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Friday, September 9, 2016

Cheap & Cheerful Suppers for the week, plus my components for a "cheap" supper

Wednesday's dinner: black bean burger, brown rice, kale, fried purple potatoes,
tomato slices, plum cobbler topped with vanilla yogurt

Any meal of the day can easily tank the food budget. But for our family, I've found the "big meal", dinner/supper has the potential to be our most expensive meal of the day. In many homes, this meal is often the one that contains a meat entree. It usually comes with a couple of side dishes. And if it has dessert, that's tacking on an extra $ amount for those butter-rich, sugary calories. Plus, if I were to use very many convenience foods, well there goes the budget. So if there's focus anywhere in my meal planning, it's always the dinners/suppers.

Components of a cheap meal

Inexpensive protein source
  • eggs
  • dried beans
  • less expensive meats, like dark meat chicken, whole turkey, bone-in ham, ground beef
  • the relatively cheap nuts/seeds -- sunflower seeds, peanuts/peanut butter
Inexpensive starch
  • whole, fresh potatoes (not boxed potato dishes)
  • non-instant rice
  • homemade, scratch bread products, like biscuits, yeast bread, dumplings, or pastry
  • cheaper pasta (I look for sales on whole wheat pasta, or buy white pasta at Dollar Tree. Pasta can be an expensive starchy side dish, so we don't do these more than a couple of meals per week. Rice price per pound, about 40 cents for me. Pasta price per pound, 66 to 79 cents, if bought on sale or at DT, otherwise, pasta could be as much as $1.50 per pound.)
Less expensive produce -- in-season, long-keeping fruits and vegetables are often low in price, like:
  • apples
  • pears
  • oranges
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • winter squash and whole pumpkins
  • onions, garlic
Some moderate-keeping, in-season produce (a week or maybe 2, depending on storage methods)
  • watermelon and other melons
  • bananas
  • in season tomatoes, green peppers, summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower
Home-grown fruits and vegetables
  • we try to grow produce items that are more expensive in the stores, and often relatively perishable, like berries, plums, leafy greens
  • home-grown vegetables which are somewhat labor-intensive to harvest, adding to the price when purchased, like green beans and peas
Frozen vegetables, bought in large bags or cases, plain varieties, like:
  • peas
  • cut corn
  • green beans
  • I make my own "mixed vegetable combos", instead of buying vegetable blends/mixes, combining carrots, corn, peas, green beans
Inexpensive canned vegetables
  • bought in large #10 cans, like pumpkin and tomato products
  • smaller cans (14-15 oz), when on sale, or w/ coupons, under 50 cents/can
Scratch-cooked desserts, no mixes, simple recipes, using ordinary ingredients, and often using home-grown fruit, such as
  • pies
  • cobblers
  • crisps
  • cakes
  • cookies and bars
  • cornstarch puddings
  • baked custards/flans/rice pudding
  • fruit sauces, using home-grown fruit
Fats -- I use saved meat fats, stored in the freezer, blended with oil at point of use, for sauteeing veggies, beans and vegetarian burger patties. I use vegetable oil, instead of butter, where flavor won't be a factor. (You already know that I like cake and cookies made with butter, but drop biscuits/dumplings/cobbler toppings can be made with oil or a blend of butter and oil. If there is some fat left in the skillet from a vegetable or bean burger saute, I spoon/scrape that over servings of plain rice, instead of using butter.

Those thoughts were rolling around in my brain today, so thought I'd share. Not all of our meals are cheap. But I figure if about 80% or so are of the "cheap" variety, then we can afford splurges, like when on a trip or for special occasions.

What we ate this week:

Friday (again a picnic dinner)

Almond butter sandwiches ($1.75)
Apples (free)
Bananas (50 cents)
Tea or milk
total cost, $2.25, plus beverages


Take-out pizza, 2 mediums, with a $15 voucher, total came to $15.31, I found a quarter on the ground the night before, put in my pocket, then for pizza pick-up, used that quarter, plus 6 cents of my own
Fresh plums (free)
--total cost 6 cents


Kale and shallot frittata (6 frozen eggs from last fall, at 11 cents each, plus butter/oil for pan, about 85 cents)
Brown rice (30 cents)
Plums (free)
--total cost, $1.15

Monday (Labor Day cook-out)

Foil packets of potatoes, shallots, tomatoes, green peppers, green beans, summer squash and hamburger patties
Fresh plums
--total cost, $1.88 for the meat, and 50 cents for the s'mores


Meatloaf ($2.00)
Oven-roasted potatoes and garlic (free)
Sauteed Swiss chard and shallots (free)
Apple wedges (free)
Fresh tomatoes (free)
Hot fudge pudding cake (about 50 cents)
--total cost about $2.50


Black bean burgers (about 40 cents)
Fresh tomato slices (free)
Brown rice (30 cents)
Sauteed kale (free)
Purple potatoes pan-fried in saved ham fat (from our Easter ham) and oil (5 cents)
Plum cobbler topped with vanilla yogurt, a freebie (about 40 cents)
--total cost, about $1.15


Corn souffle (about 75 cents), using ham fat, garden green peppers, some cream cheese, canned corn and 2 eggs
Little Smokies (75 cents -- I used 3/4 of a package that was marked down to 99 cents)
Spaghetti squash from garden
Leftover brown rice (about 15 cents, not much left), or
Bread and butter (about 15 cents)
Cole slaw (garden cabbage, plus dressing, about 10 cents)
Rhubarb sauce (about 15 cents)
--total cost, about $2.05

Well, summer came to a crashing halt at the end of last week. It has looked more like November, here, than September, dark, cold and drizzly, for a week straight. I am hoping the sun will come back and give us a few more summery days. It just feels too soon to lose those happy summer days.

I tried something this week that I'd never had before -- almond butter. WinCo has the machines which grind it for you, on the spot. I bought just a small amount, so we could try it. We had it as sandwiches, which I don't think was the best use for it, seeing as how it's so much more expensive than peanut butter. It was good, but not $7-per-pound good. Maybe it would be better on crackers or on apple wedges. That's just my take on it. If you have any suggestions for how it's best used, please share.

I hope your week went well. What was on your menu this past week?

Have a great weekend!


  1. Your meals always look so good and balanced.

    Sunday we had leftover tortellini with homemade tomato sauce.
    Monday we had BLT's with potato salad.
    Tuesday was chicken baked in broth, peppers, onions, and tomatoes over rice.
    Wednesday was pork steak, egg roll filling leftover from making eggrolls and applesauce.
    Thursday was fried egg sandwich with a slice of cheese.
    Friday--tonight--as always, who knows.

    I had a pile of tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots and cabbage from Dad so Wed. was making eggrolls, spaghetti sauce ingredients all made for the freezer! I have half a cabbage and some tomatoes and peppers still fresh so probably I'll make that part of dinner. I also got a lot of fresh mozzarella balls at my volunteer event last night but they're close to expiration. I've got basil in my herb garden so probably tomato, mozzarella and basil on bread sounds good.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Oh yum, all of those fresh veggies sound so delicious! And now you'll have all of those good foods in the freezer for easier cooking. Great job, Alice!

      I have to admit, I've never had a fried egg sandwich. Do you grill it after putting the egg in between the bread? It sounds quick and easy.

      Have a great weekend, Alice!

    2. Never had a fried egg sandwich? I don't grill mine. I just use my nice homemade, soft bread and put an over-medium fried egg on it with a slice of cheese, cover it with a second slice of bread and devour! Sometimes I will toast the bread or add a slice of ham or tomato and sometimes they are open-face sandwiches. So easy in a pinch. I had a commitment in less than an hour after coming home from work so last night it was two open faced egg sandwiches with only a slice of cheese on each. I spoiled myself that way because I got two slices of cheese and two eggs.


    3. Thanks for the info, Alice. fried egg sandwiches will show up in our meals, at some point!

    4. I grew up on fried egg sandwiches. Ours were usually fried in bacon grease and I like to have mustard with mine.

    5. Hi live and learn,
      Those do sound yummy! The mustard would add a nice tang.

    6. Fried egg sandwiches were a common supper when I was a child. We had ours on bread or toast with mayo or Miracle Whip, and a slice of cheese. We liked sweet pickle chips on the side.

