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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Putting it all together

So, in yesterday's post I told you what I bought in February (towards the bottom of that post, is a condensed list of items I bought)..

I know it can be baffling how I might manage to feed 5 of us, daily, for a month, when it appears that I could not have possibly purchased enough variety of ingredients.

Below, is a recap of how I used those ingredients (and others from the freezer/pantry) in meals for the month. These are the suppers I served over the course of the month. In addition, our breakfasts mostly consist of toast or muffins and milk, smoothies, oatmeal or granola and milk, and for some weekends, waffles or pancakes. Lunches are often peanut butter sandwiches, occasionally leftovers from a supper, or concocted casseroles and soups specifically made for lunch meals. I reserve the whole pieces of fruit, like apples, bananas and oranges primarily for to-go lunches, as they are tidily "packaged", and don't require a container or utensil to eat, as opposed to apple or rhubarb sauce or stewed plums. So, to last a month on 35 bananas and 11 apples (plus a few oranges from previous month) is feasible, if mostly using those fruits for weekday lunches. The nuts and seeds I buy are often used as an extra item in packed lunches, as I rarely buy those snacky foods like potato chips, crackers or pretzels.

Meat served as the "main event" at a supper only occurred 7 times in the month. I used cheese as the main protein source only 2 times (although I used it as a secondary protein source on several nights). I mention this because meat and cheese tend to be my more expensive ingredients, so I use both, modestly.

I used the corn tortillas for 7 suppers, and the tofu for 6 suppers. Pumpkin showed up in 11 of the suppers. Frozen spinach was used in 10 suppers. And canned tomatoes were used in some form or other in 14 suppers.

At the beginning of each month, I do a mental inventory of what I have a lot of, that I'd like to use up. Then as each week rolls around, I brainstorm various possibilities using those ingredients. I like good food, too. So one of the best ways to motivate me to cook every day is to think of something tasty to use the ingredients on hand. Hunger is the meal planning "method" that works for me!

Anyway, I just thought I'd put my shopping list together, with how I used the purchased items, so it would all make more sense to someone not living within a stones-throw of my pantry!

1-turkey and vegetables topped with biscuits
leftover pumpkin pie

2-ham (from freezer)
mashed potatoes (from freezer)
frozen green beans

3-homemade mushroom and black olive pizza (dough from freezer, quick sauce of tomato paste, water and dried seasonings)
vegetable medley of canned tomatoes, onions, frozen green beans and garlic powder
blackberry cobbler

4-veggie enchiladas 
Spanish rice & black beans on the side

5-Fried rice, with spinach, mushrooms, peas, tofu and egg
Pumpkin-ham soup
Chocolate chip cookies

6-Black bean tacos
Tomato Florentine soup
Pumpkin pie

7-Black bean tacos
Pumpkin pie

8-Pork roast with garlic and rosemary
Rosemary potatoes
Spinach and onions sauteed with bacon bits
Pumpkin pie

9-Fried rice (with eggs, peas, peanuts, onions, garlic), topped with a garlic and peanut sauce
Tofu and orange salad in a ginger-soy vinaigrette

10-Fried corn tortillas, topped with
refried beans, cheese, avocado, salsa and black olives
fiesta corn (frozen corn sauteed with onion, green pepper and chili powder)
oven-roasted canned tomatoes

11-baked chicken leg quarters
canned tomato, onion, garlic, green pepper and herb sauce
brown rice
pumpkin pie (from freezer)

12-Homemade wonton soup (yes, I made the wontons myself -- and this soup was so wonderful!)
Fruit salad of banana, orange segments and dried cranberries
Pumpkin pie

13-Chicken, rice, spinach, onion enchiladas
Chocolate chip cookies

14-Heart-shaped pancakes with red currant syrup
Crustless mini quiches with spinach, onion and sausage
Fruit salad
Cream puffs filled with frozen strawberries and whipped cream

15-popcorn and some cocoa

16-Southwest pumpkin, bean, potato soup, topped with avocado, salsa and Cheddar cheese
Pumpkin muffins
Rhubarb-plum sauce

17-Egg salad sandwiches
Roasted tomato soup
Pumpkin pie (from freezer, last pie from the batch)

18-Meatloaf with gravy (I made 2 and froze the other one)
Mashed potatoes (extras so I can make a turkey-rosemary-potato soup in a day or two)
Oven-roasted canned tomatoes
Grilled onions
Pumpkin pie

19-Chunky tomato soup
Focaccia, topped with leftover grilled onions, leftover roasted tomatoes and black olives
Stewed frozen plums

20-Rosemary, turkey and potato soup
Croissants (gifted to us from event my girls and I helped at)
Cucumber, avocado and roasted red pepper salad, topped with slices of boiled egg (cucumber gifted to us, roasted red peppers from pantry)
Assortment of pie to choose from (leftovers from event)

21-Skillet-fried wontons (homemade from freezer)
Ham and egg fried rice
Cucumber salad
Choice of cake or pie

22-Spinach and tofu lasagna
Choice of leftover chocolate cake or pie

23-Vegetarian tostadas -- fried corn tortillas, topped with Spanish rice, frozen corn, refried beans, cheese, olives, lettuce from greenhouse, roasted red peppers, salsa and avocado
Choice of cookies, chocolate covered cherries or mini-cheesecakes (leftovers from volunteer work at a tea over the weekend)

24-Meatloaf and gravy from freezer
Mashed potatoes from freezer
Frozen spinach
Pumpkin souffle

25-Leftover spinach and tofu lasagna
Chocolate cake from freezer

26-vegetarian chili, topped with Cheddar, avocado and fried corn tortilla strips
whole wheat toast

27-olive, onion and green pepper homemade pizza
candy apple salad
frozen green beans

28-spinach, onion and Cheddar quiche
frozen peas
brown rice

29-Salisbury steak with gravy
mashed potatoes with kale
pumpkin souffle


  1. This is exactly what is getting lost in the new generation of adults. They don't know how to put a home-cooked meal together. It's not about the bag of frozen fries and premade burgers that make the meal, it's about the pound of burger and a bag of potatoes that make the meal and many new adults don't know how to make this work. My own kids are guilty of this and I think it's because everyone is in such a hurry all the time and it's not because THEY want to be in a hurry it's that their schools, employers, etc. want them to be that way to meet goals.

    My groceries sometimes look funny: bag of potatoes, milk, eggs, huge pork roast, flour, butter, 10 lbs. of chicken, toilet paper, bag of rice and milk. This might be my groceries for the next two weeks along with what's already in the cupboard can feed the family for at least two weeks. It's knowing how to put it together.

    Last night was frozen butternut squash made into a pasta sauce with garlic and onions--that was so good with leftover grilled chicken from Sunday. Easy, healthy and well-liked by all. Tonight, oldest daughter is thinking of something since she has a snow day off (teachers like snow days also!). We'll put that "something" together when I get home from work. I'm thinking of chicken ravioli lasagna with homemade ravioli's!


    1. Hi Alice,
      I think you're right on the demands and expectations made of this new generation of adults. It does make it more difficult to do things like cook for oneself.

      Oh yum -- I'm coming over for a plate of those homemade ravioli!! That sounds so delicious!

  2. I agree with Alice, it is knowing how to put all those ingredients together, which is what you show us on a regular basis, Lili. It is amazing that you only had meat at seven meals in February and still your meals are nutrient filled and interesting with a good variety. WTG! :)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      Well, there was some meat in 5 other suppers, just not a "featured" item. For instance, when I make soup that has ham or turkey in it, I use about 4 to 8 ounces of meat for the whole pot, as opposed to using about 1 pound of meat for a supper where meat is the main protein. Just wanted to clear that up. :-)

    2. Still amazing, Lili. You are a frugal pro. :)

  3. I agree that after a day away at home it is hard to be motivated to start from scratch. Then the weekends occur and sometimes you can batch cook and sometimes there is no time. I think that's why it's hard for many of us to use up the meals we may store in the freezer. ( what if I use it and don't have time to replenish, then I'll have nothing thinking). Sometimes having a menu plan allows breathing room. I know I am bringing buns to a group dinner I am attending on Thursday evening. I have planned my meal for the family at home that evening to also include buns(left over hamburgers). Probably like others I find if I do a bit of meal prep a few days in advance or have emergency meals in the freezer I feel less stress when 5:00 comes.

