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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Cheap Eats Share Time: The Supper Edition

Food prices just keep going up and up. I thought we could share our recent cheap meals, however we make them cheap. Some of us (or our spouses) hunt or fish, some of us are phenomenal bargain hunters, some of us garden, some of us forage, some of us raise animals for food (meat eggs, dairy), some of us can or freeze, some of us bake or cook from scratch, some of us may barter or exchange with others, and some of us are the queen of use-it-all-up. Whatever your skill set that helps you create a cheap meal, share in the comments one of your most recent cheap suppers. Give details please, so the rest of us can think through how we might adapt your meals to our skills.

I'll begin with our dinner last night. My skills are I garden, I bake from scratch, and I make broth with meat bones (use-it-all-up). For dinner I made a cream of green soup and garlic-Parmesan toast. I used a basket full of greens from the garden -- turnip leaves, kale, garlic greens, radish leaves, chives, plus some garden-grown garlic cloves -- steamed in the microwave, then pureed with some water in the smoothie blender. For the liquid of the soup, I used a quart of homemade chicken stock. I thickened the soup with a combination of instant  mashed potatoes and a flour/water slurry. I seasoned the soup with salt and onion powder. Just before serving I swirled in a handful of mozzarella cheese for protein and flavor. 

To make the garlic-Parmesan toast cheaply I used homemade bread, garden-grown garlic, and a half-and-half blend of vegetable oil and butter (instead of all oil), along with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese (protein and flavor). I estimated that this simple supper for 4 people cost under $1.50. We all had as much soup and toast as we wanted. However I realize that this might not suit a true meat and potato lover.

I don't hunt or fish and I'm less of a bargain hunter than I used to be.  I use the skills and opportunities that I currently have. But I'm willing to try something new or at least barter with someone who can do what I can't. I'm very interested in hearing how you all are putting together cheap meals these days. Please share so we can all benefit from your endeavors.


  1. You really made me think. I have lots of frozen things from the garden and family hunting. Plus lots of home canned goods and cold things still from the garden in the frig. So I will give a couple of examples. I just cook from day to day using up these things and don't give it much thought.
    One example. I have canned venison in quarts. The larger part of a quart, plus one pint of canned potatoes, and our own carrots from the frig became venison stew one evening this week. There was enough venison left in the quart to make a homemade bbq sauce and have sandwiches for a lunch. I cut up an apple to have along with it. It was from our fall harvest.
    Another day I made a scratch pizza crust for our meal and our grandson joined us. I used our home canned pasta sauce seasoned up plus peppers I had frozen as part of the topping.
    For dessert I had baked a peach cobbler. I take our own peaches and prepare cobbler fillings and freeze. Then when I want to make one, I remove from the freezer, make a scratch crust and bake. Very simple, easy and nice treat.
    As I said, I've cooked with what we have for years so I have to stop and think...what did I use that was ours.

    1. Hi Linda,
      It sounds like you garden (fruits and vegetables), can prolifically (preserving what might not keep), and someone in your household hunts (meat for your household). Between the those three major skills, you can provide very well for yourselves at little cost. Also, you cook from scratch and are clever in using what you have.
      The venison stew sounds delicious. I'm thinking that I need to find someone I can trade with that hunts.

  2. I freeze little bits of this and that and after a while my freezer has little baggies or containers scattered throughout. And I sadly don't label any of it. So, in my moment of thinking about dinner, I begin to pull out those little containers along with bits and pieces of things in the fridge and found I had enough for a homemade pizza sauce and all the toppings. 1/2 lb. sausage, frozen green and orange sliced peppers, frozen mushrooms, deli ham, a block of mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, fresh onions. So we had a deep dish pizza or rather 4 small personal sized pizzas. I also froze peaches last summer thinking it would be jam during the winter but I preferred a peach cobbler several times this winter. We make KFC bowls which is diced chicken sauteed with seasonings, mashed potatoes, brown gravy and vegetable in a bowl. I found 3 "starting to get freezer burn" chicken breasts but only used one since I had already prepped boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I made a huge batch to feed my dad, my son, my husband and myself. And my son always get a meal to take home for later.

    I'm a bargain hunter as well and what many throw away, I make into a delicious meal. But lately I don't shop a lot because I have a freezer full that needs to be used.

    1. Hi Alice,
      It sounds like you make your freezer work for you. You also make copycat dishes, and ad-lib well. in addition, you find bargains and have confidence you can find use for them. Those KFC bowls sound tasty and easy enough. I'm going to suggest these to my daughter who has to cook tomorrow night. I have chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, cheese, and she can make a gravy. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. I'm also struggling to think up examples. So much of this is reflex from having done it for years. I think one of my "skills" is that I'm not afraid to ask for advice or look online for solutions. For example, I'm on the meal team with my church and I took a meal yesterday to an elderly couple. My husband buys turkeys and cooks them up during the year, repackaging it into 1-meal sizes, and I use these for soups/stews/casseroles (we do the same with ham). Anyway, the husband who I was providing the meal for needs a gluten-free meal, so I made turkey stew with turkey and turkey broth from our freezer, potatoes, onion, carrots, and herbs, all of which are inexpensive. Then I Googled gluten-free cornbread to make sure I truly could make it gluten-free and sure enough, I found a recipe, so I made that as well. I also made a cookie recipe that is gluten-free (I've made this before) with peanut butter. When I take meals to others, I typically make the same meal for us and double the recipe (that way I know it shouldn't make anyone sick, haha). The exception in this case was that I made yeast rolls for us, which was not terribly well-thought out on my part, as I realized later that a batch of cornbread for 2 elderly people was an awful lot of food for them. Probably my other "skill" is to see excess food and think about how I can incorporate that into future meals--so I made spaghetti last night for supper to help use up some of the rolls, and we had cornbread with jam on it for a snack. I feel like these are skills that everyone who reads your blog has and uses regularly so I am probably not contributing anything insightful!

    1. Hi Kris,
      I agree with you about finding recipes online and new ways to prepare simple foods. I was thinking about you and that as a skill. I think it's really valuable. You often have a link for us to a good recipe that you've tried. And no, I don't think everyone here does as much research for new recipes as you do. So that is a unique skill. Thinking about how you can use up what you have is another valuable skill you have. I read the other day that the average American household of 4 could save as much as $1500 per year by not wasting food. Imagine that -- you're saving about $1500 each year by using it all up.
      You didn't mention that your husband keeps a productive garden and I think you've said he fishes and hunts. Those save quite bit, too.

    2. I just saw on that someone posting suggested wrapping celery in foil and it will keep for a lot longer. I have given up on purchasing celery because it's the one food that I seemed to struggle with using up in time. Have you tried this? Curious to see if it works.

  4. With food prices rising, we shop almost exclusively for bargains and clearances. buying large quantities and freezing. Our meals are simple and eclectic. We're also not overeating, so the fridge is always full of leftovers. At mealtime, we bring out all the leftovers to finish before eating the new dish. We also don't throw away much, and find alternate uses. One example recently was a pot of oatmeal mixture (with quinoa and flax seeds). My husband cooks enough for several breakfasts because I like cold leftover oatmeal with ready to eat cereals. It stretches the expensive packaged cereal and seems more satisfying. However, a few weeks ago, I froze some leftover oatmeal, then thawed it to eat cold, but it was awful. I made lentil patties, 2c cooked oatmeal to one cup raw lentils. It was an excellent binder, no bead crumbs needed ro hold the patty together.

    Have a great day,

    1. Hi Lili, sorry for the spelling errors. We are not gardening as much as we'd like to, just some volunteer wild tomatoes and green onions. Produce is very expensive. I couldn't believe $8 a lb for okra at a Filipino market. Water is a big problem locally, and we are asked to conserve. We also don't hunt or fish. My skills are not the best in food preparation. I don't mind keeping track of food prices down to unit pricing so that comes in handy when we shop.


    2. Hi Laura,
      It sounds like you're very resourceful, finding those bargains and new ways to use simple foods that will appeal to you and your husband. I like your idea for mixing some oatmeal into package dry cereal. It would give the oatmeal more texture and crunch while really stretching the cereal.
      Produce prices are rising here too. But $8/lb sounds so high.
      I'm sorry that water shortages mean you can't garden as much as you'd like. I'm glad you're finding some bargains and clearance items.

  5. I've read your blog for awhile and really enjoy it, but this is the first time commenting. I don't necessarily have recipes to suggest, but more like ideas to help stretch some food items. Like many people, I garden; then I can, freeze or dehydrate produce and herbs; and I've foraged berries, apples and some items like wild garlic and nettle for tea. I take advantage of sale items, especially meat because it can be the most pricey and I buy these items in bulk.

    With the meat, I tend to butcher it before freezing. For example, with chicken breast, I remove the meat from the bones. Some of the breasts are individually packaged and labelled as boneless breast. Some breasts I'll cut into cutlets to transform into schnitzels; some are cut into large cubes for making kebobs; some are diced smaller for sweet and sour chicken meals or for making pot pies etc. The chicken tenders are packaged separately to be breaded and used as a chicken finger meal or on a bun. Sometimes I cut these into small strips for stir frys. The leftover meat clinging to the bones is thoroughly picked over and I will package this to use wherever a small dice is needed, such as to use in making egg rolls, samosas or quesadillas. In each of these particular dishes, the meat stretches because the bulk of the meal is made up from vegetables or beans. Lastly, the bones are frozen to be used along with vegetable scraps to make soup broth. So with the breasts I get the breast meat, the tenders, the little bits of meat clinging to the bones and then the bones themselves - 4 uses from chicken breast.

