary aged children, I planned 3-4 meals a week and cooked enough for two meals at a time. I cooked every other day and this worked well for us. I also taught my children to cook starting at age 10/11, so that was helpful as well. By the time my son was in middle school, I could call him from work and ask him to start dinner. This had the advantage of saving money and teaching the kids life skills.
I remarried about 10 months ago and now days I cook 5 days a week. I cook enough for one dinner, lunches the next day and a little bit leftover. One day a week, we eat any/all leftovers in a miscellaneous meal. We rarely throw away food. My husband is extremely complimentary and grateful that I cook making the effort even more worth it. We eat out about once a week which is easily afforded in our budget.
A life without chicken fingers is a life left unlived 😉 Really though, kudos on Babywoods 1’s healthy eating habits!
Haha, I know right?! She’ll surely eat them (and cookies and cake and candy… ) at some point, but no reason to introduce that stuff so young when she’s not even asking for it.
I’ve gotten a TON better about taking leftovers for lunch, but the large batch freezer meals have been a bit of a conundrum because our chest freezer is full of a quarter cow (and hopefully soon some venison), so we rarely have much space for anything else. The great debate I’ve been having for months now is whether we get a SECOND freezer for everything else.
Oh I hear ya–we’re debating getting a larger/second freezer too!
OK: confession time! Hubby and I have THREE freezers! Two came from yard sales (it is amazing what will fit in the back of a RAV-4 if you take out the back seats) and the other was well, well worth the expenditure. I strongly suggest spreading the word around that you are “in the market” and, who knows, you might even be offered a freezer for free.
What do we keep in these freezers? Of course, since we have a big garden, lots of produce, from blueberries to okra to peppers to stewed tomatoes. We freeze cheese, butter, meat and fancy gourmet bread (marked down at the supermarket because it’s about to go out of date), coffee beans (am just now finishing the marked-down Christmas packages I bought at the beginning of January), things like flour, cornmeal, beans, grits, oatmeal and rice which don’t do well in the heat (we have no AC and we’ve learned the hard way to freeze stuff like this), protein bars (I am a bodybuilder and buy these in bulk on eBay) … you get the idea. We buy yeast in bulk for bread and, just so it’s frozen, it never seems to go bad. Oh, and, if you have the space, a freezer can be a good place to store woolens (just so they are in a moisture-proof container) – all the potential moth-related problems are killed dead.
Yes, our freezers are well worth the electricity it costs to run them. Right now, one has a leaky gasket, and we were able to order the part and will be repairing ourselves tomorrow.
I can definitely see how you could fill three freezers! My husband is headed out hunting this weekend and if he’s successful, we’re going to have to get creative quick!
Our biggest problem is WHERE to put an extra freezer. We have a small house and a 1 car garage that’s full of tools/workshop space.
We make a weekly menu that drives our grocery shop and then Q. does a lot of cooking on the weekends. Our current goal is to avoid cooking during the entire work week as things are really hectic and I’m usually the one home first and I don’t enjoy cooking, especially when I haven’t seen my kids all day, and our baby just clings to my leg and screams if I am in the kitchen (she’s no longer safe to be up in the Ergo while I cook either as she grabs at things). I know from experience in a year things will be easier so for now we are just rolling with it.
One caveat I would say with leftovers is to just keep an eye on food safety. We have a strict 72 hour rule in our house, and we try to keep it to 48 hours if meat is involved. I know a lot of food is probably ok to go longer than that, but anything more makes Q. very uncomfortable (he’s Australian and I am positive growing up in that environment has made him much more conservative than I am in this regard). There’s no way our six year old would eat the same meal more than two nights in a row anyway, so it works out.
With picky eaters, our son as a baby ate everything and then became progressively pickier from toddlerhood until close to age 4. We took the long view and just kept making meals we wanted him eventually to like. If he really ate very little he had plain Greek yoghurt as a dessert. Now that he’s six there are loads of meals he wouldn’t touch previously that he devours. Research shows that the key is to just keep offering food over and over- in his case this really worked.
We also try to plan a couple of meals a week that we know he loves, and a couple of meals with foods that are more of a challenge so he is getting the next round of exposure to new things.
The example I always think of is a spinach and ricotta pie Q makes with puff pastry. We found the recipe when our son was two. For a solid year he only ate the pastry. Now he eats the filling first AND eats almost more than we do! Perseverance paid off! (This kind of recipe also works well with chopped frozen kale and chard, fyi).
I used to just eat the same thing every day. My husband likes a bit more variety but the problem is he eats so much!! My extra portions don’t last very long. I should try and make larger portions. That sounds amazing 2 hours of food prep and cooking for the whole week! We usually have enough for one leftover but that’s it.
I have this same problem. I made beef stew on Thursday night, had some for lunch on Friday and told my husband to make sure I get at least one more serving of it before he eats the rest. It was an entire crockpot full and I’m sure it will be gone tomorrow.
Yes, I am right with you! The good news is our spouses really enjoy our cooking! And now, my solution: purchase two slow cookers and put ’em to work. They use hardly any current and, Heaven forbid, if there are leftovers, that is all to the good. Most thrift shops and/or yard sales have slow cookers to spare.
Thank you for sharing this…I never ever thought of a second slow cooker! My main time to do food prep is on the weekends and I balance time monitoring the big pot with pasta sauce while leaving soup or chili in the crock pot or the other way around. I put steel cut oats in it as well, so that battles for time with the dinners.
After hearing about the benefits of using Hefty brand zip lock bags for freezing the meals so they can stack and lay flat in the freezer, I’m finally trying that and am sold. No zipper pops like I had with other brands. I grew up in a home where we washed out our zipper bags and reused if we could and have tried the generic and other brands, but get the most use and satisfaction from these.
A slow cooker (or 3!) and a deep freezer could be big helpers for the food budget. And stew is just the start!
A great source of information and inspiration is
No need to bag anything special- I actually freeze soup all the time in the generic ziploc bags from whatever brand is the cheapeast (as long as it’s the non-slider kind in quart size, not sandwich size) and don’t have an issues with them spilling as long as I make sure the seal stays clean. The trick is to fold the zipper sides away (kind of roll them outwards and down) so they stay perfectly clean when filling the bag. The only time I had a bag spill was when I got some food on the zipper part itself. Also the “quart” and “gallon” bags seem to work best- often it seems the sandwich size have a weaker zipper unless you buy the freezer version.
