The Money Stretcher- #3 Cheap Cooking is Clever Cooking

Cheap cooking simply means clever cooking. For many people, cooking has to do with enjoyment and relaxation, and it’s more than just a necessity in everyday life. I love working in the kitchen myself, but also believe it shouldn’t cost too much to prepare fresh and healthy food every day.

1. Energy-saving cooking

In view of the rising energy costs, climate change and to save money, it makes sense to pay attention to some tricks in the kitchen:

  • Use new cookware & matching lids: New pots and pans help to save energy because they store heat longer -if you put the lids on, the cooking time is significantly shortener. Heating half a gallon of water in a saucepan with a lid is three times as fast as without.
  • Cook with lingering heat: If you cook on an electric range, turn off the stove after boiling and use the remaining heat. It is still warm enough to finish and create a successful dish.
  • Do not preheat: You can also save energy in the oven. No matter what they might suggest on the label, for many dishes, it is unnecessary to preheat the oven. Another tip is to use the fan instead of top and bottom heat. Using the fan in the back of the oven to distribute heat evenly allows you to set the temperature lower than stated in recipes for top and bottom heat.
  • Using kitchen appliances as alternative energy sources: Whether tea or pasta, the water required for this is best heated in the kettle than in the pot. For quantities up to half a gallon, the kettle is the better choice. Small amounts like a cup heat faster -and more energy-saving- in the microwave than on the stove. 2-3 rolls can be baked (toasted) on the toaster with a bread roll attachment.

2. Seasonal shopping

Of course, we don’t want to go without fruit and vegetables in everyday cooking and we don’t have to! When shopping, simply pay attention to the seasons. In the summer, choose tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. In winter, cabbage, turnips, and beetroot. Roasted winter vegetables with balsamic vinegar are cheap and delicious, and so are cabbage and vegetable soups. Buying regional food is affordable and the fruits and vegetables taste much better! It’s a win-win!

3. Cheap cooking is also possible with meat!

Meat often seems expensive at first glance and using ground beef (minced meat) is a good compromise to prepare great hearty dishes that are tasty and inexpensive. Even sausages of any kind, such as wieners, bratwurst, or smoked sausage, can produce mouthwatering meals. My favorite to this day is a sausage goulash, the way my Grandma made it on our farm when I was a child.

4. Go meatless -sometimes!

Americans eat too much meat! Serving meatless dishes doesn’t mean you have to become a vegan or vegetarian, it just means you eat a few healthy meals that are vegetable-based, or so-called “flour dishes” like meatless pasta dishes, strudel, Asian stir-fries, and dumplings, so when you actually buy meat you can aim for organic and better quality. This not only protects your wallets but also the environment and your health!

5. Cheap cooking with a plan

At home, think carefully about what you want to eat and cook. A weekly schedule can help you plan, and writing a shopping list -and only buying what’s on the list- is essential, so you can avoid expensive additional purchases and not buy too much that could spoil.

6. Use leftovers

Leftovers are perfect to cook delicious dishes. Use cooked vegetables for an omelet or risotto, and top a homemade pizza with the cold cuts and deli meats that soon will expire. We often created accidentally the most mouthwatering foods when we recycle leftovers! By following some simple rules, you ensure that you and your loved ones will not just eat, but also enjoy the leftover dishes.
-Never serve leftovers the following day, but the day after, and make a new meal out of it. Get creative! The internet is a big help to come up with a new dish that includes all the leftovers we need to get rid of.

How much fun is a Thanksgiving panini?

7. Cook cheaply with ingredients you buy in bulk

A glance at your supplies is enough to see that many foods have a long shelf life. Dry ingredients such as rice and pasta are cheap and filling at the same time, even longer, when you use whole wheat pasta and brown rice. At first, these products seem more expensive, but in the long run, they pay off because the larger amount of fiber makes us feel full for longer.

Buy only fresh items like milk, fruits, and vegetables when you need them and pay full price, the rest, ALL non-perishable items, like toothpaste, rice, detergent, coffee, soups, vegetable cans and so much more, you stock up when they are on sale, then buy larger quantities and fill your pantry.

The truth? It hurts when you start, especially when you are on a tight budget, but soon it pays off and it’s worth it.

8. Serve desserts

Like so many, I have a sweet tooth as well. Looking back when I was a child 50 years ago, we didn’t wish for store-bought candy bars or chocolates, instead, we had baked cookies or a slice of coffee cake or sweet bread, that was always available in the pantry for anybody who wanted to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon.

A dessert was offered after lunch or dinner, nothing fancy, either a fruit compote (canned often years before) a slice of watermelon or a scoop of homemade pudding. Interestingly enough, it takes care of the sweet urges one might have later. Candy bars or all the so-called fitness bars are not cheap. Nipping the sugar craving in the bud right from the start saves a lot of money in the long run.

9. Stay off the cheese

The amount of cheese Americans use in the kitchen is not just unhealthy, but also expensive. The authentic Italian lasagna doesn’t contain ricotta cheese or four different kinds of cheese, but is made with layers of lasagna noodles, meat sauce, and a bechamel sauce. It is delicious. None of my American friends and family ever noticed the difference until I told them.

Between 1977 and 2017 Americans increased the amount of cheese every person ate each year from 16 pounds to a whopping 37 pounds. That’s an increase of 21 pounds per person!

30 g of cheese a day is recommended = 24 ponds a year (which is still way too much)

Why not just a ham sandwich? Why does it need cheese?

Or -and that always puzzled me because I grew up with it- why not just a cheese sandwich, the way many other countries serve it for dinner?

Where does all my wisdom come from?

I have lived it! As many of you know who follow “Losing it all”, years ago we lost almost everything we had, were houseless for a while and when we continued a ‘normal’ life, we had to stretch every dollar to the limit for almost two years.

I re-learned to cook cheaper and healthy and I recalled many European recipes I grew up with, which were invented during and after the world wars when not much was available. I grew up on a farm in Austria. We weren’t rich but happy. I was never hungry as a child and we had enough to share when needed, yet not much was store-bought.

Hello childhood: My Sausage Goulash

21 thoughts on “The Money Stretcher- #3 Cheap Cooking is Clever Cooking

  1. Ooohh, goulash is a great one! After seeing your childhood version, a vision (and taste) of the one my mom used to make just sprang to mind. So, thanks for that happy and timely family memory today, 6 months or so after Mom’s death. Actually, I just realized it’s more than 6 months since she died in January! My mental and emotional overloads continue, I guess.

    I also like and try to apply all the advice you give here, except the cheese part. One of my cooking mantras when I cooked family meals and which still applies even though now I only occasionally actually prepare meals just for my self was and still is “Everything is better smothered in cheese.” This brings to mind another kind of new realization. Maybe I should skip the other stuff in the dish and just eat the cheese.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see you still take every chance you get to bring your mom and her death up. It must have been so hard on you. I assume she passed way too early and way too young?
      It seems you can move but not move on -no matter where you are.
      As for the cheese and smothing everything in cheese. Enjoy it as long as you don’t have health or weight issue, enjoy it to the fullest.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think having been raised by a mom who was young during the Depression, I learned early how to save money when cooking. I think being wise with leftovers is one of the best “tricks” in saving. I do think we Americans are impulsive and buy without thinking and planning, This leads to wasted expense. Your suggestions are excellent and they sure are timely! I did some grocery shopping today and prices keep increasing. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I buy groceries once a week and never deviate from the list I make from the meal plans I have drawn up for the week. Recycling leftovers is second nature for me. The tips you provide here are smart and filled with common sense!

    Liked by 1 person

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