Menu Planning Monday: Budget Cooking

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Like most folks, I’m always looking to save a buck. There are some expenses I have no control over (gas and the mortgage come to mind), but I do have some say about what is spent at the grocery store! Some weeks the budget is tight and I need to find ways to cut back, other weeks I just would rather put my dollars elsewhere.  Either way, I hate wasting money and I hate wasting food, so this is why I plan my menu and stick to it!

We’ve had some additional expenses lately, making this a “need to cut back” kinda week. Since I keep a well-stocked pantry, the basics on hand, it’s pretty easy to put together a budget-friendly meal plan with just some beans, veggies and a couple cans of tomatoes. Armed with my shopping list, reusable bags and handy-dandy assistant, I headed to the store this morning.

A disclaimer: I am aware of the political and social issues regarding Wal-mart and consider myself a conscious shopper. I prefer to buy local and give my money to companies that I deem worthy. However, I find that Wal-Mart’s prices are consistently low and they are readily accessible to most Americans. So, when money is tight and/or we are traveling in an area where shopping options are limited, I do what I need to do to feed my family. I imagine I’m not alone in this.

10.04.15 Shopping

I bought all of the ingredients needed for the recipes below, along with coffee creamer, Chip’s sandwich buns and wine because no matter how tight money is, there are priorities! *wink* Not shown is a big bag of potatoes, some pet supplies and a sweet treat for the hunny. I minused out those non-food items in the receipt below..

10.04.15 Shopping Receipt

Do you see that? I spent under $50 for delicious, flavorful plant-based meals made of up regular ingredients that can be found in any grocery store and can be prepared quickly using basic cooking skills. Each recipe serves 6 to 8, a total of 32 servings! This would easily feed a family of four for a week, assuming you’d have leftovers for dinner two nights and a couple of lunches as well! You could not get one restaurant meal for that amount! Since there are only two of us, I’ll be freezing some portions and bringing a couple over to my daughters.

Without further ado, here’s my weekly plan. Since the weather has turned gorgeously cool for most of us, these soups and stews are perfect Autumn fare! Though I’m avoiding bread at the moment, a nice loaf of whole wheat or some cornbread would pair nicely with any of these!

What’s everyone else cooking this week?

Have a wonderful day!

Note: I follow a WFPBNO (whole food, plant-based, no oil) diet 90% of the time, allowing for a bit of oil here & there when dining out or when I just want a little treat.  When the recipe calls for oil, I substitute vegetable broth or plain water when appropriate. At the moment I am also following the Maximum Weight Loss Diet by John McDougall, M.D.

P.S. For other great menu planning bloggers, please visit Organizing Junkie!

Thrifty Thursday: Homemade Vegetable Broth

I became an avid nutrition label reader after going vegan, and even more so when I went oil-free. I was shocked to discover just how much oil is sneaked into the most unlikely of places! Vegetable broth, for example. Many of us rely on pre-packaged cans or boxes of broth, or we use those bouillon cubes. They’re convenient, right? Well, that convenience comes at a cost, not just monetarily but also nutritionally. So many of those innocent-looking cubes contain oil, corn syrup and other scary ingredients. 

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Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but I see no reason to put up with that when I can make my own fat-free, sugar-free broth with minimal effort and expense. Guess what? You can, too!

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First, you’re gonna want to gather up your veggie scraps. You know, the little bits & pieces of fresh vegetables that would normally get tossed in the trash. Carrot & onion peels, celery leaves, pepper tops, etc. Whatever is left over after preparing your meal, with the exception of salad greens because they don’t freeze well. I also avoid cabbage, kale, broccoli and other strong-tasting (and smelling) vegetables, but that’s just me. Dump these into your container, pop in the freezer and keep adding until it’s full. Now you’re ready to make broth!

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I rely on my Instant Pot for this purpose because it’s fast and easy, but you can also use a slow cooker or even stovetop method. The process is the same: dump the veggies into the pot, cover with water and cook until a nice rich broth appears.  (Times vary, but I did forty minutes in my Instant Pot because I wanted a very rich, dark broth. I’ve read that it can be made in as little as five!) If you want to get fancy, you can add some seasonings but since I’m using this as a base for future recipes, I don’t want any conflicting spices.

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Once it’s cooled down enough to handle, strain your vegetables over a large pot. (Some people put pasta strainers right into the Instant Pot, gonna try that next time!)

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Discard or compost the vegetables, then pour broth into jars or containers for storage. I got about 8 cups of broth.

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I used some immediately for a soup recipe, and the rest I poured into ice cube trays and froze. When I need a little bit of liquid for sauteing vegetables, I just pop one of these out and use in place of oil! So much healthier, right?!

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So, there you have it. Gorgeous, fat-free vegetable broth made from plain old water and stuff  you’d have tossed out into the trash. Frugal, eco-friendly and much tastier than anything you’d find on the grocer’s shelf.  Don’t you feel proud of yourself? I sure do!

Michele