Hi, I ordered a bookplate but realized (after the fact) that I’m Canadian and you can’t ship it here. I do have a friend in the U.S., though, that can probably take it. How can I send a new address to you?
I LOVE to cook my own meals. For various reasons such as : I am a picky eater , prefer my own cooking, have many food allergies & celiac disease. I will say that my coworkers are spurred on by my determination to not buy lunch out. One of them ran out an bought a laptop bento lunch box and has taken to bringing his lunch quite often. I like knowing what I am having for lunch each day and dislike wasting my lunch hour waiting in line in hopes there is something tasty that I can eat (unlikely). Now that my family is grown, I still batch cook, but now I freeze a whole lot more….
I rarely put whole meals/dishes in the freezer, but my biggest time-saver is cooking up and preparing all the MEAT beforehand and then just freezing that so I can quickly defrost it and throw it in with other ingredients when dinnertime comes up. So, whenever I have some extra time, I cook up a massive batch of ground beef (and season it various ways, depending on how I want to prepare it eventually) and cooked, diced chicken (some prepared with onions and garlic, some not) and then just use my vacuum sealer to freeze them in meal-size portions until I’m ready to use them. It seriously saves so much time and mess (since you’re only making a big mess once, really), and it definitely helps me get over the hurtle of lagging motivation (which often happens when I know I have to prepare ALL elements of a meal instead of just assembling stuff).
Really great post. I also cook larger meals 1-2 times a week and keep a list of leftovers on the front of the refrigerator. Plus I always have a plan b meal in the cabinet or freezer.
I am really glad, though, you included the sections about misc meals. I think all this eating out has made us forget that meals can be simple. A pb&j with a side of carrots, an apple and cookie can be a filling meal, it’s cheap, and it can all be made from scratch or grown in the yard (yes – even the peanut butter!). We don’t really need to make fancy meals to sustain life. Could it be that simple foods are is the best way to be frugal and break the eating out budget drain? At least for the non-cook!
Yup, leftovers are the best. Though I have to say, now that I have 2 boys, and they are eating a lot more, they don’t last nearly as long. I do find myself cooking often.
Most of my work is prepping veggies – we eat a lot of them, and I eat salad for lunch every day.
When my husband travels (not often, but when he does, it’s for a week!) I prep ahead. Last time I made a big pot of beans in the pressure cooker, and Spanish rice in the rice cooker. Mixed them all together. Without husband eating them, they last longer – so I put half in the freezer, and the other half lasted 3 nights. Just this last week, I defrosted the rest – and that lasted one dinner and 2 lunches for me (warmed beans and rice are delicious on a salad).
I realize that dinner time is not an emergency. However, for some families, I’ve found it becomes “overload”. Especially the moms. My neighbor and I have this conversation often – we are the cooks and shoppers in the house. We both work, and we both have a night or two where we work late. What we REALLY want is to not even think about it that night. But it’s almost like it’s impossible – her husband will ask “what should we have for dinner?” Not understanding that she needs a night off. So they often go out.
I’m a little better (and resigned) – we have Costco frozen pizzas, and I have a piece of scrap paper on the counter that I write down dinner. Today, I took out marinara and pasta – so it will be obvious to hubs (who gets home first today), that it’s one pot pasta.
One other thing to note is that what works today might not work in 5 years. I’ve used all of these tactics at various times:
1. Identify a day for everything. Pasta Monday, Taco Tuesday, Stir-fry Weds, etc. Leftover Friday.
2. Cook 2 big meals on the weekend. 1st will be 3-4 nights dinner, other portioned out for 5 lunches (bonus: you don’t overeat when you eat the same thing 5 days in a row). Then, Weds was reliably crockpot day. Weds crockpot day food lasts until Friday.
3. Plan meals one month in advance. This was really uber frugal, because I had to know exactly what I had, and nothing got wasted. This was a little harder, as our veggies change by week. But I was able to wing it.
4. Plan meals weekly, or 1-2 days in advance (mostly what I do now).
These days, weekends are mostly prepping things…and working our way through them as the weekend goes on. I need to get back into baking bread (gluten free for me, regular for the fam), because that will be a big help. The hard part is carving out the time on the weekend.
Finally, I bought plastic takeout containers with lids (32 oz), which are great for stocks, leftovers, etc. AND reusable. I’ve been slowly easing away from using Ziploc for anything with meat in it, because then I can’t reuse them.
We aren’t big fans of reheating entire meals other than soups and stews and some casseroles. It seems like the quality/texture is not always great? But we precook and freeze proteins like ground beef, chicken, beans, etc. and have a list on the fridge of quick pantry meals we can make from those items. We also use our crockpot and Instant pot regularly.
Thanks for the reminder. I’d made beans and rice awhile back and tried freezing it in portions but the rice was so bad after being frozen that I had up pitch it all. I know you can buy frozen rice, not that we should, just saying they must have some trick to make it work that I don’t have
I’ve never tried freezing rice, so I’m afraid I have no tips to offer. We make rice fresh for every meal since it’s such a quick and easy process (even I can make it :)!).
I have just started prepping meals ahead of time and it makes all the difference financially and in terms of sticking with a healthy diet (no fast food or work cafeteria food on a whim). Along with prepping and planning meals ahead of time, I’ve been able to streamline my shopping list. I know what kinds of foods I use on a regular basis. I place an online order for these foods at my local Sam’s Club and then go pick it up in store. This keeps me from giving into the expensive and unhealthy temptations that are there when I’m wandering the aisles.
I love, love, love! food, and all these tips and tricks are wonderful.
My one add is squash…roasted spaghetti squash with the chili is a great meal stretcher, and fun/healthy to eat. Alas, while condo life is great, it leaves something to be desired as to freezer space. We make do a well as we can, and often have a least 5-6 frozen pre-made meals available at any given time.