      My husband likes his fried eggs sandwiches on toast or toasted bagels that have been lightly buttered. He also likes a slice of cheese.

      Sometimes we add a couple pieces of bacon or a thin slice of ham.


    7. Hi Angie,
      Adding the bacon makes this sound amazing!

  2. Hi, Lili--

    I think almond butter is tasty, but it's really awfully expensive unless you are using it because you CAN'T eat peanut butter, etc. I haven't bought it for years, even on sale. Other nut and seed butters are cheaper alternatives, and also taste good (if you like the nut/seed they're made from.

    The cheapest nut/seed butter I've found is sunflower butter. I've found it for lower than comparable-quality peanut butter sometimes on-line, and I think it tastes delicious.

    Tahini is more-expensive, has a stronger flavor, and tends to be runnier (less good for sandwiches, unless you pour off the excess oil to use for cooking, rather than stirring it in.) If you like the flavor, though, it's delicious on toast and such; and it is a delicious addition to stir-fry and barbecue sauces, especially with garlic and honey.

    Back to almond butter, a friend of mine uses it for no-bake cookies, which is delicious, and some other baking; but I think that it's most useful as a spread, overall. You get to enjoy the taste the most that way... it's just frustrating because peanut butter, etc., are so much cheaper.

    Hopefully someone else here will have a better suggestion for maximizing your enjoyment of the end of your stock. :) Have a great weekend! Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      I think you're right, about almond butter being probably best for someone who can't have peanuts, or has other dietary needs or restrictions requiring eating more almonds, if one a tight budget. I used to make my own sunflower butter. A few years ago the peanut crop was poor, and peanut butter prices went sky-high, so I began making sunflower seed butter in my blender (posted here:

      I made sunseed butter for about a year. It was quite good, and I might make it again this next year as a change from peanut butter. Made at home, it's about the same price as on sale natural style peanut butter, for me. But it's a really great alternative to PB for school kids who can't bring PBJs to school. I wish I'd remembered this at the beginning of summer. One daughter couldn't bring PB to work, due to other's allergies. Oh well, next summer.

      I might make almond butter balls, with the last of the almond butter. The honey would bring out the sweetness of the almonds. Thanks for your insights, Sara! Have a great weekend, too!

  3. I bought almond butter at Aldi a few months ago (don't remember what I paid for it)--I'm not that impressed with the flavor, to tell the truth. I doubt I'll be buying it again.

    I have a similar technique for planning meals--inexpensive proteins, starches, fruits and veggies from the garden or farmer's market (or on sale). :) I only use canned pie filling when we are camping (for cobblers, pie iron pies, etc.) and I am always shocked at how expensive they are, even at Aldi.

    Sorry about your dreary weather! We are still experiencing hot and humid weather--tomorrow (after it rains) it should become more temperate. Hooray!

    1. Hi Kris,
      summer came back today. I hope to stay for a couple of weeks, at least. But for dinner tonight, I am making soup, anyways.

      I was beginning to think maybe there was something wrong with my taste buds, that I wasn't wow-ed by the almond butter. DO you know what else is shocking in price, for what it is, to me? Canned refried beans. I buy them when we travel and I want to make quick and easy lunches or dinners, with flour tortillas (and a microwave). I can't believe how expensive they are for beans! But I keep in mind, canned refried beans and tortillas are a whole lot cheaper than burritos from a fast food restaurant. I can make 6 bean burritos in a hotel room, for the price of 2 bean burritos from a cheap fast food restaurant. And I'm sure the cost comparison when camping using canned pie filling is comparable.

  4. For a long time, we've been substituting with cheaper alternatives, to see it written and declared as such, makes me smile:) I like our garden vegetables for the same reason you do, we are able to grow more expensive varieties than cheap-at-the-store carrots and cabbages.

    Our meals this week was not typical. For starters I was completely beside myself with my bowel problem, and had to go to urgent care for some advice. I panicked and thought my days of being normal was over, because of nerve damage from my back issue or very progressed diverticulosis. Anyway, we had our grandsons over too, and my husband had to take care of me and the children all weekend. I couldn't think of food or eat much. Now I'm much better, and the biggest help was stopping the psyllium which ironically was recommended by the gastrointestinal specialist....instead I'm on Miralax and prune juice. I really thought I would need surgery, but thankfully I'm not at that stage yet, according to the doctor. I now understand why I should pray for simple things such as my daily...

