Cooking well…on a budget

I love food. Good food, ethnic food, traditional food, gourmet food, comfort food. However, when it comes to feeding a family, on a shoe string grocery budget, cooking the way I want to cook, takes a back seat to cooking the way I have to cook. I get really angry at the many faces I have seen on the media telling me that it is actually cheaper to eat healthy food. I wish they had to go grocery shopping for a family of four using food stamps and see what they come up with. A box of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese, a pack of hotdogs, and a can of veggies. That’s cheap dinner. It’s also disgusting and unfortunately, it’s what works for many families. I think this has a lot to do with the obesity we see in our society today. Not to mention our serious disconnect from where our food actually comes from, and how our government and society treats it’s farmers… However, that’s another post for another time.

I hate making dinner. Seriously, hate it. I love to cook though. The difference? Making dinner is when 5:00 o’clock rolls around and you stand in front of your cupboard/refrigerator going, “What on earth am I going to make?” Cooking is creating a meal that you can’t wait to taste, that you can’t wait to share. It’s chopping and sauteing and simmering. Searing, roasting, steaming, crushing, slicing, dicing. In short it’s art. In a manner of speaking. Making dinner is feeding your family. Cooking is creation, edible creation at that. I love to try different foods from different countries. Different cooking styles. Lets just say if the cable company ever offered channels a la carte, the Food Network would be first on my list, well maybe BBC America, but a close second.

Lately I have become stuck in “making dinner” mode. I get so frustrated by the lack of funds in our grocery budget to cook the way I want to. I wait until the last minute to figure out what I’m going to make for the week. I tried a weekly meal plan where they send you your menu and your recipe, but we noticed a lot of the same items popping up week after week (porkchops, oh my gosh, all the time!). And the recipes were pretty boring.

So, I want to challenge myself. Our grocery budget, for a family of five, is $140 a week. I have recently fidgeted with the budget to add another $20 to it, it was $120. Our grocery budget includes things like toilet paper, toothpaste, and laundry soap, as well as food. Add to that, the fact that our family goes through about 3 gallons of milk a week, and the actual amount I have to spend on what we eat is around $95. It’s frustrating, but I can do it. It takes a lot of planning. It also takes cutting out all of the crap that your average American family consumes. We buy very little processed or prepared food. No chips or fruit snacks or sugary cereals or canned pasta or boxed dinners. So yes, I suppose you can eat healthy on the cheap, as I said though, it’s tough. OK, pity party over. I want to start cooking more authentic dishes from around the world. I want to learn new techniques. I want to put dinner on the table and be excited about what’s on our plates. I’m still tossing around ideas, but I’m thinking I might concentrate on a different country each month for the next year and see what I come up with. One set back to this is I have a couple picky eaters in the house. However, I plan on keeping a stock of peanut butter and jelly and homemade bread. So, if dinner does not appeal to them, after tasting it of course, they are free to have a sandwich.

Also, I want to have a better system in place for coming up with meal plans. Friday (grocery shopping day) rolls around and I’m always trying to figure out what to eat quickly so we can just get going. I need to have a plan in place for my meals the week before it’s needed. That way I can have a grocery list ready to go Friday morning. This would also give me a better opportunity to spend sometime browsing cookbooks, magazines (Thanks for the new subscriptions Mom!), and the internet for new recipes. Not every meal needs to be fancy or from a different country, but I’d like to add some new dishes at least two or three times a week. And finally I plan on having friends over for dinner more often. There is nothing more satisfying after cooking a great meal, than sharing it with friends and family. So, here goes nothing.

On this weeks menu is Italy and a little fake Chinese take out. I want to taste some Italian food that isn’t centered around pasta, so I’m making a vegetable torte and pizzettes (tiny pizzas). I also received a wok for Christmas and since that eats up a lot of cupboard space, that baby is going to get used! I found a recipe for Spicy Orange Chicken that looks fabulous. I just can’t wait to taste it.

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5 Responses to Cooking well…on a budget

  1. onmyneedles says:

    I really like your idea! I’m not a fan of cooking and always find myself standing in front of the cupboard before dinner time trying to figure out what to make. One thing that’s helped me is sitting down each weekend and mapping out that week what I’m going to make. Then I scour for coupons and sales so I can get what I want (mostly that is). I find that it really takes that “Oh crap! What am I going to make?” pressure off because I already know before-hand. 🙂 I totally understand the budget thing too. I just sat down and figured out bills and we have like $76 for 2 weeks which has to pay for groceries and gas. Yeah… we’re pretty much screwed!

    What kind of veges are you using for the torte? Are you using any meat at all? It sounds good and the pizzettes sound amazing (I really, really ❤ pizza)!

  2. unadillabarb says:

    I’m lost without my menu’s – they make my shopping list and keep me sane when I get home and wonder what I’m going to cook. If it’s on the board, I know it takes 30 minutes (thanks, Rachael) and all of the ingredients are in the cupboard. Check out “all recipes.com” for ideas as well. Good food with people leaving comments that say it’s okay or how to beef it up. (pun intended for Casey to chuckle over). All you have to do is type in an ingredient and up come the recipes. Keep cooking, kiddo. It took me a while to get my skills in gear – it doesn’t happen overnight.

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