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Thursday, October 27, 2022

Cheap & Cheerful Meals: A Car Picnic for Lunch Saving $$ Compared to a Restaurant Meal

My "new" kitchen dish towel from Value Village.
The same towel is listed on eBay for $19.98, but still has tags.
This towel couldn't have been washed more than once, it's
in that good of condition.


split pea and garden vegetable soup
tossed garden salad
rhubarb-blackberry pie


bean burritos
sautéed kale and onions
mixed fruit cup

Sunday (no dinner, just snacking for those who were hungry, see below on what we did this afternoon)


egg cups baked in ham slices
roasted pumpkin cubes
tomato-basil soup
roasted purple potatoes

I grocery shopped in the AM, hitting a few stores. I was bushed when I came home, but still had usual Monday chores. By dinner prep time, eggs seemed the simplest to make. The tomato-basil soup was canned tomatoes pureed with some onion, garlic, and lots of basil. I topped each cup with Parmesan cheese, because yay! I bought more Parmesan this morning. Leftover soup was reheated with cabbage, diced carrots, TVP, olive oil, and celery leaves for a cabbage soup at lunchtime later this week.


toasted cheese and pizza toppings sandwiches
carrot leaf soup
apple chunks in caramel sauce

Just cooking for three tonight. I had thought I would make pizza, but that sounded like too much work. So I went with toasted cheese sandwiches that were topped with pepperoni slivers, diced green pepper and onion, thin-sliced tomato, and a sprinkle garlic powder. These were so delicious that I think I'll make them again this coming weekend. The carrot leaf soup was made with some of the carrot leaves from harvesting carrots this week. I'm trying to use all of the leaves as well as the roots. Leftover soup was used in lunches.


chicken fajitas in homemade flour tortillas
apples in caramel sauce
garlic green beans

Our first harvest of apples are going wrinkly, so we're using them every chance we get. We also have a jar of homemade caramel sauce that needs using up, so apples and caramel sauce have been on the menu 3 times this week. My daughter made the tortillas and there were leftovers to use in lunches the next day to make bean burritos.


scratch blackberry coffee cake
tossed salad of radish greens and roots, mache, carrot leaves and roots, red lettuce, and lentil sprouts

We're enjoying the mache in salads. It's flavor is slightly nutty and it's texture is a bit more firm/succulent than young spinach. It's delicious and I plan on growing an even larger patch next fall.

steel cut oats, toast, homemade yogurt, frozen blackberries, apples, eggs, potatoes, scones, milk, Toasty O's cereal

carrot leaf soup, cabbage patch soup, roasted pumpkin, potatoes & onions, bean burritos, fig-applesauce, egg salad sandwiches, apples, popcorn, peanut butter, homemade bread, scones, raisins. We are low on cheese right now, so no cheese with lunches. I'm waiting for a sale or coupon for the cheese. For baked goods we had sugar cookies, cupcakes, and pie, all scratch made.

I'm cooking hot lunches several days per week as a way to warm up that part of the house, as well as whoever is eating with me that day. We had our furnace serviced one week ago and are now using it every day, but we're trying to hold off on using it a lot, when the house just needs a little heat to take the chill off. 

On Sunday, the day we all went to the matinee of the play my daughter is in, we had to drive down early for my daughter's call time (when she has to be at the theater, usually about an hour before curtain time), having just one car between the four of us. My other daughter made brown bag lunches for all of us to eat in the car while waiting for curtain time. She packed egg salad on homemade bread, homemade eggnog scones from the freezer, raisins, and apple chunks in caramel sauce. My son and daughter-in-law had a birthday party to go to around noon, so they met up with us at curtain time. My actor daughter was able to get 4 comped tickets. We needed to buy one additional ticket, which we were able to get a discount as seniors. The play was Clue, and my daughter plays the French maid. It's a comedy and was hilarious.

That's what was on our menu. What were the highlights of your meals this past week? Do you make hot lunches in the cooler months? Are there any foods/dishes that warm you up more than others?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!