We once in a while do a snack dinner: cheese, fruit, cold cuts (leftover chicken and bits of meats), popcorn and nuts. It fills everyone up and uses a lot of odds and ends.
When we have ends of cheeses, bits of meats and eggs—we make quiche or omelet’s or frittatas.
We have no food waste because we think that food is too expensive to waste.
A soup and bread night is a great one too!
Love your style. Deliberate leftovers for the freezer and prepping more than one meal at once is a big part of my strategy in the kitchen.
I can vouch for the frozen pizza tip which I picked up here a few years ago (Thank you!) Normally, I’d make pizza from scratch but occasionally there will be a night when something has gone haywire and so I’ll use one of the frozen pizzas from the small stash of them in my freezer. I buy these pizzas when they come on special at the supermarket, which they often do, and then I’ll add whatever odds and ends are in the fridge crisper that spell pizza and need using up. This saves us money on nights when takeaway would cost us a small fortune! As long as your not living on these things, the occasional one (especially with a few extra veg on top and some salad on the side) isn’t too bad an option. Meg:)
I just got an instant pot! I am a massive fan, it allows you to make crock pot style dishes in a fraction of the time. The best part is that you can put everything in and walk away. My go-to’s lately are soft boiled eggs every morning (3 mins), chop up old, leftover apples with a dash of cinnamon and maple syrup, a good dessert or side (3 mins). Yesterday I chopped up a leftover chicken breast, added egg noodles, a can of cream of mushroom soup and frozen peas – voila a quick dinner made in 5 mins!
I am in love with my Instant Pot too, although I do think it is over hyped and that causes false expectations. But what it does well is amazing and can save much time and money.
For example, I can create soups from even unsoaked beans within an hour ( including time for the instant pot to come to pressure) . If you’re looking to make homemade vegetable , chicken, or beef stock, the instant pot is a great asset
My vegetable soup can be completed in far less tine than my stove top version – and with just as much flavor . Stews are the tenderest ever made. It makes tough abd less expensive cuts of beef and pork so tender. And so forth.
I’m not a fan of pasta made in the Instant pot, however. I’ll always boil noodles separately rather than combining them with sauce and cooking it all together.
So there are pros and cons to instant pots. But it as a place in my kitchen and we use it several times a week.
Absolutely LOVE my Instant Pot! I can’t believe people actually pay for store bought yogurt when you can make an entire gallon for a couple bucks! Best kitchen thing I ever bought – serves so many purposes, including crockpot. Only way I make my hard boiled eggs also – I can do a dozen or 2 at a time, and they are perfect every time. Every household should have one.
What recipe do you use for your homemade yogurt? Thanks!
This one is good http://www.ayearofslowcooking.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html
I agree with Leslie – I make whole milk Greek-style yogurt in my Instant Pot, using thisoldgal.com recipe. I freeze the whey after straining and use it to make the next batch. Tastes 10x better than store-bought – it doesn’t need any sweetening but you can add fruit, honey, maple syrup, etc.
Agreed, cooking food that can last a few days or even an entire week is better than prepping and making a meal every night. You save a lot of time because all you have to do is take out the leftovers out of the fridge/freezer and reheat it.
Also if you have leftover food from work or a restaurant, you can take out the worry of your next meal because of the leftovers you got from work/restaurant. Fortunately my company provides cafeteria style food for lunch and while it may not be the best selection of food, there are some that I pick out and take home for dinner.
The FIRST thing that started happening when I went to a new job that embraced a remote work situation was cook planned homemade meals. I enjoy the break of cooking every few days, though, and we have very little fridge space so I haven’t moved to cooking for the week yet. When we get some more freezer space, that’s on the plan. As it is, I take 2-4 hours during my work week and cook enough food to feed the family for 3 meals – 2 dinners and 1 lunch. I look forward to cooking for a week at a time but I suspect I may miss my cooking breaks during the week 🙂
My dad’s term for misc. dinner was ‘bread and if it’ (if it’s in the house you can have it). Now our emergency lazy dinner is omelette with baked potato.
When I first left working outside the house to become a WAHM and we were toying with whether we could afford for me to stop working for pay altogether, I read a book, one of many available out there, on Once A Month Cooking. Even did it for a while. Unfortunately eating on a rotation got ‘old’ and we fell back into eating something new instead of a frozen homemade meal about 3 times a week. Now we (by we I mean “I” – he works an 8-5 M-F with occasional 4-10 day trips out of country) just double or triple whatever is for dinner so the overage can be lunch or a future meal. OAMC, on the day of cooking, is intense. And too messy for my slightly obsessive self. Amazingly thrifty, though. We could do it again if for some reason the budget ceased to allow for any novelty. But eat OUT? That’s reserved for meals at conferences. We’re all pretty good cooks, we can do better than most restaurant fare.
My partner and I take turns to cook and have set days of the week when it’s his turn and my turn. It’s our division of labour that helps eliminate confusion and lack of planning, and we always take these leftovers to work for lunch the next day. We save so much money by doing this but we also really enjoy it more than eating out – home cooked food is the best! Our favourite back-up dish, for the nights that we forget to take meat out of the freezer or something like that, is pasta bake. We always have something on hand to make a delicious sauce (Asparagus, Bacon, Capsicum….anything will do) and we always have pasta in the cupboard. It’s so quick and delicious and it makes a tonne of food! Win win 😀 Buying coffee has recently crept back into my work routine but you’ve inspired me to cut it out again 🙂
I like to cook, I cook pretty much every night and bring the leftovers to work. Generally the only days I don’t cook are if I am going out to dinner with a friend (typically 1-2 times a month we know the cheap yummy places of course and if I have to work 12 hour shifts. I do make freezer meals occasionally, I took out lentil soup yesterday for dinner yesterday, it leaked in my lunchbag, I forgot my purse at home so my coworker bought me dinner for staying to help longer, otherwise that night I might have had frozen pizza a tip from you
An especially good post, and of course I agree. Such a good way to save money. One small add that I practice: I do intermittent fasting on a regular basis, so I only eat twice a day. Most days (I work from home) I eat around 10 AM and then again at 2 or 3 PM. Reduce the numbers of occasions you eat and the time required declines in lock-step. Not to mention the health benefits.
