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Cheap Eats

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
This came from the sirachi thread where a poor student trying to make ends meet made nutella/sirachi bagels.

As the economy limps along, food and gas increase in price...tightening the belt or going back and rereading, "How to cook a wolf"....what did you make when times were lean?

30 years ago, after marrying and moving to a small Louisiana town....buying a car and house within 2 months of each other, paying off Law School....
meals would include: flank steak which was dirt cheap at that time, marinated in ginger/garlic/soy sauce/brown sugar....I'm sure there are offcuts that would fit times....any ideas?

We ate dirty rice with chicken livers/gizzards, fried rice with eggs as protein.

Potato Casserole, essentially mashed potatoes with chopped veg mixed beans, tomatoes, sauteed onions...topped with a sharp cheddar and baked in a casserole dish til cheese was melty.

Sausage used as a condiment in red beans and rice.

At that time I was making dense loaves of bread with molasses,honey, milk, rye, whole wheat, wheat flours, pumpkin/sunflower seeds....not inexpensive to make but it was hearty and you did not need alot to fill you up. It froze well and had a decent shelf life.

My brother and sil made (still do) refried bean, flour tortillas....huge vat of salsa. Sometimes they would add shredded cheese.

Spaghetti Sauce with steamed veg, lots of pasta.

Brown Rice with loads of veg.

Sherry makes whole wheat applesauce rollups.....much like a sweet roll only with applesauce instead of sugar/cinnamon.

What do/did you make to stretch dollars?

As I think back, pickling and jams really were more expensive than buying shtuff from the store. Way better but not inexpensive after pectin, sugar, liquor, berries/fruit were put into lidded canning jars.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #2 of 24
Lol... well, I wouldn't say that I am/was poor but things are a little tighter than before I decided to go to school for my sweetie and I, so I guess I can run with that idea. Other than my bagel deal, I tapped into my vast knowledge of world cuisine and basically looked for the foods and ideas that sustain the people of the world. Basically I looked for dishes that could be made for as little money as possible that would not challenge my picky eater's ideas of dinner. She loves "chinese takeout" so I rummaged through my grey-matter file and remembered the dishes that I watched the owner of my favorite takeout joint feed her family. It wasn't the fattening pseudo-asian stuff she was selling on the menu but it wasn't far off either. Similar ingredients but different and healthier execution.

Basically all that was to say that to really eat cheap change your way of thinking. Stop focusing on quick and easy and make time to plan and prep ahead. Think fresh, not frozen. Think seasonal. Think cooperative flavors, not recipes. Think immigrant food. We all are or know someone that has come from a place that is or has gone through times of economic regression or poverty. Tap into that thought process and you will save some money and probably a few years of life as well. I live off a diet of international peasant foods and while I still am a fatty (for now), I'm in the best health that I've been in in years and my food budget is as lean as I'm not.

Right now, I'm going through a "Tour of Asia" phase, so I've been tackling the street foods and "just like mom makes" plates that I can hunt down. THe wife and I have had pho at least 6 times in the last 2 weeks while I work on my replicating the recipe and she just loves the stuff. I bought the pho in 2 lb bundles for $0.99 each. All it cost me on top was some pantry staples and cost of protein and veg. It amazes me the yields that some of the recipes get and the cost associated with them. Look for the same ideas in any cultures food. They are there. Look at the multi-cultural markets and buy what the regulars are buying.
post #3 of 24
I'm in a tight place right now. I eat a lot of beans, rice and pasta. When I visit my kids in western Oregon I always bring home some collards from the garden. They grow really well there and they're one of my favorite veges.
post #4 of 24
I have a tight budget most of the time so we eat a lot of cheap foods.