    I'm still overly focused on we've been just foraging and eating leftovers, muffin tin baked meatballs and spaghetti for days and lots of garden veggies. That's the thing, according to the Urgent Care doctor, I already consume a lot of fiber in my normal diet so adding psyllium is not going to help and in fact can make it worse (slows digestion and movement). Wish the gastrointestinal doctor took a few minutes to evaluate my diet before making a psyllium recommendation.

    Have a great weekend!!


    1. Oh YHF, I am so sorry for your health problems this past week. I'm glad you've come up with a solution that will work for you. And oyu can avoid surgery. Hopefully the miralax and prune juice will be all you need. It's understandable that you've been very focused on this issue. And I hope you can now relax about it, and get on with enjoying life. How horrible for you, though. You have my sympathies.

      Have a great weekend, yourself, YHF!

    2. Thanks Lili, I am doing much better each passing day. Lifestyle change (being retired) and weight loss (15 lbs) are complicating my ability to be normal. Also being older, funny how one year can make such a big difference.


    3. Hi, YHF--

      Sorry about your hard week, but glad you're starting to feel better now.

      I know that doctors have a lot on their plates, and someone once said to me (and I think that they were probably right) that you probably don't WANT the average doctor giving you dietary advice.

      But, I had a similar experience to yours, where a doctor made some very specific dietary pronouncements without considering my normal diet. Then they blamed ME when I followed their instructions to the letter and the results weren't good.

      I salvaged the situation as best I could by having a rather frank and direct conversation with the doc about giving dietary advice without considering a patient's normal diet. To her credit, she did allow as how that probably was important to remember. Since she was an experienced and respected GI doc, I'd say that revelation was pretty late in coming. (Sigh)

      Feel better! Sara

    4. Thanks for sharing your experience, Sara. It helps me feel less like a victim. This is the same GI specialist who didn't want to do a screening every five years, who recommended 1 rounded tsp psyllium per day on my patient care sheet without considering the amount of fiber I regularly consume in my diet. And like your GI doc, who is experienced and respected, I feel pretty terrible (like a victim, gee am I the only one not getting good service?) since my doc was voted "best" in his specialty for a number of years by our local magazine's "Best Doctor" poll.

      I'm glad I got some good advice finally, unfortunately sometimes it takes a nearly emergency situation for a doctor to problem solve, and not give a standard answer. I know if I complained to my primary care physician during a regular office visit, he would say drink plenty of fluids, exercise, and increase your fiber intake.

      Have a great weekend, Sara :)


    5. Yes, YHF, I hear you! My first comment to my husband after the doc criticized me was, "How many other people who follow a careful diet has she yelled at, when it's really as much her fault as theirs?" My guess is that lots of other patients have probably done what I did, and followed her blanket instructions, against their better judgment, or not realizing it could be a problem, because they didn't want to be the "bad patient" who blew off the doc's orders.

      She was generally aware of my diet when she gave me the instructions, but when I talked to her about it afterwards, it was clear she hadn't THOUGHT about how her restrictions might interact with it.

      She sounded relatively receptive to my comments, once I fully explained things to her; so my only hope is that some other patient will have an easier time because maybe she'll think beforehand for them!

      Sorry you had a bad experience, but hopefully at least you learned something more about your own health and diet, which will empower you to speak up and/or "problem solve" on your own going forward, if necessary. That's how I try to look at these experiences! Take good care! Sara

    6. Sara, so true...I too followed against my better judgement because I didn't want to be a "bad patient". About 20 years ago, I had similar constipation from Metamucil following my primary care doctors order to take 1 tablespoon daily to lower my cholesterol. But I thought 1 rounded teaspoon is far less, so I had better try it. And I know that if I complained about constipation again, they are going to ask did you try psyllium since it is written on my instructions and saved in my medical record.