    1. Hi Theresa,
      I agree. It is just hard to even want to cook, after being out all day, (or for me, if I've been locked away doing something like taxes for the day). That's when a very simple plan can make the difference. Pre-cooking even just a portion of meals, like pre-cooking meat for the freezer, makes such a huge difference. Or loading up the crockpot in the morning. Or making double the amount of any casserole or soup, to eat leftovers later in the week. But this takes mental work to get to that point, for me at least. My own mom always cooked each meal in the afternoon. We rarely had leftovers, and crockpots weren't even around when I was little. And no one had even heard of once a month cooking, back then. So for me, this has been a mental challenge to think of a new way to do things. My memory is imprinted with my mothers way of cooking nightly.

      And I think you really hit the nail on the head, with emergency meals in the freezer. I'm afraid there will be an even more time restricting emergency in the future, so I don't want to use that one last casserole.

    2. I think I may have mentioned this before, but I can be the same way at times about nt wanting to use the pre made meals from the freezer! Especially if I just made it a week or two before, if it's been in there a bit then I don't mind as much.

  4. I wish your post could be featured in the news for America to read as can be done!!

    That said, and with humble respect, I cannot fathom doing all that you do, everyday. I guess I am a sloth when it comes to any kitchen work. I cannot cook without a recipe in front of me and nowadays I have to reread a recipe over and over to "get it". I am clumsy and awkward, spilling and knocking everything over. Half of the time in the kitchen, I am cleaning up a mess I made, and that is before turning the stove on. When I feel rushed I use more cups, spoons, bowls and pots than I need to. I feel I have to climb a mountain whenever I work in the kitchen. But....I can do the little things that make a difference to our food budget, and that I thank you for showing me how. I also limit my time in the kitchen to just one recipe or task, so not to get discouraged.

    I am in awe of your mastery that adds so much value to basic ingredients, and your ability to think and create on the fly to make best AND the least use of your ingredients. Congrats!!


    1. Hi YHF,
      I guess most of our dinners are made without a formal recipe. I have basic guidelines in my head, for how much of different ingredients to use. This is manageable when there is a lot of repeat in the menu. For instance, I make a lot of quiches. I don't need to look up how many eggs and how much milk to add each time, as I've made a variety of quiches, and often over the last 30 years. I also don't need to look up how much salt or herbs or other seasonings would be good in any dish, as I have a basic amount for how much seems right when making enough for 5 adult portions. Sometimes, I get it wrong, but we live. What I do use recipes for is baking. I may have a recipe memorized, but I'm still following that recipe. Like for pie pastry or bread dough. Baking is more finicky than making soups or casseroles. And once a baked good is prepared, there's little room for altering the taste, compared to making a pot of soup where you can keep adding until it tastes right.

      Yes, the mess!! There are a few tricks which help contain the mess. Keeping a sink full of hot, soapy water while cooking is a real help. Having a clean-up person is also great. In many households, one person cooks, and the other person cleans up. I think that one is more than fair to the person doing the cleaning. As you can whiz through the clean-up chores in a half hour, whereas the actual cooking may take an hour or more. For our own kitchen, when we redid our kitchen almost 10 years ago, I knew my own cooking style, and knew that if I wanted to help motivate me to cook and bake a lot, I needed "help" with the clean-up. We added a second dishwasher to the kitchen. That dishwasher is dedicated to pots, pans, measuring/cooking utensils, plastic and glass storage containers, etc. It is a luxury, I realize that. But it has made all the difference in my mood about cooking. I did cook everything from scratch for about 20 years before having the second dishwasher (actually we never had a working dishwasher, the one in the house didn't work until we replaced it, 10 years ago). So I do remember how I worked in the kitchen, and made huge messes every single day.

      Don't sell yourself short. I think you are managing quite well, YHF. You do one really beneficial thing in meal prep, and that is batch-cook one item for the freezer, such as bean patties. Simplifying what you cook, by limiting yourself to one recipe at a time, but making a double or triple batch is a money-saver and time-saver. You only have the mess from making bean patties once every few weeks, and you only have to focus on that one recipe in that cooking time.

      I think learning to cook full meals each night is an acquired skill. It's not quite multi-tasking, but close to it. It's rapid movement between tasks. And many, many folks have trouble doing this. But we can help ourselves and find ways that work for us. Like for me, on nights when I have an involved main dish, the sides are simple, like plain, frozen veggies, or plain brown rice.

