This is Part 3 of a series on frugal/budget cooking. Here are parts 1 and 2!
Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone
When she got there, the cupboard was bare
And so the poor little dog got none!
Except now Mother Hubbard has a menu plan and a stocked cupboard, so give the dog a treat and make dinner! This week we’ll look at leftovers and healthy breakfasts/snacks.
Dear Anna, you say, I’m just one person! What will I do with a meal set up to feed FOUR!?
Ok, that’s easy. This advice goes for both single person kitchens and people cooking for two.
When you make a meal, make the WHOLE MEAL.
When you’re done, pack up the leftovers.
If you take leftovers for lunch, put them in individual serving containers in the fridge. Try to stack all of them together, so you don’t have a stack of four white ceramic containers of “mystery lunch”. While Mystery Lunch can be fun in the right mindset, if one member of your household has a food allergy (gluten) and the other doesn’t (SSH) it can make for an awkward lunch moment.
(Don’t ask, just learn, remember? Also, I highly suggest, if you have a food-allergy-segregated-household, invest in containers with two different colored lids. Then your whatever-free eater can always see what’s safe.)
If you don’t take leftovers for lunch (you’re not eating out every day while on a budget, right?), you should STILL invest in individual serving containers… only instead of putting them in the fridge, you will put ONE in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. Add them to your HAVE IT list on the marking white board.
This allows you to double your money – after cooking seven dinners, you’ll have at least seven dinners in the freezer, and you can go a whole week without cooking! Keep at least a few days worth of soup in the freezer as well. This is miraculous if you happen to get the flu that your coworker so generously shared with the whole office.
Also, if you’re only cooking for one person, I suggest planning for four full dinners every week, and you then eat leftovers on other nights.
This DOES involve some thinking about leftovers.
I know, some people just don’t eat them, but throwing away food is throwing away money, and you CAN eat leftovers safely.
The first step is ALWAYS put food away.
Always. Do not invite Sam and Ella or any of their relatives into your kitchen. While I’ll do a whole series on food prep another time, when it comes to food that is already prepared, this means do not let the food sit out on the counter. Let it cool while you eat, and then it MUST go into the fridge or freezer.
In fact, I usually divvy up the food when I’m first serving it. I make a plate for me, a plate for SSH, and then the rest gets put into containers for leftovers in the fridge. RIGHT THEN. This also prevents either of us going nutso on a meal and eating three people’s worth of dinner because we had a shitty day at work. If we’re still hungry, the food is there, but there’s an extra step (having to reheat it) that prevents rampant potato binging. *
Part of this step is also eating the leftovers before they turn into science experiments. I try to do a fridge sweep every week before I go shopping, since I’m in there to make sure I have mustard (or whatever) anyway. Bring things to the front that need to be eaten, and anything that looks questionable needs to get tossed.
Regardless of frugality, when in doubt, throw it out. It is more sensible to toss a $3 lunch than it is to miss two days of work because you can’t leave the bathroom due to food poisoning.
Step two is thinking about your meals from a leftovers point of view.
If chopped mushrooms get yucky after 2 days in the fridge (they do), only chop enough mushrooms for today and leave the rest whole. Same thing goes for putting dressing on salads. Only put dressing on salad you’re going to eat right now. It takes 30 seconds to chop up two mushrooms for your leftovers or toss tomorrow’s salad in vinaigrette tomorrow, but yucky slimy mushrooms are, as they say, NOT good eats. A little planning now prevents you having to throw away a perfectly good salad tomorrow because it got soggy and gross.
If you’re packing salads to take for lunch, some wee plastic resealable containers are a good investment. Fill one with salad dressing, seal it up, and toss it (sealed) into the container with your salad. Add a fork, and poof! Instant salad pack! (And to think, you’d pay $4 for that at the store)
As for the rest of your food, breakfasts can be pretty simple.
- Fruit: I like bananas (I need the potassium), especially with almond or peanut butter.
- Juice: Frozen orange juice is cheaper, but usually I just stick to tea and buy the GOOD orange juice for special occasions.
- Cereal: Cereal isn’t cheap unless you’re buying oatmeal, but many/most off brands are actually made by the same company. If you’re OK with the idea, try a few bulk brands and see!
- Eggs: Making eggs every morning can be a pain in the butt and take a lot of time… or you can make egg muffins (8 eggs makes 12 muffins = six breakfasts, takes 30 seconds to microwave) and be a winner!
If you’re eating light at lunch, I highly recommend eating a breakfast with some protein in it. My favorite by far is the egg muffins with a banana with almond butter and a cup of tea. Good mix of vitamins, protein, carbs, and fats, and I’m not usually so ravenous before lunch that I eat something stupid.
For snacks, pretty much anything you can buy and put together yourself will be healthier than cheez-its and candy bars. Keeping some “good” snacks around is both healthy and inexpensive (though I admit, a chocolate bar is sometimes the only answer to a shitty afternoon at a cash register).
Things I like
- Cheese – Either buy packaged string cheese (more expensive) or blocks of cheese you can cut up into chunks (less expensive) – this is best if you’re taking a lunch box, but you can also keep a labeled container in the work room fridge. Just don’t forget about it.
- Nuts – buy in bulk. Nuts aren’t cheap, but a little goes a long way, and they’re extremely good for you (especially things like almonds, walnuts, and pecans). Keep unused nuts in the freezer so that the oils in them don’t go rancid.**
- Fruit – anything goes here, especially if you can pack it whole. Try to stick to fruit that’s in season. Since we’re coming up on fall, that means apples, but some pears and peaches may still be good and inexpensive. Grapes and bananas are available pretty much year-round, thanks to shipping them in from far away, but berries are just icky when they travel that far.
- Veggies with Stuff – carrots and celery are both VERY frugal, and both extremely delicious with hummus or other homemade dips. I’ll post my hummus recipe in the next post!
- Trail Mix – Make your own – here’s my recipe!
- Chocolate – buy the good stuff, break it into squares. Eat just one square with another snack from the list. If nothing else, Hershey’s makes Special Dark bars in a handy snack size.
If you’ve got a desk, keeping one of the shelf-stable snack staples on hand will help avoid a trip to the vending machine, where you’ll spend $1.50 on some cheap processed carbs, artificial coloring, and sugar.
Usually with snacking, it’s all about eating what’s there to eat. Convenience is great – so take the time to plan your OWN convenience foods.
Assemble cut carrots and celery at the beginning of the week when you make hummus, and have a variety of food containers around to make grabbing them easy. Once again, keeping a budget and being healthy can go together if you’re willing to put in a little planning and forethought. Like with all other aspects of food, snacking is healthier and more frugal if you make stuff yourself than it is if you’re constantly paying for it at the vending machine.
*Do not accuse SSH of rampant potato binging. That would be me. Put me with potatoes, and I will eat until I’m sick. It’s not pretty.
**Insert nut jokes here.
***Breakfast and the Leftovers sounds like a really terrible band.