      Is it laziness on their part? Also, I think doctors make pretty bad assumptions about the "general" intelligence and motivation of the patient. If I have less than perfect health, they may think it means I am not taking care of myself, therefore very basic information suffices. Then also, in our area, the general health of clients are on the poorer side (statistically), so I often have to filter what the doctor says with that in mind. My husband, for example, likes to parrot what our primary care doctor says of his test results, not being anything to worry about. But I have to remind him, think for yourself, if the trend is not good (going downhill fast), don't think your health is good just because the doc gives the all clear. He sees much worse patients than us all the time, so of course he's not going to see your results as anything to be concerned about.

      Sorry you had a similar experience with your doctor, Sara. And experiences like these make me resolve more firmly that we have to be our best advocate and not sit passively and trust doctors at their words so blindly.

      Take care yourself, Sara :)


    7. YHF, just wanted to say great job on the 15-lb weight loss. Even though that may be complicating things right now, it's got to be helping your health in other areas, and it's no small achievement!

      Just wanted to bring some of your focus to the positive! :-)

  5. I love these posts... and you've laid out such an amazing guide for how to eat on the cheap! You should write a book. Seriously, it often seems like you're preaching to the choir here and there are sooo many people out there who would really benefit from your wealth of knowledge!

    Anyhow, CatMan LOVES almond butter. He spreads it on crackers for a snack. Personally, I find all nut butters to be utterly disgusting - not sure why, but I just can't seem to choke them down... there's something about the oily texture of them that really turns me off.

    Every few years I decide to try again and buy some peanut butter, but I just can't stomach the stuff. I've never reacted to peanuts on an allergy test, but CatMan thinks perhaps I have some lingering allergy there and just don't know it. Maybe he's right and I should just stop trying to make myself like something that I obviously don't.

    At the moment I've got about half a jar of peanut butter that I've been trying to use up for a year now. I'm sorta thinking of spreading it on the sunflower seed bread that I accidentally bought and can't eat (I am allergic to sunflower seeds) and feeding it to the squirrels. At least someone would enjoy it that way!

    1. Hi Cat,
      Thanks for the vote of confidence.

      Yeah, life is too short to try to like some of the things that we just don't like. I don't like fish, at all. I finally gave myself permission to be the odd one out, and just not force myself to try it again. So, if I were you, I'd just figure the nut butters is something you don't like and leave it at that.

      That's a good idea to use both the peanut butter and the sunflower seed bread as squirrel food. It would make the squirrels very, very happy, and get both out of your house at the same time. And if you feed the squirrels in a spot that your cats could enjoy the show (from inside the house, of course), then it would make the cats very happy, too! Or at least entertain them for 5 minutes.

  6. We love almond butter. We put it in smothies.We do this when we do not want meat or legumes. Some days I just can't. We like the texture of the Maranatha brand. We buy this at Grocery Outlet. They are currently out of almond and cashew butter at Grocery Outlet. We buy like 10 jars at a time. We also like cashew butter. We ordered some almond butter on Amazon. The brand was Almondee.We were not fans.
    Our dinners this week were simple. I did not go to the grocery store so we just ate what was on hand. Sun turkey burgers,HM potatoe salad and watermelon. Tue. Mashed potatoes,corn,meatballs and gravey. Wed Chicken fajitas and refried beans. Thur Split Pea soup and corn
    muffins. Fri clean out the frig or pick a leftover night. It is hot again and I do not want to cook. Lili
    sorry about the yucky weather. You can have some of my
    PS I can eat peanut butter but sometimes I end up with
    an upset tummy so I might have a little allergy to it.
    Have a great day.

    1. Hi Patti,
      Oh, smoothies sound good with the almond butter. I put peanut butter in my daughter's breakfast smoothies. Almond butter might be quite good with some of the fruits I use (like peaches). Thanks for the info on different brands of almond butter. I'll keep that in mind.
      Great job on making meals from what was on hand! That's a great way to make sure you eat everything up, as well as save on grocery spending. I find there are always some less desirable (but cheaper) foods in the freezer and pantry, that get passed by for the "new" stuff I bring home from the store, each time I go shopping. Skipping the shopping for a week or two forces us to eat those cheaper foods. And it makes my week less stressful, to not have to shop for one week!

      Have a great day, yourself, Patti!


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