  1. Although I eat soup year round, I especially love it in the colder months. I usually make a big pot of soup this time of year every couple of weeks. It's just my husband and me now so we eat a couple of meals of soup and freeze the rest into portions that I can take to work later. Homemade soup is so easy to make while I'm cooking other things. This week it was lentil. We are still getting radishes, kale, and peppers from the garden here in Indiana. I use them in salads with onions, extra lettuce, and goat cheese. So good!

    1. Hi Nana,
      That's a really great idea to make a big pot of soup to use over many meals. I agree totally with making soup while cooking other things. Soup may take time to cook, but very little of that time is hands-on.
      Yum! Your radishes, kale, and peppers mirth the goat cheese, onions, and lettuce sounds delicious. What kind of dressing do you like on a salad like that?

  2. Yes, lots of soup! Last night was beef stew (that counts as a soup). Lately, we've just been picking around finishing up some odd things to make meals with. Two oranges made orange chicken, once last week and once again this week. I thought I had thawed deli ham but it was boneless skinless chicken thighs. I just don't write on the baggies what it is. I made mashed potatoes with cabbage and diced smoked sausage. Veggie lasagna was a box I bought and it was so delicious. Chicken orzo soup, homemade buns, hamburgers. I cleaned out my pantry and made lots of stuff with little bits of this and that to make all these meals.

    1. Hi Alice,
      Kudos on finding a way to use the oranges AND the accidentally-thawed chicken thighs!!!
      Cleaning out your pantry sounds like it was a success. Your meals sound very tasty. I love, love, love smoked sausage with cabbage and mashed potatoes. That's been one of my winter favorites over the years. It's so easy, very economical, and delicious.
      Have a great weekend, Alice.

  3. I love to go to plays and I'm sure Clue was extra fun because your daughter was in it. I like the idea of having the lunches in bags for each person. That made transporting the food much easier.
    I have carrot tops to use now. I put some in a soup this week, but have not made a soup with them as the main ingredient. How do you make your carrot top soup?

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      We really enjoyed the play. That was the first time in almost 3 years since I'd sat in a densely-packed audience.

      For carrot top soup -- the bottom 3 inches of the big stems are tough and stringy. I've been cutting that part off and composting, about 3 inches on the longer stems, less on the really tiny stems. I then fine-chop the whole length of remaining stems and leaves, then blend/puree with some water and a small chunk of onion (not necessary, but we like onion). The first fine-chopping is necessary to minimize "strings" in the final soup. Pureeing just helps create finer particles in the soup. I cook the carrot green puree in additional water, simmering for about 4 or 5 minutes, until the color is no longer bright green. I add some instant mashed potato flakes and a slurry of flour and water and thicken. I adjust the flavor with chicken bouillon, then swirl in some butter. It's a simple soup with a very mild flavor. I think it could take a variety of seasonings. It could be curried, with some turmeric, cumin, ginger. Or, it could be sweetened a bit with some grated or finely diced carrot and apple added at the last minute. I can't do much dairy, but I think this would be a good soup for a topping of sour cream. My family would love it if I added crumbled bacon to this soup. Ham would also be tasty. Once the cooked puree is made, this soup is so mild that it could take on any one of a number flavors.
      If you don't want to use chicken bouillon, you could cook the greens in homemade chicken stock and add some salt and pepper. Leftover mashed potatoes could be used in place of instant flakes. Carrot greens cook down considerably, so the potatoes add some body to the soup.

      Hope this helps!

  4. What a fun day, going to your daughter's play. We often pack lunches when we are out and about, too. Right now we are driving to the upper peninsula to visit my college son. Yesterday I made pepperoni rolls (we learned about them when we were in West Virginia) and I made cookies for the trip and to give to my son. The 3 of us have already had the pepperoni rolls for lunch today and there are enough for lunch tomorrow, too. They make for a fun change of pace for travel meals. We will eat dinner out but bringing a lunch cuts down on our expenses.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Enjoy your road trip to visit your son! I hope you all have a wonderful time together.