We found a turkey for 79 cents per pound a few weeks ago. I thawed it and cooked it for dinner Wednesday. I sliced one of the breasts for dinner that night. Then removed the rest of the meat and chopped it for other uses. Last night, I made two casseroles. I used leftover veggies from meals this week (green beans, corn, carrots), cream of mushroom soup, a little mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, and milk. I mixed all that together with the turkey while some egg noodles were cooking. Then I put a layer of (cooled) egg noodles and covered it with the turkey mixture. One casserole was topped with crumbled buttered crackers and the other was put into the freezer for a later quick meal. The remainder of the meat was made into a turkey salad for sandwiches. The carcass at this time was discarded because I have tons of turkey broth in the freezer already.

I've also learned that if I cut the meat into pieces and make soups, stews, or stirfrys, then it goes further and costs less than everyone getting a steak or a chicken breast. The kids and I love a salad with lettuce, tomato, pieces of meat or beans, raisins, other fruits, and really whatever we decide we want on it. That really stretches the meat and we get a nice variety of foods in one meal.

I shop the sales. We eat meat at dinner every night but I never pay more than $2 per pound for it. It's getting harder and harder to stay within that guideline but so far, so good. If I find something for less than a dollar a pound, we eat a number of variations throughout the week using that meat as a base. As for vegetables, living in Indiana, it's too early for local produce, so I buy mostly frozen. As soon as we get past the frost dates, we'll be planting corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, zuchinni, etc. and I'll can or freeze some of that for next winter. We're also looking into buying a third of a cow and maybe half a hog if we get a freezer. Right now, I just don't have the space.
post #5 of 24
Thread Starter 
Cajuns can stretch a meal....whatever comes in from the bayou.....

Making a base and altering it saves not only electricity but time. One of the things I picked up was prepping numerous meals at one time.
If something gets thrown out or lost in the freezer vortex you've just lost that income/time. Bulk buying is only economical when you can utlize it all.
Right now I'm figuring out what to do with 1/3 cs of bartlett pears, it was cheaper to buy the cs wholesale than to buy 5# of I'm watching them it'll probably be pear butter today.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #6 of 24
Things are a little - well, very - tight these days. I eat lots of salads, greens, brown rice, fruit, vegetables, and some turkey or chicken a few times a week. I get good quality organic beans every now and then, and they provide good and enjoyable nutrition for a reasonable price. Oatmeal and barley cereal a few times a week for breakfast, 1/2 price organic bananas are added to yogurt or cooked cereal. I eat smaller portions, not only to save money but for health reasons.

I look for the highest quality, freshest produce on the assumption that it will be more nutrient dense than sale items or mediocre quality produce found in many supermarkets. The farmers' markets and certain produce stores that sell good quality organic goods are where I shop. The local poultry store has high quality, very fresh, ground turkey (white/dark meat ground together) for less than 1/2 the price of plastic packed ground supermarket turkey.

In general, I don't buy commercial foods, like cereal, prepackaged meats (like sandwich meats), have learned where the best places to shop are for high quality, whole grain breads (one of the bakeries here sells their bread at the bakery for 1/2 the price of the same loaves in a store - it's day old but just as fresh, or fresher, than the stuff found on the store shelves).

I've learned how to get coupons from various food makers that save me plenty of $$, and I know some bakeroes and cheese shops that offer free samples or some items at greatly reduced prices.

Whether I'm flush or broke, I'm always looking for deals, and since I've lived in the area a long time, I know where they can be found.

My suggestion is to always buy the highest quality food you can, search for the best value, not the cheapest price, eat reasonably sized portions of nutrient-dense foods, stay away from junk foods and filler foods (like macaroni and cheese) unless you eat some veggies and produce along with it.

post #7 of 24
I would have to say Spam musubi and dry saimin to got me thouht the Collage years. I'll say it once and I'll say it again Spam rocks. You can make many things, Guava glazed spam, spam and cabbage, teriaki spam, spam stew, ect. ah memories.
I suggest picking up a can today.
post #8 of 24
When I was in college, I had to provide Sunday dinner and meals over holidays and vacations for myself. Where I lived in the early 70s (central Illinois), ramen noodles were exotic. I once bought a case of Sapporo Ichiban and ate off them for almost a month. I hate to think of my sodium intake in those days!