So good to hear you chime in on intermittant Fasting! I do the same and occasional 24 hour fasts which has helped my health issues as well as my budget. The time gained from skipping meals is sometimes used for batch cooking.
Frozen pizzas are a lifesaver! We do eat out a few times a month, but special occasions and foods I’m not going to attempt at home (I don’t eat or cook meat, which offsets the occasional meal out for my husband to get his fix). We often do “bento box” style dinner for the kids. They’re picky about things mixed, but I use plates with dividers, so the burrito bowls for us are broken down into parts for them that they’ll eat (rice, beans, corn, sauted veggies, guac, etc.).
Am I the only one thinking Mr. FW is going to lose his ring in that pot of chili?!
Haha, I know! His wedding ring is a bit big, but hey, it only cost about $50, so if it gets lost, no biggie! Although in nine years he has managed to keep ahold of it 🙂
Golly, that struck a note! Mr. Lee and I (we both have the same first names) bought our rings shortly after our marriage at the pawn broker’s for $25 apiece. Thirty-two years and still goin’ strong!
When we decided to pay off all our credit card debt, we finally realized how very much money we’d been wasting on fast food. It’s outrageous for a family of 7 to expect to feed themselves this way on a regular basis!! It’s been a long journey, but we broke our addiction to the convenience (and let’s face it, the taste) of fast food.
For nearly two years we’ve fed ourselves at home and hauled food with us. We learned which foods we could eat in the car on the way to the game and what snacks filled us up until we could get home and eat. And I 100% second your recommendation to have pizza waiting in the freezer. It’s not the cheapest food, ,but it’ll definitely save a ton of money over taking everyone out to eat.
Once a week when hubby is working nights, kiddo and I have mac n’cheese “party plates”. She gets her mac n cheese fix (Annie’s of course) and I get to put fruits, veggies, hummus, dips on her plate. Similar to your misc dinners but with a kid-friendly name. Also quick to throw together with a toddler at the end of a long work day. Sadly, she’s no longer a toddler, but my 10 yo still lover her “party plates”!
Excited to read your book, Liz! I agree that making all your food and drink at home is the best way to save a whack of dough. Grocery prices have really shot up in Canada! Plus there’s such lifestyle marketing that you “deserve” to go out after a busy day, are “too busy” to cook, and “deserve” to eat whatever fancy expensive out-of-season thing that minute you think of it. I’ve gone back to a lot of the recipes my mom made when I was a little kid – cheap, filling, easy casseroles, stews, chilis. Farm wife classics! I love my Instant Pot for making a hearty soup in just 30 minutes.
My breakfast hack is to make a big roasting pan of granola (again: Mom’s recipe!) every two or three weeks. A cup of that plus milk easily holds me through to lunch time.
One of my tips is to make more than one salad at a time. It takes just as long to prep three salads as it does to do one, so I make a bunch at once in separate containers and then take one to the office each day. I use the big containers of salad greens plus whatever other fresh veg I have on hand (raw mushrooms, peppers) and then sprinkle on raw pepitas, nutritional yeast, maybe dried cranberries, to zing it up. I take a container of lemon wedges and keep a bottle of olive oil in my desk, to dress the salads. Yum!
I also keep Starbucks Via instant coffee sachets in my desk (I get them using my credit card points turned into Starbucks gift cards) and make a coffee every day after lunch. Probably saving $100 a week with 5 coffees and 5 lunches. And it’s delicious and healthy, plus no stress/wasted time of standing in line at a lunch place and being frustrated by what I get.
We definitely do this. I’m sort of intense about it, actually. I plan a month of meals (14 meals, twice each, so actually 28 meals not a whole month…for the other 2-3 days we do leftovers or random stuff) and then make them all at the beginning of the month and freeze them. Then we have dinner all month ready to reheat and eat. As a homeschooling mom, it saves me from yelling at kids during the pre-dinner witching hour b/c I’m so much less stressed than I used to be.
Wow! That is awesome! I am super impressed you plan a full month out–nicely done.
My ” Great Depression” era mother used a pressure cooker. Although I loathe kitchen gadgets, I have the electric version of a pressure cooker, an Instant Pot. It gets used several times a week.
It was a gift and I was highly skeptical. I thought it was over hyped.. But it deserves a fair share of attention. It’s become a kitchen staple for me: saving time, energy, and money.
A major plus is that Instant pots can brown meats and saute vegetables….just before you add liquid, close the lid and start the pressure cooking process .
Truly one pot cooking . When it comes to making bean soup, even starting with unsoaked beans, it’s quick and easy. Tough meats? Tender in under an hour. My mother used her pressure cooker to serve cheap but tasty meals…and I’m following her lead. She’d have loved the Instant pot. i just wish she was here so we could test recipes for it together. The next best thing is how often I’m reminded if her when I try one of her recipes in the Instant Pot.
Tonight it’s stuffed cabbage, vegetarian version.
I’ve heard so many good things about the InstaPot! Glad to hear it is working so well for you 🙂
I’m single and while I actually like leftovers, I don’t like eating the same thing everyday. I generally cook a big vat of soup/chili/some other one pot meal on Sundays and freeze half in individual portions in wide-mouth ball jars. Now I can choose what I’m in the mood for each day and always have something to grab for lunch. For those looking for recipes, a friend introduced me to the budget bytes blog – simple tasty and inexpensive recipes, many of which are great for freezing 🙂
We have saved a lot of $ through the years by not eating out. One of our strategies is to be sure we don’t get hungry & to plan ahead. 1). When we have errands or appointment, we pack a “snack pack.”. In an insulated lunch bag, we pack snacks & cold water. Snacks include fruit, pretzels, cheese, crackers, nuts, or whatever else we already have @ home. If I have a meeting (book club, etc) I pack a bag for myself. Hub is working for 3 weeks so he packs lunch & water. Off to church or another event? We pack a bag. Let’s do some math. Eating out has gotten extremely expensive, + tip. We always tip generously. A low budget meal @ cracker Barrell can run you $30. 5 guys burgers & fries = $20+. So, if you choose one or the other, once a week = $25. × 50 times a year, = $1250. Sound good? Of course it does. Put it in the vacation wallet, the mortgage, the bank, or retirement investment. But wait* there’s more* but that’s enough for today.