      I've never heard of pepperoni rolls. What do you use for the bread part? (I know you're busy right now, but when you get a chance can you link to a recipe or give me some instructions?)

      I agree totally on bringing lunch (also breakfast if staying in a place without a good one provided), to cut costs so dinner out is doable. We've also done the reverse, bought lunch, but do a sandwich dinner in the hotel room.

    2. Hi, Lili. Pepperoni rolls were a staple of my college days and a treat we get every time we go to WV. They are a white yeast bread wrapped around pepperoni and baked as a roll. The original ones had a whole, long chunk of pepperoni down the middle, but those are getting harder to find. Most of them now have pepperoni slices in the middle. Pepperoni rolls evolved from Italians who came to WV to work in the coal mines. The were easy to transport and filling.

    3. Thank you, Live and Learn. I've never heard of these before. They sound tasty and very portable for brown bag lunches. I can understand how they came to be a lunch staple for workers in WV.

    4. I knew that L&L was the go-to person for pepperoni rolls! This is the from-scratch recipe that I have been using: You have to watch the video for the recipe and write notes to yourself. I only let the dough rise once and it turns out well. It seems like most West Virginians prefer to make a quick version of it using Rhodes rolls and they say it tastes more authentic. I haven't tried making it with them but it would save on time. I prefer to add cheese to mine--I tried cheddar for our weekend trip and that tasted good, although I suppose mozzarella would be most people's go-to. They were definitely handy to take as lunches for the past 2 days and were very well received by my family (especially my son, who is tired of dorm food!).

    5. Hi Kris,
      Thank you for the info and link. I'll check that out. And I'll add these to met repertoire to road trip food!
      I hope you all had a great time visiting with your son.

  5. What a wonderful lunch outing to see your daughter in a professional play!! You must be so proud of your children, having diverse interests.
    Yesterday we made pizza again since we gave last week's batch to our grandson (slices frozen IQF). We had leftover pizza sauce that we froze for future pizza making and I wanted to try canned tuna in the topping. It was delicious, not fishy. Don't know where I read about it. Was it your blog? But it is a great way to incorporate tuna in our diet. Day before, I made brown gravy for some frozen rotisserie chicken parts. After freezing most of last week's ham hock, my husband made Portuguese Bean Soup with the remainder. On Sunday, we had rice paper wraps to use up scraps of chicken (Wendy's chicken nuggets and mochiko chicken leftover). My husband noticed that we are not eating down as fast as we are purchasing new groceries. I told him in times of inflation that's good. Plus, we share with our children and grandchildren any overstock. They don't have the time to shop sales and clearances as we do.

    Have a great weekend,

    1. Hi Laura,
      I don't think the canned tuna on pizza was from here. But I do know that both canned tuna and canned salmon taste less fishy to me when cooked in a tomato sauce. So maybe the other flavors of the pizza moderated any fishiness of the canned tuna.

      I think that's so nice that you can share your surplus groceries with your kids and grandchildren. I bet that is a real help to them, as we've talked about how expensive it can be to raise children these days.

      I hope you have a wonderful weekend, Laura.

  6. I always enjoy your blog. I'm glad you had a nice bag lunch and a wonderful play to attend. With your daughter on stage, no less. Mostly, I was just curious--how much did you pay at Value Village for the Fall towel? Gas prices here ...Midwest... Chicago $3.65 this morning. Cari

    1. Hi Cari,
      Thank you. We enjoyed watching our daughter and then spending time with all six of us (son and daughter-in-law) together afterward. It was a very fun afternoon.
      The dish towel -- It was $2.99. If I could have waited until a Tuesday, I would have saved 30% (Senior discount). But I was afraid the towel would be gone by then. And I'm really glad to have it. It now hangs on the handle of the range oven and gives me a bit of joy each day.

      Gas prices. Wow! Yours seem so much lower than ours. I wonder if yours were much cheaper than ours (PNW) even back in 2020 and 2021. Costco (cheapest gas in my area) has regular at $4.49. Next best price (since we don't have Costco membership) is $4.69/gallon.
      Have a great rest of your day, Cari.


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