I swirled a beaten egg into the broth, added celery or carrot, whatever I could find. When I went home my mom sent me back with lots of canned food, but hard for me to plan a meal from the oddiments (canned beans, tuna, Spam...). I once bought a small chicken and fried it in pieces in the bottom of what amounted to an upscale popcorn popper and used that for meals over five days until the dorm cafeteria opened after the five-day July 4th break. Along with a few other ingredients (amounting to less than $5), I managed.

As a beginning teacher I added soup-making to my penny-stretching repertoire. I'd buy some of those odd-shaped pork chops on sale, broil them and add the bones to a couple of cans of chicken broth. I added canned veggies (water chestnuts, etc.) plus celery and onion, vinegar and pepper and beaten egg to make a sort of hot and sour soup. That was a week's worth.

I am extremely fortunate at this point not to have to pinch if I don't choose to, but sometimes I use those skills to challenge myself. I also donate to a food pantry to compensate a bit.
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post #9 of 24
Allie, I love turkey, and to avoid getting "turkeyed out" I've found a good way to freeze it. I cover it with gravy so that the meat doesn't dry out.

Cee Jay, I remember when I visited Hawaii, seemed like it must be the Spam capital of the world :D
post #10 of 24
It is. I think Hawaiians eat more Spam per capita than anywhere else in the US, or maybe the world.

"In the United States, the residents of the state of Hawaii and the territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) consume the most Spam per capita. On average, each person on Guam consumes 16 tins of Spam each year and the numbers at least equal this in the CNMI. Guam, Hawaii, and Saipan, the CNMI's principal island, have the only McDonald's restaurants that feature Spam on the menu. Burger King, in Hawaii, began serving Spam in 2007 on its menu to compete with the local McDonald's chains."

Spam (food - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

post #11 of 24
We sure do.
post #12 of 24
I still sometimes make ramen soup, but use only 1/3 or so of the seasoning packet and about the same percentage of the noodles to cut back on salt and carbs, Then lots of vegetables and spices are added to make a "hot and sour" type soup, maybe add a few thin slices of pork or chicken, maybe some shrimp if it's available, and voila, a great, healthy, inexpensive, and filling meal.

Actually, home made vegetable soups (especially those with beans) are great Cheap Eats as well as Good Eats.

post #13 of 24
Thread Starter 
Vietnamese springrolls can be inexpensive to make....just takes a whole bunch of them to fill you up. I don't add rice noodles, just veg/herbs/ hoisin....
Hoisin 5# can is about $5 and like ketchup lasts forever....just takes up fridge space.
One of the large broker markets in town has inexpensive produce toward the end of market.
I've not done it in years, but used to gleen from fruit trees.....if someone had fruit they didn't want I'd pick it, use it and clean up the fallen fruit for them.
My sons got into helping when they were small. Surprisingly not everyone wants the fruit out of their yards.
As kids we picked wild dew berries and blackberries....chiggers and ticks generally come with that territory. We also fished at the stocked lake across the street before school. bass, catfish, crappie....

Being able to make your own dressings, marinades or sauces, saves tons of money. Butchering pigs is amazingly inexpensive.
We go to you pick it farms for apples, peaches, blueberries.....
Good farm eggs run about $3.25-3.75 a dozen and are so much better than's interesting to see how there is not a huge price difference.
Shel, I'm with you.....when you know your area, you know who has certain items at good prices. It was not unusual for us to shop at 5-6 places on Sat.
It'll be interesting to see how gas curtails any of this running around. At some point you look at milage vs cost savings.

Sushi keeps popping up in my's not cheap to make, but it's a whole lot cheaper than taking big sons out. If you just went with nori, rice, veg, and possibly a few shrimp or the tuna trim ($3#) then it's a "budget" treat.

A pot of greens or green beans, potatoes/onions/garlic with cornbread were southern staples.