So smart! We always take food along with us too and it’s amazing how much this saves over the course of a week–let alone a month or a year!
I buy 5# of ground beef and divide it into two pans. In one I add chopped onions. In the other, chopped onions and green pepper. I cook it, drain it and put it in ziplock bags and freeze. Great for tacos, hamburg BBQ, Burritos, spagh. pie, baked ziti etc. All I have to do is cook the starch and add some sauce.
OK, I have three pounds of ground turkey I found on sale and froze; it’s thawed now and I will follow your lead tomorrow – thanks!
Both hubby and I work outside the home, and for years, Sunday has been my ‘cooking’ day for the week. Saturday night, I make my overnight steel cut oats for the next week. But on Sunday,we might have all three crockpots going with lunches and dinners for the week. We also process veggies into containers on the weekend so we have our own private ‘salad bar’ (don’t have to worry about others sneezing in it!) during the week. I typically make a big pot of soup or chili for either Saturday or Sunday lunch so we have leftovers to either freeze, have for weekday lunches or a weeknight dinner. Having meals waiting for us in our fridge has really kept us from ordering out b/c we’d be riding home from work, tired, not felling like cooking, and it would be just too easy to dial up the Chinese delivery.
Nicely done!!! That is impressive :)!
I need to embrace leftovers without excuses. I make my husband eat it because I grew up a bit spoiled in this department as the only child in a Chinese food fueled household. My favorite thing is misc. lunches. Cheezits and a muffin is all I need. For dinner, there’s frozen hamburger burgers in a pinch.
Frozen pizzas in a pinch are a lot more inexpensive than deliveries. In our parts, delivery fees are $5 and add on another $5 for tip – that’s like 3 supermarket pizzas in it of itself!!
Since you’re talking about chili – I don’t make quite the quantity at one time that you do, I don’t think, but this week I cooked a very large pot of pinto beans (from dry beans), made a very large pot of chili, and medium batch of refried beans (not really fried). Part of the chili went in the freezer, part we’ve eaten, and there’s another meal or two in the fridge. The “refried” beans actually are beans and tomatoes whizzed in a food processor with spices, then when you’re going to eat them, spread on flour tortillas with whatever else you want in there. Most of that will be frozen as well.
I also made what I call “chili muffins” for our daughter, who lives and works in another city and we will visit in two weeks. This consists of spooning chili into a muffin tin (easier with silicone liners, you’ll see why in a minute), freezing them, and then popping them out, wrapping in a smallish piece of waxed paper just to keep them from sticking together, and putting them in a zip lock plastic bag and back into the freezer. This is important for her, as she is a small person, sharing a house with two other girls, but they don’t share food. She cooks for herself – she just sent me a photo of a pot full of tofu stir-fry (we LIKE tofu). With chili muffins, she can defrost one or two, combine with rice or pasta for lunch or dinner, but doesn’t have so much that she’ll eat it all week. This can work for anyone, especially if you have different schedules, or you’re feeding a teen-aged boy who is looking for something to fill in the corners.
Hubby and I often have “non-traditional” dinners, especially if our schedule has been affected by a late lunch, or an evening meeting or similar. Oatmeal, omelets, or hummus with pita or naan, whatever. I think one problem people have with cooking at home is that they get bored with the leftovers, because they don’t freeze them and eat them too many days running. Sometimes we have odds and ends in the fridge, so it will be time for “smorgasbord night” where we pull it all out on the counter, and have a bit of this and that, deferring to whichever of us has a favorite item in the mix, but with the primary goal being to empty containers.
We never have been among those that “order in” or “take out”. I’m rather horrified by the latest McDonald’s commercial touting their chicken tenders which they imply you pass off as homemade, both from a cost and a health standpoint. And for heaven’s sake, have you seen the Martha Stewart roast turkey with sides offered on QVC? 4.25 pounds of turkey breast with 2 2-pound side dishes for $120, on sale for the magnificent price of $110? I think these were a Today’s Special last week for maybe only $100.
One super quick lazy meal my partner and I always fall back on is miso soup + noodles, especially if our taste buds are craving umami. All you need is a container of miso paste (from which you dilute a couple of table spoons in boiling water), bring whatever variety of noodles or pasta to boil separately, and throw any leftover veg/meat right into the boiling soup! And finally, to top it off and add flavah – some chilli sauce, hoisin sauce, or whatever sauce you have that you think would make the soup pop. It’s delicious every time! It hits that Asian ramen/msg-ey take out spot, but is much much healthier.
We are both self-employed and work from home. Neither one of us gets bored eating the same thing so our routine is that on Sunday we cook an involved meal that takes a lot of time and attention, and at the same time we start a huge pot of soup or stew or chili. (Butter chicken is another favorite, about the only Indian food I can cook) For the next five days, M-F, we eat the same thing for dinner, maybe jazzed up with a different type of bread that takes little time, like corn bread or muffins. Like you, we add rice or pasta to chili to vary it. On Saturday we eat pizza, store bought but with stuff like fresh mushrooms added. For lunches we almost always eat egg salad or tuna salad or egg and tuna salad on homemade bread. In the summers, though, we have a large garden so we, too, eat a lot of stir-fries. They don’t take that much time, though. Our monthly food bill for two adults is about $200.
I may be in the minority, but I love to cook! I come from a family of great cooks (German immigrants and my Grandfather owned a sausage company), so good food , shared with family, has always played a huge part in my life. Now, I want to carry that tradition on with my grandchildren. Yes, I have more time now that I am not “working” – just babysitting 😉. I also garden and compost, which the grandkids love to help me with. It is real work, but so worthwhile. I also love to travel and eat wonderful food, but typical restaurant or fast food does not taste nearly as good as my cooking! I am afraid that the future does not bode well for our kids and grandkids if everyone “hates to cook”! We need to change our mindsets!
For us, it’s not that Mr. FW hates to cook–he loves it!–he’s just extremely busy and so there’s not enough time to put together a full, homemade-from-scratch meal every night. This is our way of cooking from scratch, but fitting it into our busy schedule of both working, running a homestead, being pregnant (me!), and parenting a toddler :).