    Vegetables are transformed too, but I'll comment about carrots. As I don't seem to be able to grow large amounts, in the Fall the stores will sell 10lb. bags for $1.99. I'll buy 2-3 bags one week and I'll peel and freeze the carrots as dices, roll-cut shapes, sticks for roasting or slices. Then the following week, I'll purchase 2 more bags and dehydrate them to be used as part of a soup mix. All the carrots are rinsed first and I will then freeze all the peels which are mostly used in making soup broth. However, I have successfully used them in baking too. I have a carrot cake recipe that uses 3 cups of grated carrots and I've discovered that I can grind 2 cups-worth of frozen peels in my food processor and then grate the last cup from a fresh carrot. Just using the peels makes the cake both dryer and slightly bitter, but adding the one cup of fresh carrot adds the moisture and the sweetness back into the cake.

    Lastly, I will keep many of the tops of the carrots and place in water or little pots of soil. They'll send up new carrot fronds that I use to flavour rice, ground meat dishes, in salads or soup. Sometimes I just dehydrate these leaves and powder them to add to a "greens jar" which I then add to smoothies - or any dish for extra nutrition. Many ways with carrots. Hope these ideas are helpful.

    1. Anonymous, your ideas are wonderful! I suspect many of Lili's reader will find your suggestions helpful. I had no idea carrot peels were bitter. I always peel the carrots and throw the peel away because they add an ugly color.

      Your suggestions fit right in with a lot of readers' on this blog! Thank you.

      You had me laughing when you said, "with meat, I usually butcher before freezing" and my body did a little jump because my thoughts were that I hope we all have our meat butchered before freezing! But then you explained more. Over the years I added additional "butchering" to mostly chicken because that is way easier to do before freezing. I like boneless skinless chicken thighs but lately they are expensive so I might instead buy a whole chicken and debone and separate it out. By learning the technique to debone your own thighs, etc. you can buy cheaper whole chickens and do the magic yourself. Same with a big pork loin or roast. We cut into slices and dices before freezing so I can just pick from my freezer what we need and it's already cut the way I need it to be.

    2. Anonymous, thank you! Great comments. I have a couple of questions--how do you freeze your carrots? Do you blanch them first? Also, you mentioned using dehydrated carrots in soup--do you have a homemade mix that you use for this or do you add it along with your other fresh ingredients? I've never tried making my own dehydrated soup mix but the idea is intriguing and I could see it being used as a gift package. Thanks!

    3. Hi friend,
      Thank you for your detailed comments. It sounds like you're a real do-it-yourselfer with food prep. I agree, you can save a lot of money by doing some of the work at home, deboning meat or making your own convenient vegetables, frozen or dried.

      Thank you, thank you for your suggestion to use the carrot peels in baking. I've never heard of someone doing that, but I will most definitely give that a try. What I have been doing with carrots lately is scrubbing them but not peeling. We had carrot sticks with dinner tonight and I left the peel on. They don't look as pretty, but we ate more of the carrots than we would have if I'd peeled them. I leave the peel on for soups and stews, too. There are times when we want the carrots to look nicer, and those times I will now save the peels for carrot cake or muffins. I also love the idea of sprouting carrot leaves to use in cooking, using just the top of the carrot. I'll give that a try, too.

      I appreciate that you took the time to comment.

    4. To freeze the carrots, I blanch them first for about 3 minutes; then plunge in icy cold water; drain and spread them out in a single layer on silicone-lined cookie sheets. Freeze, then once frozen I use my foodsaver to package.

      I've given the soup mix to my married daughters as gifts. They always appreciate having it on hand. For the soup mix I dehydrate large amounts of onions, celery (and its leaves), and leeks along with the carrots. Then I'll also add a smaller amount of diced red peppers - I find the green peppers seem to be stronger tasting in soup. I make a lot of this mixture and store it in 2 two gallon-sized pickle jars that I've had for a couple of decades. I will use bouillon powder for extra flavouring but I don't mix it in with the dried vegetables. When I want to make soup stock, I'll add an amount of dry mix suitable to the amount of frozen bones and meat pieces that I'm using. Then, if necessary I'll add some bouillon powder to boost the flavour of the stock.

      I'll also use this soup mix in baked rice dishes as is, or I'll add some dehydrated diced green beans or dehydrated peas and corn as well. Sometimes I'll use bouillon powder along with the water, or I use the homemade chicken stock as the liquid. As well, I've ground this mix in my herb grinder and put a teaspoon or so into cream cheese to make my own homemade version of Philadelphia Brand Vegetable Cream Cheese Spread. It's very tasty. I've also given the ground veggie powder as gifts along with directions and suggestions on how to use it.


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