Friday, February 27, 2009

Frugal Meal Tips

I thought I'd respond to the post on Hannah's (Jamie's friend) blog entitled, Finding Meatless Recipes

We've been eating primarily vegetarian meals for the past two years, but lately I've been trying to really organize our menus to keep the cost down, so that I buy only what we need. Although my reasons for vegetarianism are not financial, going meatless can really save you money, without compromising your health. Your body has to break down animal proteins into separate amino acids, which it uses to create new proteins, and all these aminos are available from plants anyway. And meat itself would be pretty tasteless if it were not for all the fat it contains, and all the salt and seasonings we add to it. Ever try eating boiled, lean chicken breast by itself? Bleah! But you don't have to agree with me to enjoy trying something new!

Here is our basic menu plan. Most of the dishes are traditionally meat ones, with different beans and other legumes as the protein substitute.

Monday: Mexican day! Black beans or smashed pinto beans, seasoned with salt, chili powder and cumin and combined with either homemade, whole grain tortillas or brown rice, sauted in a little oil and salsa before the water is added. Toppings include home grown alfalfa sprouts (or lettuce when we have it in the garden) salsa, hot sauce and a little shredded organic cheddar cheese. Tip: dry beans are a whole lot cheaper than canned. I get ours in bulk, along with our grain, from a natural foods co-op I joined. Monday is also baking day. I try to make enough whole grain bread and granola to last the week days, which is quite a challenge because it seems the more I make, the more gets eaten!

Tuesday: Italian day! Either whole wheat spaghetti, topped with homemade sauce, shredded organic mozzarella and sunflower seeds or pasta fagioli (fa'zhul). Here is a lovely video recipe for this versatile dish. Rita is right. Fresh garlic cooked in olive oil smells heavenly!

Wednesday: Asian! Well, stir fried rice is about it so far. First, two cage free eggs are beaten and poured into a heated skillet with a little oil. When the egg mass is congealed, I usually flip it over, cook it a few more seconds, then remove it and slice it into narrow strips. Then a little more oil is added to the skillet along with unhulled sesame seeds, peppers, onions, and other veggies of choice and cooked till done. The egg strips are added and soy sauce is drizzled over the top. The dish is then served over cooked brown rice with more soy sauce or salt if desired.

Thursday: Either macaroni and cheese served with baked beans and salad or grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup. Every other Thursday is our grocery shopping trip. I usually allow the kids to pick out a treat, like ice cream or ingredients for favorite cookies. We don't eat desserts that often, but I try and have lots of fresh fruit available, which the kids love. For instance, I'll buy those bags of reduced bananas and peel and freeze them when we get home. They make great popsicles and smoothies! Tip: There are some helpful lists online of which fruits and vegetables are good to buy organic, because they are high in pesticides, and which foods are okay to buy conventional. Off the top of my head: peaches, apples, strawberries, leafy greens, coffee and dairy are all loaded with chemicals or artificial hormones, but bananas, pineapple, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are much less contaminated.

Friday: Pizza! I try to mix up the whole grain dough from my sourdough starter in the morning, then we all have fun shaping the crust and adding our favorite toppings.

Saturday: Lentils! An exciting meat substitute. I like to make either a stew with potatoes and carrots and all (a dash of Worcestershire sauce really enhances this hearty dish) or my favorite, bobotie, a South African curry dish. Curry, ginger, onions, salt and pepper are cooked in butter, then tomato paste, raisins, apricots, bread cubes, with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and vinegar are simmered in an iron skillet. Cooked lentils are added, then all is topped with a little eggs and milk beaten together. It is then baked for 45 min in a 350 degree oven, then served on top of cooked brown rice, and topped with sliced bananas and shredded coconut. It's to die for!

Sunday: Waffles! Whole grain with pecans (we get everyone cracking!) and blueberries (or blackberries when the wild ones are ripe). I like to make plenty of extra to be toasted for the next week's breakfasts. These are served with butter (if it hasn't run out yet) and maple syrup. I sometimes make a syrup by boiling a cup of organic sugar and a half cup water with a little cinnamon and grated orange peel for a few minutes (in order to get the most out the organic oranges we occassionaly buy, I freeze the peels in ziplock bags. I wouldn't recommend saving the peels from pesticide sprayed fruit, however.) Then I remove it from heat and add a bit of vanilla. The kids love it!

Any Day:
It's not on your calendar, but we all have them. Either clean out the leftovers or pancakes....Or switch meals with another day if your not in the mood to follow the menu...

Let's hear your favorite frugal meal tips and recipes!


Hannah said...

This is very similar to the way that I plan my day each week is Mexican, one day is asian, etc. Definitely keeps some variety in our menu. I really enjoyed hearing some of your meal ideas...good inspiration!

Really like y'all's blog; I will be checking back in for sure!

kellyn2girls1boy said...

Great post Sara! You are a great cook and these meals all look great (I've had the stir fry and I know it is good!)

Jamie said...

I tried the pasta fagioli after watching the video. Yummness! And unbelievably easy!