I too enjoy cooking. I like making my family a meal each night and having my 2-year-old help where she can. As a teacher cooking during the summer is a lot of fun since I have so much time. But I still do it during the school year too, sometimes I am tired or get home late, as I have started adding CrossFit back into my life. But I want to spend time with Sarah in the kitchen and teach her how cooking can be enjoyable, and since it is a priority for me, I do it!
Whoa, I never really thought to cook a huge meal to save for later… I usually make enough to have leftovers for the next day, but here lately I’ve been so tired from working all the time that cooking has become a chore!
Will definitely be using these tips, so thanks for sharing! 🙂
I love doing the Misc Dinners! In our house, we call it the Smorgasbord 😃
We also have a large garden and have found that Kale will last long after the frost and snow have hit. It might not be great for salads at that point, but will still be tasty for stir fry and kale chips! We were eating garden kale into January last year….in Minnesota!
I agree with this post 100 % and had just handed Hubby what was spent this last 12 months on eating out… I don’t think it will be a battle any longer between us.
Yaaaaasssss!! I know frozen pizzas aren’t the best thing in the world, but they’re still much more affordable than going out to eat. It’s invaluable to have these frozen staples in your freezer “just in case.” It’s even more difficult when you live in an isolated area where you can’t just go pick up Taco Bell when you don’t have supper ready.
I love that y’all cook once a week! We’ve been focusing much more on freezer batch cooking and it’s been a real game-changer.
I’m one of those weirdos who loves to cook, so I don’t mind spending hours in the kitchen each week. But yeah, if you don’t like cooking and are trying to save money, it can suck to have to cook so often .
Forgive me for pointing out…. I think you mean “bane” of existence 😉
This has been the greatest and most persistent source of conflict among our extended family (who love to eat out, and don’t seem to mind being broke because of it). We also have some food sensitivities that make eating out a minefield of potental problems, so cooking great food at home helps us to control both spending and questionable ingredients.
My favourite quick, tasty, healthy, cheap meal is variations of fried eggs with sautéed greens. Add in some other veg (onion, peppers, mushrooms, whatever’s lurking in the fridge), maybe a bit of grated cheese or an avocado. Keeps me filled up for hours, and works for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
We just had Canadian Thanksgiving, complete with turkey + trimmings. Day 2 we made stuffing waffles as bread for turkey sandwiches. Day 3 was a huge pot of turkey chili with lots of autumn veg (squash, carrots, peppers) over quinoa (cooked in turkey broth), some of which will be frozen to enjoy when we aren’t turkey’ed out.
Love this topic cause it is one of the few places in our budget that I can creatively attempt to control. It’s a fun challenge to beat the previous months grocery bill. I batch cook, use throughout the week and like many others and cart my bounty off to work for lunches. When we travel we take “trunk food” named by my youngest son when he was seven. It all comes down to what you are willing to pay for a matter of convenience and planning ahead if that’s your gig. I’m a planner and get giddy about ways to save a buck.
Wow yours tips for cooking are altering my reality!!!! In my country women cook daily, perhaps twice a day for lunch and dinner and they use a lot of meat….4,5 pounds of chicken could be one meal for a family of 4…..Now you are making me re-think about the whole thing….cooking only twice a week is wonderful, provided that husband agrees to eat leftovers many times in a row (mine unfortunately doesn’t).
Just freeze the leftovers in meal size portions and rotate them. No need to eat them in a row.
A post close to our hearts! Our freezer has smoothed us over some challenging times. We cook when we have energy, so we have frozen meals made with TLC when we don’t. We’re both from families of five and never changed our quantities, as a couple with no kids, it’s worked well in stocking the freezer.
We only go out for special meals, as it’s got to be exciting, and something we can’t (yet) cook at home. Going out is for inspiration and enjoyment, but not out of habit.
Our last minute low energy cheaty meals are usually salads.
Got a carrot, red onion, and some tofu? Grate the carrot into batons, cut the onion fine, and fry some tofu with honey, soy sauce and sesame oil to top the salad. Herbs? Pop some on top to make it more exciting. About 5 minutes for a fun meal.
Other great 5 minute salads can be made using stale bread and other items on hand (eg tinned fish, vinegar and oil, herbs, lettuce, and cucumber or tomato if you have them).
One big thing about our cooking is we keep it diverse. We take our inspiration from Ethiopian, Moroccan, Italian, Lebanese, English, Indian, Vietnamese and Mexican recipes. We never call them left overs, they’re meals you’ve made for yourself in advance.
I’m starting to prep more ahead for the week — I did that just this Sunday. I like my stove top pressure cooker (Fagor Duo) instead of an Instant Pot, while my daughters prefer their Instant Pots, but either one can be super helpful. I also have more than one Crock Pot, and they get used a lot, too. We live in a hot climate, and I would rather use a pressure cooker or the crock pot than use an oven. I like to put leftovers in the freezer for those days when there was no plan or I just don’t want to cook. It’s so nice to just go pull out something and thaw it.
My mother used to make once a week lunches out of whatever was leftover in the refrigerator. She put it all out — broccoli, peaches and cottage cheese, a dab of ham, a couple of pieces of chicken, tuna salad, cole slaw, carrot sticks, mac and cheese — it all was put on the table and everyone could eat his or her choice, but the idea was to eat it all up and make it gone. We had fun with some weird combinations and we generally made it disappear.
One of my husband’s favorite meals is cheese and crackers, cut up raw veggies with homemade ranch, hard boiled eggs and pickles. It’s fast, easy, and good on a hot day.
Thank you for this. Sensory issues are no joke in kids. My toddler loves most food but I am married to a picky eater who will never eat corn or peas or anything with them (and I mean NEVER, I have tried). He also won’t eat a lot of other vegetables and most fruit so you just learn to deal (his parents aren’t like that). Some people just have sensory issues that they don’t grow out of, so don’t feel bad if your kiddo is that way! He/she can still grow up to be a super awesome person like my husband. And you didn’t do anything “wrong” if the kid turns out like that.