Pitas make inexpensive pizzas. My sil makes pizza for her 5 children.....3 very large pizzas on Friday nights. One's veggy, one's pepperoni and one is random. They also make whole grain (freshly ground) waffles and freeze the extras for breakfast during the week. My brother is a waffle nut. They use real maple syrup and butter but have containers that don't just pour out.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #14 of 24
Just a comment on ramen--some of them actually have quite a bit of fat, often high in saturated fat.
post #15 of 24
Here in the western USA we have a discount supermarket chain called Grocery Outlet. I go the local one really often. Just about everything is a great deal. Some, maybe most, of the products they carry are just temporary, but I can get the same thing, same brand, much cheaper when they have it. Some of their meats and cheeses are really great.

Today I got a precut packaged wedge of Huntsman's cheese (which btw is a brand, not just a type) at $6.49 a pound. It's one of my favorite things and usually costs at least twice that. I get Sonoma Jack sometimes, another cheese I like, for even less than half the usual price. Aidel's sausages, another good one, cost a lot less when they have it there. I've gotten some top notch dried pasta there, too, "Il Mastropastaio" for example, for the price of everyday brands.

Hey, they should pay me for this spam :crazy:
post #16 of 24
Ways to budget - much has been said about rice, greens, beans,
ramen, lentils - so no point repeating it - all good advice.

Try the generic brands - Home Brand - whatever they call it locally. Some (not all) products can be acceptable.

When there's marked down meats - buy them - get them home (quickly!) and either cook asap or repackage and freeze. Get to know the time of day when your local store marks their products down - lurk in another aisle till you see them out there then POUNCE! :) Dairy section can also be good - if you're looking for a product for that night or next day - lots of bargains to be had.

Grow whatever veg/fruit/herbs you can - just for a bit of added freshness.

Don't toss away the stems on a cauliflower or the stalks of broccoli - they make a good addition to a stir fry, sliced thinly. If you peel your potatoes, think about deep frying the skins for a tasty treat (not too often!) and sprinkle with chilli powder or whatever tickles your fancy. BEtter yet - leave the skins on - much better for you - saves time too.

I buy carrots in bulk - they sell them here in 5kg (10#) bags for not very much. They're on the edge of going old, but I peel them, chop them into a variety of shapes (sticks, rings etc etc) blanch them then freeze them - got a freezer full of them at the moment. Yes it takes a while but saves a lot. Same with onions, buy them in bulk when they're in season, if you can stand the tears.

Don't toss out your stale bread - either toss it in the freezer for toast or for making breadcrumbs - freeze then grate - much easier this way - makes a great hamburger stretcher. Or grease a muffin tin, cut the crusts off the bread, stuff them into the muffin holes to make a casing and bake them till they go crispy - they make a good savoury tart base. Can either freeze them or keep in an airtight container for a few days. Or make croutons in bulk for soups.

Speaking of soups - what a life saver they can be! Many many ways of making odds and ends when the funds are low. Save all your bones - or buy cheap marrow bones - have the butcher cut them into shorter lengths for you. Makes the best broth as a base for a lot of delicious soups. See if you can find a butcher/store that will sell you a tray of chicken carcasses for next to nothing. Spend a day making stock and reduce and freeze it - comes in handy for making sauces, gravies, soups etc.

Keep your bacon rinds for adding into stocks/soups, just haul them out before serving. (I used to forget to do that sometimes, but the kids thought they were lucky to find one in there hehe). Even to add them to rice when you're boiling it - adds flavour.

Well I could go on forever...but I better give someone else a chance.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

post #17 of 24
On the subject of nutririon . . . carrots' beta carotene increases with longer storage, so I have read many places.
post #18 of 24
Thread Starter 
A french soup version is simply onions, oil, veg (butternut squash etc) and water. Saute onion add veg, pour in water to veg level, cover cook until tender.....about 25 minutes. Puree, if you want a silky mouth feel run through a chinois.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #19 of 24
One of the busier poultry stores I frequent gives away chicken breast bones. These are the bones and left over meat resulting from people who wanted their chicken breasts boned for them. There's plenty of meat left on those breast bones. I'll get five or more pounds of those bones, make a great, flavorful, light broth from them, and strip the meat off for use in other dishes, like chicken salad, or to add into soup, or to feed my cat as a supplemental treat, or to make chicken sandwiches.

