Welcome back to my eating for pennies series of posts where I try to show how I eat on the cheap most days. Today I’m going to look at one of the cornerstones of how I eat: supper.
Overall there are four main things that helps us east cheaper suppers:
- Control the Plate
- Make Leftovers
- Use Leftovers
- Plan for Weakness
Control the Plate
First off I tend to plan my supper meals with three sections on my plate in mind: main dish, vegetable side dish and starch (potato, rice or pasta). Eat part should take up about 1/3 of your plate, so with that in mind your meat content will never be that big. This is a huge dollar savings if you think about it: 2/3 of your plate is cheap items like rice or vegetables. Then to keep the savings rolling we often cut our chicken breasts or pork in half by thickness. The obvious benefit is the meat cooks a lot faster, but also we often end up some some leftover meat for lunch the next day. Obviously this won’t work on some cuts of meat (like most steaks, but I don’t usually eat steak all that often).
The other idea related to controlling the size of your main dish is to skip the meat entirely once in a while. Eat some beans or lentils and find out what you have been missing in life. These tasty little items are easy to cook with and you will notice you are trying new things which makes eating on the cheap fun to do rather than a chore.
Now often those expensive prepackaged food comes out when we don’t have time to cook. So plan ahead a little bit and make sure your are making leftovers that you can freeze. This provides quick meals when you are in a rush. Just take out the night before and let defrost in the fridge. Then when you get home put the food in the oven or microwave to have supper ready in no time.
Also making leftovers while you cook just saves time. Making a double batch of muffins takes perhaps an extra five minutes of my time, but I get double the product. The same things applies to suppers. Make extra when you cook and use it for lunches or freeze it for future suppers.
The obvious concept to making leftovers is to use them. You should avoid throwing out food. Just think of tossing old food like dumping cash in the garbage, because that is exactly what you are wasting. Now it may seem a bit odd, but you don’t have to eat your leftovers in the same format as you made them. Add some different spices or a bit of cheese on top and bake it and you can have an entirely new meal that just happens to have the same base as something else.
Eating leftovers doesn’t have to be boring with a little creative planning. Take your leftover stir fry and toss it into a wrap with some extra ingredients or add it the leftover casserole with that cut up pork chop and a can of soup. You might even surprise yourself with a few creations by saying: “It leftovers and tastes GOOD!”
Plan for Weakness
Now this might surprise people, but even I don’t feel like cooking some nights. If swimming lessons are at 6pm and I have to work late and my wife was at an appointment with the kids in the late afternoon we don’t cook. If we knew in advance this was going to happen we try to remember to pull out some leftovers from the freezer, but if it just happened we keep a few back up items to prevent us from eating out.
A couple of our favorite items are premade frozen pizza and premade chicken fingers and fries. Just put the stuff in the oven and in 20 minutes we are eating. But didn’t you say to avoid prefabricated food?!? Yes, but I also know that I can buy a frozen pizza on sale for $6 that will feed my family when we are either in a hurry or just plain lazy once in a while. After all a $6 pizza eating in is much cheaper than the $30+ to eat that out somewhere.
It’s ok to have weak moments. We are all lazy once in a while. As long as you don’t do it more than once a week it doesn’t have to ruin your food budget.
So how do you save on your suppers? If you got an idea please share.