Budgets are so much fun aren't they? They structure, limit, and dictate how things go. Everyone loves that right? Right. Let's face it, budgets suck. And when it comes to planning meals it can be really really hard to stay under that line. Especially with Holidays, Birthdays, food for school events, etc. I get asked by a lot of my friends how I keep on track with the kind of cooking I do.
To be honest a lot of it is DIY. I make all our jams, jellies, condiments, breads, salad dressings, yogurt, and house cleaning products. I can and freeze our sauces, vegetables and fruits. I make a lot of our pastas too. My husband makes our ice cream and beer. I have a vegetable and herb garden in the summer and dry my herbs for the winter. We just planted a grape vine and a self pollinating blueberry bush. We are going to plant two apple trees and a self pollinating cherry tree by the end of next week. The thing to remember is that there is a balance to this. What I save in money costs me time. Luckily my kids love to help me anyway they can so I can include them in the process, this way it becomes a family activity instead of a chore for me.
My weekly budget for groceries is $112. That's to feed all three meals plus snacks to our family of five. Most weeks I come in somewhere between $80-$100 and I save up the extra money for special occasions. And we eat well here. But when I need to cut corners and save some money I know how to do it. So when this weeks food challenge on Food 52 was "Your Best Dirt Cheap Dinner" we sat down and talked about my budge-it friendly meals.
I think the biggest money saving meals are pasta dishes, soups, chili, casseroles, fritattas, and rice/grain dishes. They usually make a lot so you get multiple meals out of them and the ingredients are usually pretty cheap. One of my personal favorites is:
Sweet and Sour Butter Beans
(Serves 4 with a little for seconds for lunch the next day)
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion; chopped small
- 1 red bell pepper; chopped small
- 1 clove garlic; minced
- 1 can of plain tomato sauce; 8 oz. ( I always get the salt free and add the salt on my own.)
- 1 Tbs. brown sugar
- 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard (I use my homemade)
- 2 Tbs. soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 can of pineapple chunks; 20 oz. *in pineapple juice*
- 1/3 cup of pineapple juice reserved from pineapple chunks
- 2 one lb. cans of butter beans; rinsed and drained
- 1 1/2 tsp. corn starch
- 2 Tbs. water
- Rice for serving
- In a large soup pot heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Once the oil is heated add the onion, red pepper, and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent.
- Add in the tomato sauce, brown sugar, cider vinegar, mustard, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and pineapple juice. Stir to combine.
- Once combined add in the pineapple chunks, and the butter beans.
- Combine the corn starch with the water in a separate bowl and then dump the mixture in with the rest of the ingredients.
- Bring the ingredients to a boil and the drop the heat to low and simmer; stirring occasionally for 20 minutes.
- Serve over rice.
You can get a printable version of this recipe here.
I like to use butter beans because they are larger and creamier than most other beans. I also find that their size keeps them from getting lost in the meal.
Now for the numbers. If you have a well stocked pantry then you will probably only need a few ingredients for this meal. All I had to buy was the butter beans, can of pineapple chunks, tomato sauce, red bell pepper, and the yellow onion. This came to a grand total of $6.49. Not bad for feeding a family of five.