Monday, October 5, 2009

Frugal Healthy Cooking for the Busy Person

I was going to title this: Frugal Healthy Cooking for Working Moms. Or Busy Moms. But why limit myself? Because I certainly have a lot of friends who complain about how hard it is to cook healthy meals and find the time to grocery shop. And some of them are single, or married without kids.

It doesn't matter if you are a single guy with a full time job, softball games, and grad school, or a married woman with volunteer responsibilities and family get-togethers. It can be hard to feed yourself (and others).

So here are my recommendations. They aren't new. In fact, go to almost any frugal website, blog, book, etc., and almost the first recommendation for a newbie asking "what do I cook for dinner?" is to have a plan by the day of the week.

That's all this is.

Why now, you ask? Well, I've been feeling busy and stressed. In addition to that half marathon training (which really is only taking up an extra 1.5 hours per week), there are other *things* in my life causing stress.

I noticed, for example, that my budget for groceries was totally blown in September (you can see that on the right, was supposed to be $160). Why is that, you wonder?

1. I'm kinda tired of the budget. I started the year with a full spare freezer and pantry. And it's pretty bare now. So filling our bellies without the extra food is a bit of a challenge.

2. My son is now in preschool, and his preschool has a farmer's market on Weds. Folks who know me know that I'm really into local and organic (within financial reason). Our CSA provides a LOT of veggies, but not much fruit. Excellent quality. For the most part, the local farmer's market provides veggies at better prices and better quality than the grocery stores.

However, I've started buying fruits at the farmer's market. And fruits can be expensive. Certainly, in season, citrus, strawberries, avocados, grapes, and melons can be a great deal. But items that don't grow as well here - apples and stone fruits, are expensive. Easily $2.50-$3 a pound. So my weekly farmer's market bill has been about $20, with apples, apple cider, grapes, strawberries, and eggs. I don't *need* to buy free range eggs, but it's much better for the chickens and they taste really good.

3. My work schedule. This time last year, I was working part time, which was about 30-35 hrs a week. I let myself get talked into full time (40 hrs) earlier this year. Now with the startup of a new fab, I'm suddenly at 45 hrs...and wait, that's 13 hours a week more than before. No wonder I'm having a hard time...less time for planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.

Enter the "day of the week" meal plan. As you can see, this is pretty much the vegetarian version, but a "chicken on Monday, beef on Tuesday" wouldn't be too far off the mark too. The advantages are:

1. you know what you are making each day without thinking about it
2. you choose what to make based on items that you always have on hand

Saturday: Soup and bread - makes 2-6 meals (minestrone, chili and cornbread, lentil soup with biscuits, butternut squash soup, vegetable soup, egg drop soup)

Sunday: Casserole - makes 5 meals (lasagna, enchiladas, shepherd's pie, tuna casserole, spanakopita, ziti bake, macaroni and cheese)

(Saturday or Sunday option: roast meat of some kind for special occasion, pizza, grilling)

Monday: leftovers

Tuesday: Pasta (pesto, cashew cilantro, tomato, mexican, asian peanut sauce, pad thai, creamy vegetable primavera, skillet pasta)

Wednesday: Rice (spanish rice, fried rice, chickpeas and rice, stir-fry veggies with plain rice, risotto, or some version of other grain - quinoa, couscous, bulgur)

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: sandwiches (veggie burgers, grilled cheese, burritos, pizza, falafel) Or leftovers.

So there you have it...boring, but in the short term, can keep your family well fed for less.


Joanne said...

I constantly have this internal struggle over whether I should spend the extra money and buy organic/local/cage-free/grass-fed or just be cheap and buy what I know is not as good for me or the environment or the economy. Usually the organic branch wins and I just try to cut corners elsewhere. Like having fewer beers when I go out with my friends.

Congrats on the half marathon training! You will be so awesome.

I love your day of the week meal plan. I couldn't get by without planning my meals ahead of time and it definitely saves me from having ingredients that then spoil and go to waste.

Marcia said...

Thanks! I am really looking forward to the half. Right now I am struggling with the early morning treadmill runs (boring!!) Thinking of moving my pace run to a track in the evening.

I hate wasting food. It still happens.