    2. You're right, so true that we have to help ourselves and find ways that work for us. Subtle small accomodations do add up. Like those bean patties....yes that was in fact a big game changer for us, my dad included (he loves that stuff!!) He can't eat anything hard because he has no teeth, his dentures broke, and stubborn as he is he refuses to go back to the dentist. He says he has only one more year to live (but he'll live longer because he's got better health stats than us). As a result, everything has to be soft food, almost baby food, and the bean patty is the closest thing he can eat resembling meat. I do recall fondly how it all began, with your post about bean patties one year ago. Until then, we bought Morningstar veggie burgers for our work box lunches, and even on sale paired with coupons, it costed at least 50c a patty. Bean patties the way we make it costs 10c each, plus the time and gas saved hunting down commercially made patties on sale.

      So true about baking being "baked in the cake" wonder I find it so intimidating. Every single baked goods I've made so far was a flop. I think in baking also, it is technique as much as the recipe.

      I was wondering about your choice of having a dishwasher. On the surface, it seemed not to be a frugal choice, more water use? But now I understand how it is valued as a kitchen helper and time saver, so in that respect it is frugal. To think outside the box like this is so very smart. Most of us may be penny wise and dollar foolish in our frugal ways. I wash when my husband cooks, and I do save my rinse water by putting a dish pan under the faucet as I rinse veggies, or even my hands, dish cloths, dishes, etc. That water is used to soak dishes, then I use a dish brush to scrub the food off. I save about $8 per month on our water bill by being careful with water use.


  5. I think I recall you posting your wonton soup recipe, but I couldn't find it. Did you post it a couple of weeks ago?

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      The "recipe" was in comments, I think, a couple of weeks ago. Basically, it was YHF helping me make the wontons. I used a small amount of ground pork (like about 3 ounces), a few mushrooms, minced, some garlic powder, onion powder, corn starch, ginger powder and soy sauce. That was the filling for the wontons. The broth was chicken stock, seasoned with ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, soy sauce, salt, a dash of chive blossom vinegar. I added diced tofu, a beaten egg, a little frozen spinach and frozen peas to the broth just before adding the wontons. The wontons were cooked in the soup, not precooked. Next time I make wontons, I'll measure everything and post it.

  6. Hi Lili,
    You do a fantastic job on planning and cooking meals.You really think outside the box. You are a natural teacher.
    Thank you for sharing your frugal ways with us. My Mom was very talented at making the food dollar go farther. We grew up by the cost. We often had an outing to the beach and also dug for clams. She would make clam chowder with those clams. We sometimes would go to the pier and fish and drop a net in to get crabs. She would bring a coleman stove and cook part of them right there. She was also a master fisher woman. She always caught something when we went fishing. Another outing that she sourced food from. I have such fond memories of these times we had fun and she came home and added to the freezer. She was a great cook like you she never really measured and everything came out great. Thank you again for sharing
    it very encouraging to see all the money you save and the healthy meals you make.

    1. Hi Patti,
      your mom sounds very resourceful! I would have loved to have met her. And what wonderful memories you now carry of your childhood. Every child should be making memories like that.

      I hope your week is going well, Patti.

  7. I shop kind of the same way you do. We have a large stock plié in the pantry & freezers. I try very hard to buy only what is on sale or marked down. People probably look at what I am buy at times & wonder about it. My mom brought me up tha way & it has stuck. Sometimes I do carry it a but too far the stocking up & buying ahead if it isa good deal. Hubby was just lecturing me the other day about not buying meat for a while as the freezers are pretty full. We also have a shop rite that I regularly shop at that usually has about 6 coupons in their ad that are super cheap with a limit of one with a $25 purchase, well a lot of times they are 8 cents! Sometimes they are things we don't use but I get them anyway as I have this mental thing that for 8 cents I just can't leave it there so I give it to someone or save it for the holiday food drives.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      I would have a hard time passing up those deals, too. If something winds up costing less than 10 cents, I just can't resist. Giving to a food drive or to friends and neighbors is a good way to share your skill in finding those deals, when you can't use the item. Good work!

      Have a great day, Rhonda!


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