Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cooking on a Budget

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I have been wanting to make a post about this subject for quite some time, and it seems that there is no better time than now. Most of us living in the U.S. are feeling the affects of this economic crisis, one way or the other, and if you are lucky enough not to be affected directly (meaning, you still have your job, house and money in the bank), this is a good time to take a moment to reflect on how and where your money and energy are going to and what really matters.

Some may think because I have a food blog and like to cook a lot, that I probably spend a lot of money on groceries. Well, one couldn't be more wrong. I love cooking, alright, but I am extremely budget conscious about all my spending, groceries included. The fact that I grew up in a middle-class Brazilian home has a lot to do with it. Many of the so called "food trends" of today are what I grew up with.

Now, I quickly realized that food here in the U.S is much more expensive than in Brazil, where fresh produce is abundant, diverse and cheap. But I still find ways to cook delicious meals with  nutritional value without braking the bank. And that's what I wanted to share with you today. Here are a few of my money saving tips when it comes to grocery shopping and cooking.


  • Plan it.Every weekend I make a meal plan for the week ahead. This is really important, if you don't believe me, make the test. Plan one week of meals (about 4-5 meals) and shop accordingly. Then compare how much you spend the following week when you do not plan it.
  • Check around your kitchen: When planning a week's meals, I first take a look in my kitchen to see what I have around. I start with the fridge where most perishables items are.  There is always something left over. For example, if I have some green onions left from the previous week, I know I'll probably make some sort of Asian dish, maybe a fried rice. Next I take a look in the freezer which I keep stocked with meats bought on sale plus a bag of healthy turkey meatballs that are super handy. In my pantry (which is a 3 shelf cupboard) I take a look at my dried goods, normally there is enough canned tomatoes to make a quick tomato sauce for pastas, plus dried beans, mushrooms, pasta, rice and other types of grains. Check out my individual free form lasagna for a typical example of using pantry left overs.
  • Buy what is on sale: Once I see what I have at home, I read my supermarket's weekly add. They can be at your mail box or you can find it online at the store's web site. Now I start picking dishes and recipes to make. Whatever vegetable is on sale will be the vegetable of the week. Asparagus are used in quiches, side dishes and soups. And that goes for pretty much any produce. 
  • Be flexible when making a recipe. If I want to make a muffin recipe that calls for dried apricots but my budget is short, I will still make them but using golden raisins instead which is half of the price of the apricots. Another example is when using cheeses. Many recipes call for expensive ones. Sure your French onion soup will taste better with melted Gruyere, but if I have mozzarella already in my fridge......Now that's up to you when it's OK to make substitutions and when it's not.
  • Plan to make full use of ingredients. If cauliflower is the sale vegetable of the week and you know you will only use half of it on a pasta dish, plan another dish with it, like this salad. If you are buying fresh bread, plan a panini meal for the following day or make garlic toasts.
  • Buy both fresh and frozen. Cooking seasonally sure is great, but how much pumpkin can you have during the fall months? I buy seasonal produce fresh, but also frozen vegetables and fruits they are not in season to have more variety.

I think most dishes here at Pink Bites are pretty affordable and easy to make any day of the week, but I made a list of the ones that I believe will give the most bang for your buck. And it's not all rice and beans, there is even a few choices for party snacks. A souffle comes together with basic staples such as eggs and flour;  Caldo Verde is super healthy and it uses very cheap ingredients like onions, potatoes and collards;  a poached egg transforms a salad into a hearty meal and a pot of chilli will feed a crowd for relatively little money.

I hope this will show that great food doesn't have to be expensive. And there is nothing richer than having a home cooked meal with your friends and family.


Happy cooking everyone!



Chilli con Carne

chilli 10

Chicken Gyros

chicken gyro 1

Deviled Chicken drumsticks 

 deviled cx 2

Tortilla Crusted Chicken

 chicken close up best



Whole Wheat Penne with Caramelized Onions and Cauliflower

 cauliflower 2


Grilled Eggplant with Crispy Topping

 eggpkant steak


Onion Tarte Tatin

 onion tart

Lebanese Rice and Lentils


  lentil spoon

Eggplant Gratin 

 eggplant gratin

Stuffed Baked Eggplant 

 eggplant boat 3

Spinach Souffle

 soufle 6 copy


Soups and Salads:


Roasted Pumpkin Salad

 pumpkin salad 1

Crunchy Chickpea Salad

 chickpea salad

Bitter Greens Salad with Poached Eggs and Citrus Vinaigrette

  poached salad 2

French Onion Soup

 onion soup  

Caldo Verde

  [caldo verde andrew[6].jpg]



Sausage in Puff Pastry

sausage in puff pastry

Roasted Potato Bites

potato mortadela 1

Bruschetta 2 ways

  peas mint bruschetta





 Skillet-Baked Cookie

skillet cookie

 Tapioca Pudding

tapioca 3

Banana Spring Rolls

fried bananas


TeaLady said...

You have a really nice blog. I have enjoyed reading it and will try some of your recipes. Come by and visit sometime.

Karen said...

Good tips :)

Darlene said...

I also think meal planning is a good way to stay on budget and it totally helps to keep me on track with eating right.

I agree that buying fresh and frozen items is smart. For example, my son wanted corn. Right now corn is $1 per cobb and it tastes so bland. So we do frozen corn instead and eat other fresh vegetables like kale, which is in season, affordable and tastes great this time of year. I have avoided tomatoes because it's a waste of money to buy the bland ones they're offering now at the store. There are some perfectly good canned tomatoes that taste better and are therefore a better use of money.

Anyway, didn't mean to post a long comment. I just carried away with this subject.

Rita said...

TeaLady- thanks a lot, I will stop by!

Karen- thanks

Darlene- frozen corn is one of my favourites, just yesterday I bought a bag for a dolar (yes, 1 dolar), pretty good, and I agree with you, I love corn, why should I wait until May for it?

Deseree said...

Great post Rita.

I too agree that meal planning really helps. I have had friends who say that they couldn't possibly do that as it requires too much thought, but I think it really helps me a lot. Not only am I saving money when I go to the grocery store but I am also saving time because I know exactly what I want and I can get out of there quickly and know that I wont have to run to the store later in the week.

Thanks for the other tips too! :)

Lori said...

Love this recipe roundup. I've missed a lot of wonderful things on your blog. Can't wait to go back and try some. Thanks!

Rita said...

Deseree - I also feel very organized when I have a plan...

Lori - hey, welcome back! I missed you! How's life in Brazil?

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts!