Tag Archives: food planning

Retirement Planning: Frugality/Oven Meals

Potatoes have the highest “satiety” value of any veggie. That is, they make you feel full and satisfied faster than other veggies — they’re cheap! More, I can grow them here with a little work.

So, potatoes are part of the retirement food plan. Researching new ways to cook them yielded a recipe for British “jacketed” potatoes. We both liked them a lot!  I used this recipe.

What I didn’t like? Baking in a 400 degree oven for up to 2 hours??? Okay. If I’m going to do that, then I need to find other recipes which cook at 400 to go with the potatoes.

I went through 2 of my all purpose cookbooks. Today I went through and marked the oven meals in cooking pamphlets.

The oven-fried chicken I make (with lemon or plain) cooks at 400, which will no doubt become one of our “set” meals. But there are also these other things I may add:

Mexican stuffed green peppers (peppers stuffed with other veggies).

fruit cobblers, etc.

Baked Tomatoes

Cornbread

Baked Pears

At least 2 eggplant dishes

I will find others but this was much harder than I expected!


It also occurred to me that I could cook ahead, a meal that uses 375 for say 30 minutes,  while we’re eating the 400 degree meal and take advantage of my already hot oven.

Oven  meals cooked at 375 or 350 would be a lot easier to put together! Most oven meal recipes I’ve found are cooked at 325, 350, or 375.

I need to find a few bread recipes to go along with this too.


So, no “meal plan” per se, but an oven plan?

Turn oven on to 400. Prep/start potatoes. Prep/cook other items which cook at 400 to eat with the potatoes (the oven fried chicken takes about 45 minutes).  Prep a second meal, which cooks at lower temp for approx. 30 minutes.* Remove 400 degree cooked food when done. Turn down oven.

Wait a few minutes for oven to cool. Plate 400 degree cooked food. When oven is the correct temp, insert new oven meal. Cook the second meal while eating potatoes and other 400 degree food.

*The 30 minutes is arbitrary. It’s about how long it takes us to eat a meal. YMMV!


I don’t know that I’d want to do this in the middle of summer, but otherwise it would be fine!


I  made up a potential menu to try. You can read about that here.

Frugality: Why Food? Money-Saving Food Ideas

The three strategies I use to save money are:

  1. Finding a cheaper substitute.
  2. Paying less for the same product.
  3. Doing without.

Any or all of these will save you $. Frequently, when faced with economic stress, people do what I’ve been doing: concentrate on their food expense.

It’s one of the few areas left where the consumer controls everything they spend. You can’t suddenly decide to pay less for your mortgage, you can decide to give the bank less, but the amount you owe hasn’t changed. Also fuel for heat/cooking, insurance and most other regular expenses have costs set by others. But you CAN decide you’ll have mac & cheese for dinner, or soup, instead of going out or eating steak.

The only real problem is that food is 10% of an average American’s paycheck. If you cut it in 1/2, no mean feat, you’re still only saving 5%. The trick is to use that small saving to pay down debt or other set expenses, so the available cash/savings grows. That isn’t easy to do when it feels like you’re saving pennies instead of dollars!

The easiest way to reduce that 10%? Stop wasting food. Americans, on average, waste 40% of their food dollar. If you spend $10 a week and want to spend $5 instead? Stop throwing out food and you’ll save $4!

To this end, for some time, I’ve had a “flow” when I cook. Most of it is dealing with left over food in a way that resembles but is not exactly the same as the original. Also, much of it adds other foods for the second meal.

  • Cut bigger pieces down: cut meat from a cooked roast/bird and use it in another meal. Same with rough cut veggies: carrots, parsnips, onion, celery, etc.
  • Put previously cooked food in a thick sauce. This is what stew is, right? Also anything served with gravy over it. Make this a fairly bland dish. Make crepes and use this as a filling.
  • Dilute a thick sauce/gravy with water or stock — make soup or ? Transform whatever with gravy into something with a thin sauce  or soup. Make this more pungent.
  • The old trick of serving whatever with a starch: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, grains or bread. Things with gravy can be served atop a starch or with the starch in them (like stew with potatoes).
  • Use the bits & pieces to make soup or stock: this reduces waste and the cost, while it increases nutritional value.

Using these ideas, I turn 1 lb of chicken thighs into 4 meals. The protein costs $2.49/lb. That’s about .62 per meal! I have a great source for chicken. I buy it in bulk and freeze it in 1 lb containers. Depending on what I’m cooking I may or may not serve 2 thighs as dinner, then salvage the scraps/bones and make stock with the 3rd thigh for the next meal.

The last time I did this, I made oven-roasted chicken: we ate 2 thighs, the next day I made stir fry, heavy on the garlic. One portion is left over, it’s in the freezer; someone will eat it for lunch, or it will get added to soup. That’s 5 meals from $2.49 worth of meat, or .50 each meal for the protein.

If you do the math, the extreme frugality menus I linked to last time are about .25 per meal, protein and all. I thought what I was doing was pretty extreme, obviously, I still need to work on it!

So, how much should you spend? Figure 6% of your take home pay, if you aren’t wasting food or 10% when you do. If you’re spending more than that? You’re probably stuck in a rut of making the same things over and over and at least when I do that, I throw out a lot!

I’ll have to see what I can do to cut my costs!

What comes to mind —

  • Making schmaltz and using it instead of bottled cooking oils, (Using less, #2 above).
  • Making yogurt. (Finding a cheaper substitute, #1 above).
  • Baking bread. (Also #1.) We’d found a cheap, acceptable bread, $2.99 a loaf, so we’ve been buying bread rather than baking. The market has hiked this brand up to $3.99 a loaf again. DH still makes biscuits and pancakes when needed. I make crepes.
  • Stop having dessert. (Doing without, #3.) We will have a piece of fruit or maybe ice cream, but we haven’t had dessert as a planned part of a meal for some time.
  • Get rid of more junk food. We don’t eat these all the time, but yes, we do eat some: crackers and chips mostly. (Do without #3.)
  • Find high-priced items we still use and use any of the three strategies to reduce costs!

The best other discussion I’ve found about how to save money on groceries is this one.

Frugality: Schmaltz and Extreme Food Frugality Discussion/Links

Partly because of some reading I’ve been doing about fats and cooking more frugally, I’ve been doing a few things differently.

My dad every now and then would cut fat from a steak and cook it in its own grease. Tasted great. We hardly eat beef these days, mostly because of cost, but there’s also environmental concerns.

We also eat very little fish, that’s been true much longer, I decided back in the 1980s we were over fishing and stopped using fish as a regular food.

That leaves poultry. Recently, I’ve been doing Dad’s trick, but with chicken. I take the skin/fat off the pieces of meat, and use the chicken fat to grease the pan. This is easiest when the chicken is partly frozen, but the fat is a resource I’ve frequently ignored in the past. Laying chicken skin, fat side down in the pan where you’re cooking onions you’ll add to the chicken a bit later isn’t all that hard, tastes good, creates less waste, and costs $0! (Remove the skins with a fork after the fat melts, or you can make them cracklings, I rarely do.)

I finally found a recipe for schmaltz, but have yet to make it. If I’m skinning the chicken and not using the fat otherwise, I’ve been freezing the skins/fat, with the idea that I’ll make schmaltz. Not quite enough in the freezer yet…soon!

Don’t know what schmaltz is? It’s rendered chicken fat. Here’s a recipe.


The spring CSA we’re a part of this year put up an expected harvest chart, so I’ve spent much of the morning figuring what to make with it. On average, the produce cost us $3-$4/lb, not including the overhead to get it. That price is right in line/a little bit cheaper than organic produce at the local market. It will be fresher,  local, and supporting a local farm too. All good!


I found a youtube channel with a woman doing extreme frugality for a family of 6. It was interesting to watch her make up 126 meals for $31. Don’t know that I’d like to eat all the food she made without additions — but it sure reminded me how nice it is to have a backlog of herbs/spices/condiments to just casually add to make a meal more satisfying!

You can find her youtube video here.

Things I don’t do that she does?

  • I don’t shop at Walmart.
  • I don’t use house brands.
  • I don’t use chicken boullion.
  • I can’t eat tomato paste out of a can without having a major stomach upset, so I don’t.

I could do all of that and if I need to in the future, I will. I’ve admitted before that we’re food snobs. We are. But I’m also a realist.

My job, as long as we can manage it, is to keep the food as we like it, at a price we can afford. If our economics changes? Obviously, other things change too.

She’s making 126 meals for $31  — I spend on average $50 a week to make lunch/dinner, or 10-14 meals, with staples and other items set aside towards future meals.

In the video, she says one criticism she’s gotten is using foods she already has in stock, so she didn’t do that in this extreme frugality post.

 

More Food Planning/Use

Today is the day I usually go to the farm for our week’s food. If I’d been home yesterday, I would put aside whatever remaining foodstuffs from last week I didn’t think we’d use.

I’ve started that effort today instead, but it IS being done.

I’ve also planned what I’ll get at the farm, that makes food use a bit less random!

Finally, I go right by our favorite markets on the way home, so I’ll do the weekly shopping. There’s a package of chicken thawing in the fridge for tomorrow and Sunday.

Tonight’s dinner is probably a cheese omelette and salad, or that’s the plan. This is subject to DH’s input, how much and types of cheese we have, etc. We had HM hummus, freshly baked bread, and green salad. It was too hot to cook and I’d been gone all day, no interest in cooking at all!

I culled 2 jars from the pantry as their contents will be replaced, starting today.

This is working! We’ll see if I can keep it up. DH and I have had a few discussions about the “menu plan,” and he thinks it’s a good idea and agrees with my long-term goals: getting us used to smaller, cheaper meals like we’ll have when he’s retired, spending less on restaurants/prefab food, less meat, more veggies, better use of the veggies we’ve paid for (from the farm), and less food waste.

Photo by petra cigale on Unsplash

And for me, the kicker is that this isn’t so rigid that I resent it and it takes away the creativity I normally use when cooking. The I don’t know what to make with what I’ve got randomness is the only piece of cooking I really like: taking a bunch of random ingredients and using up what needs it in a meal.

I know people who sit down and plan a year’s worth of menus at once. I couldn’t do that, any more than I could do something similar to Once a Month Cooking or Mega Cooking. I tend to put pieces aside, not meals. (For example, cooked rice and stems from greens for soup.)

The Menu Plan, Working?

I had come up with a general menu plan. Last week I managed what’s in column 3. (I skipped week 2 as I was sick again and the menu was abandoned!)

Day Plan Actual wk 1 Actual wk 3
Monday Double Veg Lentils & Yams green rice & salad
Tuesday Soup/Stew/Salad Garlic Soup avocado toast, roasted red pepper soup, braised greens**
Wednesday 2nd Veg Lentils & Yams green rice, sauteed mushrooms, salad, fruit
Thursday Egg Asparagus & herb omelette HM hummus, fresh bread, salad
Friday Double Meat BBQ Beef blackberry cobbler (a.m.) and restaurant food (dinner)
Saturday Sandwich BBQ Beef Sandwich None, did flea market, followed by ice cream, then home
Sunday 2nd Meat Lentils & Yams*, salad lemon chicken, salad, corn

*The 3rd portion of lentils & yams was frozen Weds. We finished the beef Saturday, so we ate the last portion of lentils & yams from the freezer.

** The roasted red peppers were a container from the freezer, frozen last September!


I can say that menu planning this much it hit a few of my goals:

  • less waste
  • less meat
  • cheaper meals
  • set aside excess for “instant meals” so we don’t buy frozen food

But this is Memorial Day weekend, which means my big freezer needs to be EMPTY next week. Ack!

pointing fingerThe fridge’s freezer needed to be cleaned first. That’s now been done. 5/27/19 noon.


There is one empty shelf in the fridge’s freezer and one empty shelf in the big freezer. More work required! 6/4/19

Simplify

It just occurred to me that I need to do this with well everything, including the food I make!

Given the “menu plan” I came up with:

  • M Double Veg.
  • Tu Soup/Stew using bits & pieces LO
  • W Second Veg.
  • Th Egg
  • F Double Meat
  • Sa Sandwich
  • Su Second Meat

I’ve been looking at recipes.

Also given that we’re trying to save $, the farm is starting the beginning of June AND I’ve decided I need to set aside some HM instant meals, I’ve been looking at what I might make:

Casseroles and Loaves meat and veg both.

Seasoned Ground Beef Make up a batch of the meat I use for meat loaves and make a batch of meat balls at the same time. Can be used with pasta, or in Albondigas Soup, or smashed with mayo as a sandwich filling, or in a pita with veggies.

The soup/stew base I found last week which I intend to use this year. Making it before I freeze a bunch of it is a really good idea as we’ve never had it!

Salad mixes – like 3 bean salad, except I hate 3 bean salad. But these kinds of salads can be mixed ahead. I’ll have to think/research this idea.

Quiche Base or Mix? Given that I’m supposed to make 1 dinner a week with eggs, maybe this is an idea? Never looked at quiche recipes with that idea.

Those will make the double meals easier. What else can I do?

White Sauce Balls I did this years ago and it was a success. You mix flour, butter, a little milk, salt and if you’re a purist white pepper. (I only use white pepper when I already have it. I don’t care if my white sauce has black speckles or not! YMMV!) You measure this paste out into 1T balls and freeze. Need to make gravy? Grab one or three.

hermes-rivera-645990-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Other ideas:

  • “Tray bakes” or “one pan” meals for the double  meals.
  • Self-frosting cakes (also one pan cakes).
  • Preplanning enough to use all the bits. When I make stuffed tomatoes mid summer as an entree, I use the innards the next day. That’s something I’ve always done. I wonder what else I can set up that way?

Research! Think! Plan! Do!

 

Extreme Food Planning: Part 2

Other things I can do:
  • Look at the bulk price per lb for turkey parts at the co-op. I don’t like the taste of turkey as well as chicken, but turkey pound for pound, with bone in, is usually a better deal — there are fewer bones.
  • Get the coupon file up to date, haven’t done this since April.
  • Make food from recipes I have using foods I almost always have, first.
  • Figure out how many potatoes and onions I’m likely to need over the winter. (Garlic is < 1 full braid, so are chilis. Carrots approx. 6 dozen.) Onions and potatoes were all used or tossed a month or more ago. After I have a number, I can explore purchasing enough to make it through winter, my goal.
  • Develop a basic stew/soup veg recipe and conversion recipes, so I’m not putting food aside to toss the following spring. Found something to try, a veggie soup recipe that has 2 distinct parts, the first pretty generic!
  • Make more “stewed” tomatoes this year so I don’t run out in Feb. again.
  • Try the celery thing.
  • Make a sourdough starter and USE it.
  • See if you can find unpasturized wine so you can make your own vinegar?

lobostudio-hamburg-33674-unsplash

Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg on Unsplash

Note:

  • 17 heads of garlic still on braid, one in basket.
  • Cayenne ristra jarred. Old pepper flakes discarded. 5/16/19