I recently got my first bread machine and have been using the 5 lb. bags of King Arthur whole wheat flour from the grocery store. I feel like there has got to be a cheaper way to buy flour because with a family of 5 we are flying through those bags! Any suggestions on where to buy a good whole wheat flour in bulk?
As long as you have storage containers for them, you can buy 25 or 50# bags direct from King Arthur. I used to store them in food grade 5 gallon buckets with lids. Another source might be Vitacost. Or, find a local farmer willing to keep you supplied! I don’t know where you are but maybe you can find a local food co-op that will put you in touch with a wheat farmer of your liking (eg: organic or conventional). With the power of the Internet behind you, I’m sure you’ll find a frugal source for your needs!
I was having a hard time recently with meal prep and weeknight dinners for a few reasons:
1. 19 month old picky eater
2. 3 year old great eater, but 3 year old, need i say more?
3. husband in school full time
4. me work full time and commute too far mom & wife
I wailed in self pity for a while, but finally made some changes. Here is my solution:
1. Sundays: meal prep some things, cut up fruit for breakfasts and lunches during the week, make a batch of breakfast blueberry muffins, make a huge pot of brown rice with peas, carrots, and onions, make a huge pot of spaghetti (seriously so easy am I right? freeze leftovers), make turkey burgers for lunch, make a huge pot of mashed potatoes, have a bagged salad for the week, and saute/steam kale, make one meat that we will eat for Monday’s dinner
2. eat the same breakfast & lunch everyday so I don’t have to use my mental workload here
(so turkey burgers & rice for lunch, eggs, muffins, fruit and cheerios for breakfast)
3. occasionally used the slow cooker during the week to make chicken or pork to compliment one of the sides I made on Sunday (little time commitment and delicious). Also easy for the baby to eat foods that are slow cooked since they tear easily.
4. eat the food, it’s sooo good and cheap and I feel like super Mom because I did it all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Woohoo good luck to all of Frugal Woods readers!
In my household, both of us were sick–legit sick–recently, and it made me reminisce about the wonders of frozen food in times such as these. (I was very good about frozen meals when I was single. Now they never make it that long with my husband around…) We managed to not eat out, but it would have been great to pull a meal/gift from our past selves out of the freezer for less hassle. Currently, I blame the fact that we have a smaller than normal refrigerator/freezer which makes it difficult to store extra meals, but our sick week reminded me that it’s time to figure out better workarounds for emergency meals until we have a normal-sized freezer once again. Good timing on this post since it gives me further inspiration for better future planning. =)
I used to hate cooking. Then, unfortunately, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and had no choice but to make ALL my meals from scratch, no starches, sugars, gluten, grains, most dairy, yeah. But it’s been almost two years now, and I’ve come to love cooking. I realize every meal I make helps me feel better, and I’ve gotten quite good at making simple meals that we love to eat. Grilled steak tacos are one our favorites, and it’s so simple. We throw in aged cheese, tomatos, avocado, and Taco Bell can eat their heart out. Same with homemade burgers or turkey burgers. Beats fast food any time. I rely heavily on one-skillet meals too, that can even include a wonderful orange sesame chicken that takes hardly any time to cook and tastes so good, there’s no need for takeout. And you are so right about misc dinners. Nothing wrong with grilled cheese, deli sandwiches, eggs and bacon or pancakes for dinner. Doesn’t have to be complicated.
I love cooking so I make it a goal for a Sunday afternoon cookout…plenty to have for the week for dinners and our take out lunches…some proteins dishes, always a grain like rice or quinoa, sauteed or roasted veggies and fresh salads…including snacks. It’s a little tricky as we are trying for a vegetarian lifestyle at home…(once out, we cheat on meat, meat and meat) but at home…it stays clean and lean and cheaper too. One thing we have found that helps in eating/not wasting my copious amounts of food, is sharing it. I have a dear friend who is looking after her mother-in-law who is in such frail health that she finds it hard to maintain a healthy eating schedule. So, once a week I share with her our food. Not only does it free up some space in our fridge/freezer (we have given away our cube freezer to my niece who has a family of 4 to feed; not us childless couple)…but it ensures that we are eating all the foods and our freezer can hold the essentials (frozen veggies, some emergency frozen leftovers, pizza’s and what nots…). If we can all find a person in our lives that could benefit, it opens communication to assist where it’s needed, food is not wasted and someone is going to rave about your cooking skills. And as the expression goes, sharing is caring…
Hi, A question for the Canadian readers – I’m a newbie to the world of cooking and bulk meal prep. Can someone please suggest a brand of glass containers that I can buy to store food in the fridge and freezer? Thank you!
We have these glass containers, which work great!
Wide mouth Mason Jars…as long as you leave at least 30 cm from the inside lid to allow for expansion in the freezer…or, zip lock freezer bags..
There are no restaurants in the little hobbit town where I live. There are four, if you count the only fast food chain, Hardys, in the town where I work. A couple of the gas stations sell hot food also. There are two small colleges in the town where I work, sooooo the lines can be long if you go out to eat. I make Mr. Frugalwoods’ beans for a couple of meals a week. I bring my lunch five days a week and maybe eat out once a month if I am feeling up to it. I really do not usually like to eat out.
For those asking for recipes…I imagine this may have been posted elsewhere on the blog before but this cookbook has an interesting story behind it and a lot of yummy recipes:
Check it out 🙂
Our “misc. meals” are Smorgasbord nights. Love how everyone has one of these with a different name! I know growing up this was one of my favorite lunch/dinner meals. My mom would announce it like an event, “tonight we’re having…a Smorgasbord!”, and little did I know that it was just cleaning out the fridge or freezer.
Mrs. Frugalwoods – I love posts like this because your writing plus all of the amazing comments that you receive on your posts give me so many great ideas! I’m trying my best to get back to my frugal roots after veering off course in the last couple of years and I recently started re-reading your blog again. Thank you for sharing your wonderful writing and thank you to all of your readers who add their ideas! Can’t wait to read the book!!! 🙂
I went frugal years before I met my husband. When I explained to dates that I prefer eating at home both socially and financially, guys would ask if I loved to cook. I always said a more revealing question might be, “How often do you enjoy cooking?” Three or four times a week. I hate most vegetables that have been frozen, but I cook large batches of beans and freeze them in meal for two or eight sized portions. I also cook four cups of brown rice at once and keep leftovers in the fridge. With less than ten minutes of chopping we can have fried rice or stir fry or vegetable soup for dinner. We’ve perfected a duet wherein I chop while he stir-fries–while splitting a beer and not tripping over the dogs (who need to be really close when any chopping is happening). I save even tiny amounts of leftovers–once every week or two we have rice with several toppings.
I like your point about using beans to stretch out your proteins. Not only do you save money, but it’s so much healthier! And better for the environment I might add!
I don’t know how it never dawned on me before, but the idea of building an inventory of meals over time is life-changing for me! Thank you for sharing! I’ve heard of people cooking all their meals for the week on Sundays and that just is too time consuming for me, but – cooking double or quadruple of something and freezing the extras for another day(s)? I can do that! I now have two different soups and a chicken pot pie in my freezer for a “rainy” day.
I hate the giant batch cooking and the once-month-type cooking, but I will cook extra for the freezer and also do lots of planned leftovers. Last week I baked two pans of brownies and divided them into 8 bags of 4 individually wrapped brownies, to take with us when we have “picnic” meals instead of eating out when away from home for the day. I make chicken broth every two weeks, to make one soup per week. Bacon is cooked in the oven, in bulk, with some being served with a meal and some being chopped up to turned into stir-fried bacon and cabbage, or to use on homemade pizza. Homemade hot cocoa is made in a double batch, with the extra refrigerated for another morning’s treat. When I cook pork butt in the crockpot, I make about 9 pounds at once (as much as fits in an 8 quart crock pot) and then freeze the extra shredded pork without any sauce added, so that it is more flexible to use. Same with shredded beef, and even extra chicken.
Ground pork is expensive for me to buy, so I grind pork shoulder butt and freeze it in one pound portions, to use in meat loaf or as a meat filling for tacos, or even to season and use as sausage. I used to grind my beef as well, but now I have a store that puts grassfed ground beef on sale for less per pound than any cut of grassfed beef that I can buy, so I buy that instead. And knowing the rock bottom price, nothing can entice me to pay more. Although I’ve mentioned a lot of meat here, the reality is that we try to eat meals where meat is the enhancement rather than the main dish. But with one of us (me) having a serious legume allergy, basing all of our meals on beans and lentils just doesn’t work. They are cheaper though, so I make a lot of bean based meals and then just eat the parts that I can. When they eat beans and rice I just eat the rice and any side vegetables.
I bake bread, but one child has celiac disease, so I buy his gluten free bread. I’m still working on a gluten free sandwich bread recipe that he will willingly eat. Because his bread is expensive, I minimize sandwich meals, having only 1-2 per week. It’s just as easy to base a simple meal off of rice.
I chop an entire green cabbage (or two if they are small) at once and use it all week, as cabbage salad, sautéed cabbage, in soup, or to top tacos. Stir-fried in bacon fat, with some chopped bacon added, makes it worthy of a main dish when served with rice. Often this is my “emergency” vegetable if the morning gets away from me and I don’t have another vegetable prepped for our midday main meal.
Cabbage is an example of our food frugality. We buy and eat it year round, along with carrots, onions, celery, and potatoes. There is no out of season asparagus or zucchini eating in our home. If it’s in season and dirt cheap, we buy it. I never plan a meal based on a vegetable we want, but only on the cheapest produce at the store that week. Some weeks a bunch of black kale is $2.99, and we pass. But some weeks it’s 88¢, and I buy two.
Monday’s pot of pinto beans are served with rice and veggies, and then the leftover beans (I cook extra on purpose) are reheated and turned into “refried” beans for Thursday’s tacos, and any extra rice is saved with all other extra rice and is cooked in a little fat and seasoned to make “Mexican” rice for the tacos as well.
Our equivalent of your frozen pizza for an emergency meal is eggs and toast. A skillet of scrambled eggs cooks up quickly. If we are truly time short and exhausted, we’ll just have sandwiches and call it good. Even the teens are coming around to the idea that a sandwich for a meal isn’t the end of the world.
Since I cook for the freezer year round, I can do an uber frugal month pretty easily. Right now we are in the middle of eating from the freezer and pantry for Advent.
Random question – how do you cook your oatmeal?
I noticed a lack of discussion regarding breakfast foods. My cooking style is similar to your family. But I do the same thing for breakfast. A couple times a month I will make breakfast on a weekend. Usually breakfast burritos or french toast. Then freeze individual servings in sandwich baggies. In addition to this I make up oatmeal packets with 1/4 c old fashioned oats, 2T pecans or walnuts, 1T chia seeds and 2 tsp cinnamon. Either add in 2 T dried cranberries or in a seperate baggie half a chopped apple. If apples are used the packets go in the freezer. Cranberry packets go in a candy jar on the kitchen counter. So I get a good variety to choose from, and breakfast is as simple as grab and go on my way out the door and it costs pennies. Its so cheap and easy and satisfying.
I’m wondering if Mr. FW’s Chicken Chili recipe is shared anywhere on your blog. If not, can I have it? I am drooling over here. We are one month into our goal of a year of not eating out. So far so good, but some Chicken Chili would definitely help. Thanks for all you do! (By the way, I posted this same comment on two of your other articles : ))
Lovely to hear about your big cook and freeze sessions. Some people think I am odd but I do the same, and use what I have, what is in offer and recipes, plus imagination. I love my own ready meals and the days off I get too. I always go for about one dozen to choose from and I think frugal is FABULOUS
I recently started cooking 2-3 meals to freeze on Saturday or Sunday, and have found it’s a great way to avoid mediocre take out or pricey hamburgers/pizza on nights we don’t feel like cooking. I think we have about 20 frozen meals stocked up. Thanks for the tips!
What recommendations do you have for those with roommates and little freezer space? I’ve lived with 4 other roommates and we all share a fridge. Sometimes there is less freezer space than at other times, but in general the space is low. Sometimes we share meals, but usually not as we all have different preferences and budgets for food.