March 22, 2012

Reuse, Reduce: Keys to Variety within a Budget

Many of our dinners use ingredients from previous meals, saving cooking time and money. Some recipes call for ready-made ingredients, like spaghetti sauce. But if I prepare it myself, I can produce a large quantity for a fraction of the cost it would take to buy the same amount. For instance, one week I’ll prepare spaghetti. I will cook enough meat sauce to freeze at least three containers for later meals, including calzones, pizza, lasagna and chicken parmesan. Plus there is an added benefit knowing all the natural contents of the foods I prepare, taking comfort that we’re not consuming hydrogenated oils, excess salt and sugars.

Another key to feeding many mouths on a food budget and still maintaining variety is to use ingredients that are inexpensive, for example carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, dried beans and pasta. Soups also tend to cost less per serving and per pot. These cheap ingredients make a bulk of filling foods without breaking the bank.

It is also important to utilize everything: waste not, want not. For example, I bake all our sandwich bread. But no one wants the end pieces of the loaf. With my bread knife I take a little sliver off the ends and freeze them to use for breadcrumbs later for meatloaf, meatballs, etc. Just thaw in the toaster, crumble in the food processor with the seasonings of choice and add them to the meal. Voila!

Biblically, it is imperative to follow God’s command regarding gluttony. Refraining from the third, fourth and fifth helping allows the family to enjoy the meal longer, thus stretching the dollar as well. The dollar is stretched because less food needs to be prepared, but also because the waist is not expanding to require new clothing. Neither do we starve ourselves, but it is important to stop eating when satisfied and avoid overeating as is popular in the current American restaurant culture. There is always tomorrow’s lunch when you can enjoy the blend of flavors again. Exhibit self-control; it is a fruit of the Spirit. If we're truly still hungry, then we eat more side items, like rice and beans, and not the expensive main course.

There are two important items to maximize your menu potential. The first is a large freezer, which is well worth the investment as many cost less than $10 to run each month and save you hundreds of dollars in food storage power. Secondly, a very large pot to cook huge quantities of soups and sauces. This goes without saying that you would also benefit from a large or extra large baking dish and a good number of freezer storage containers that can be labeled for quick reference.

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