Switching from restaurant meals, fast food, and packaged convenience food to whole foods and home cooked meals is a great way to improve your health and save money on food. But it can also be a bit daunting, especially if you’re not used to cooking from scratch. You’ve ditched your soda in favor of water, stopped hitting the drive-up window on your way home, and given up frozen pizzas and pre-made lattes. But what do you do now? Now that you’re buying all of those good whole foods, the last thing you want to do is have them go to waste. Here are some tips for food success.
Start simple. If you can boil water, you can cook eggs and beans, so start there. If you’ve found a local farmer who sells eggs, get a dozen on the weekend and boil them all at once. Peel them and put them in the fridge in a covered container to use as snacks, or for deviled eggs or egg salad over the next few days.
For beans, you can use a slow cooker or a pressure cooker or even a solar oven to cook a large batch on the weekend. Soak the beans for 12 – 24 hours first, changing the soak water a couple times. If you have a slow cooker, you can put the soaked beans in it, cover them with water, and leave them on low overnight. When you wake up, you’ll have a pot full of cooked beans, ready for your week’s meals. You can divide them up into smaller containers and freeze them, or just keep them in the fridge if you’re going to use them up within the next few days. Soups, stews, dips, salads, even cookies… you can use beans in all sorts of recipes, and cooking your own from dry beans is not only a great way to avoid BPA in can liners, it’s also much less expensive than buying canned beans.
Find simple recipes that are based on inexpensive staples like lentils, beans, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, onions and garlic. There is a whole internet full of great soup recipes based on those ingredients. And as an added bonus, those foods freeze well too. Spend a few hours on the weekend chopping veggies, dump the amounts you need for each soup into separate gallon-size freezer bags, add whatever spices you need to complete the soup, and stash the bags in the freezer. Then when you need a meal in a hurry, you just dump the contents of a bag into your slow cooker, add water and turn it on. At the end of the day, dinner is ready – with no prep on a busy morning and no dirty kitchen to clean up in the evening. In a couple hours, you can chop enough veggies to fill several freezer bags, setting yourself up for easy-peasy soup on your busiest nights over the next few weeks.
Consider green smoothies. They sound weird, but can taste really great, especially once your taste buds get used to eating real food instead of processed stuff. They’re a great way to create a simple meal in a glass when you’re short on time. They’re also great for using veggies and fruits that might otherwise turn into a science experiment in your crisper drawer. Get creative! You can put pretty much any fruits and veggies – and lots of greens! – into a smoothie. Add nuts or seeds for protein, and avocado or yogurt to give it a creamy texture. Add as much water as you need to make it as thin or thick as you like. You can start with more fruit and gradually get heavier on the veggies as your taste buds adapt. Green smoothies are great for avoiding food waste when you don’t have time to make a “real meal” to use up that last zucchini.
If you grow your own food in a garden, make the most of it. Bell peppers are relatively easy to grow, and they freeze very well. You can chop them into stir-fry strips or dice them, and freeze them on cookie sheets. Once they’re frozen, put them in containers or zipper bags and store them in the freezer until you need them. You can do the same thing with onions, which are also easy to grow (or buy a whole bunch when they’re on sale). Then when you need onions for a soup orsauce, just dump them from the bag into the pan. Canning tomato sauce is much easier than you might think if you’ve never done it before. There are lots of websites with all the information you’ll need, and you’ll feel a little bit like a superhero when your first batch of tomato sauce is cooling on the counter and you hear the lids popping as they seal. You can also opt for an Activeats subscription to have such healthy meals delivered to your doorstep.
Get creative with salads. They can easily be a main meal if you add enough ingredients. Hard boiled eggs, leftover meat, tuna or salmon salad, nuts, seeds… add things like that to a big veggie salad and you have a meal that is nutritious and filling enough to keep you going for hours. Plus it’s easy, and the only prep tools you need to clean up afterwards are the cutting board and knife.
Find a food blog that you enjoy, and subscribe to it. You’ll get new recipes on a regular basis, and you’ll be inspired to get in the kitchen and make something. The more fun you make it, the more likely you are to stick with it. So relish your time reading recipes and creating new meals for yourself and your family.
Food is an awesome part of life, and although it deserves to be one of our larger monthly expenditures, it shouldn’t be so expensive that it causes stress. A little practice and a little inspiration can go a long way towards getting on the path to healthy, budget-friendly eating. Have fun with your food!
Frugal Babe is a mid-30s American wife and mama who has been careful with money since childhood and loves the flexibility that her frugality has given her. She is the face behind the Frugal Babe website and a contributor to the CareOne Debt Relief Services blog, a community that provides debt consolidation and money-saving advice.