See what your butcher, fish or poultry monger will give away or sell at bargain prices. The places I frequent have a great turn over, and sell quality product, so their offerings are always fresh and of high quality.

A friend likes very ripe (over ripe?) tomatoes for some of her dishs, and has found a produce store that will give such tomatoes away free. I like very ripe bananas, and at least two produce stores sell the bananas with heavy brown spots for half price. When I see those, I buy as many as makes sense.

post #20 of 24
Indian food is one of my favorites, & I ate so much keema during my lean years (of which there have been many - I'm an actor after all) that after making some after not having had it for a good while, I realized that it is now "comfort food" for me.

Keema, as far as I know, is Hindi for "ground meat," you can use any kind, and there are almost as many recipes as there are non-vegetarian Indian cooks.

My more or less standard version uses tomatoes, potatoes & peas, & one day I realized that I was making the humble Brit dish mince & tatties with Indian spices, garlic & ginger & cilantro instead of parsley :lips:.
The genesis of all the world's great cuisines can be summed up in a four word English phrase: Don't throw that away.
The genesis of all the world's great cuisines can be summed up in a four word English phrase: Don't throw that away.
post #21 of 24
My college (and still to this day) staples for cheap eats:

* Rice with broccoli and cheese (light velveeta)
* Stir fry (chicken, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, bok choy)
* Ramen (good stuff like Nong Shim brand "Shin" "Kim Chi" or "Sutah" with Choy Sum in it for cheap greenery)
* Pasta Fagioli (my family recipe, can't give it out for fear of death but northern beans, tomatoes, garlic, ditalin, etc.)
* California rolls (nori, sushi rice, an avocado, fake crab sticks, cucumber)
* Omelettes with cheese (and salsa over them)
* Grilled Cheese with a store bought rustic tuscan bread and any cheese (colby jack, moz, etc.)

All of those listed above are well under $5 to make and generally make a lot so it can last for lunch and dinner or two/three days. I lived through my seven years of college with it and still go back to some of them even now.
post #22 of 24
Baked potato with a poached egg and cheddar cheese on top. This was something we ate when I was a kid and times were tough.
Never trust a skinny cook
Never trust a skinny cook
post #23 of 24
Boy, this topic has brought back some memories of my early climbing/skiing unemployed bum days. I remember being involved with the Ute Alpine Club at the University of Utah, we put together a spaghetti dinner at the Wasatch Mountain Club lodge. I ended up taking home the remainder of the parmesan cheese, which was maybe 9.25 pounds remaining from the original 10 pound package. I ate scrambled eggs with parm at least twice a day for a month, maybe two, possibly three. Good, but a little variety would have been nice. It would be interesting to have a bit of that cheese to compare with the freshly grated parm I put on my pasta for last nights dinner.

Actually I'm currently underemployed and do keep an eye out for bargains at the store. I always check out what I call the "used meat" section where the store puts marked down packages of stuff that is at the 'sell by' date and such. Sometimes one can get good deals there. One local market on occasion has full pork loins for sale at a good price. One of those foot and a half, two foot long chunks of meat can make a LOT of stir fry dishes, boneless chops, paprikash, tacos, burritos, chili, etc. Of course, that's no help if pork is not part of your diet.

Cabbage in various forms is also a good source of cheap and healthy eats, in slaws, salads, soups, stews and such. Try a bok choy, carrot, green onion and slivered almond stir fry for a blend of tastes and textures.

Chicken livers - if you like them, great just cooked with a bit of butter and garlic, they can also make excellent pates for a bit of bargain elegance.

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #24 of 24
Mac & Cheese (99 cents/box) and Pasta Roni (Also 99 cents/box)
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