Monday, January 20, 2014

Bare Bones Meals: Your Budget...And Three Easy Cheesy Snacks (That Double As Lunches)

    Now you've hopefully taken some time to clear out your food shelves, and do an inventory. (Check the previous post, if you're wondering why I'm mentioning this.) Next on the docket:

     How much can you afford to spend on food each week?

It may be a little or a lot, depending on how much eating out you're doing. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to assume that you put outside dining in the entertainment category. (And honestly, unless you're on vacation, celebrating special occasions or working out of town, I'd assume that you're going to hold it down to the $60-or-less a month category. You can do this, if you're careful.)

    A good starting point; $30 per person, per week. if you're really in a pinch --whole families have eaten on $30 before...especially by cutting down on meat. (We've done this as well, during tight times.) if your budget allows $30 per person, though, that will give you extra leeway -- and help you stock up on sales, as well. With care, the Brick and I live on $60/weekly for food. That amount will often cover toiletries, as well, but not animal food. (Charley and Abby put away roughly a 40-pound bag of dogfood a month. Our 16 chickens dispose of 50 pounds of 'layer' feed monthly, plus 10 pounds or so of grittier 'scratch.')

Now take a look at the weekly sales flyers. What's on sale? It's probably not beef, which has been on a regular tear lately. Nor is it probably pork, which seems to be following beef's lead. (I'd say hooray for the farmers, because they're finally getting a better profit on their animal sales -- but am only too aware that most of these increased costs have come from the middleman, who processes and sells the meat.)
      Also -- what's regularly at lower prices? Whole chickens are generally reasonably-priced. So are cabbage, carrots and winter veggies like broccoli. (This time of year, anyway.) Early strawberries have well as other spring goodies, like asparagus. Potatoes, even at their most expensive, are still lower than other vegetables, and can be prepared in so many tasty ways. (They're filling, too.)

     You'll want to think about Food Away From Home, as well as meals prepared there. How are you going to cover your lunches away...or a sudden hunger pang...without spending extra?

 This came to mind today while I was sitting in a waiting room, waiting for Daughter's surgery to finish. A (very bad) coffee machine was nearby, but the only food in sight was at the surgery center's overpriced cafeteria. Based on the coffee, I could pretty much anticipate what that gustatory experience would be like.
     Daughter was due in the recovery room at any moment. My stomach was grumbling. What to do?
     Wait -- I had another option; SNACKS!  Thanks to a sale at my favorite scratch-and-dent store, I'd stocked up on power bars, plus some packages of imported cheese and crackers. A few of these were in my purse. And laptop.
     Crisis averted --with no bucks spent for overpriced food. I'd rather put the money into a Red Robin burger, anyways. (Eat half, set the other half aside for tomorrow's lunch -- and enjoy as many of the unlimited fries as you want. One meal won't hurt.)

Three snacks that have kept our family fat, happy and satisfied owe their goodness to cheese. I only buy it on sale, or in large packages that cut the cost down per pound. Grocery stores like Sprouts offer some kind of cheese on sale every week.

Cheese Guys (an easy version of quesadillas)-- Two of our pantry standards are corn tortillas and some kind of cheese. Cheddar and pepper jack work well, but so do mild cheeses like gruyere and mozzarella. Heat your oven to 450 -- put in three tortillas per person, sprinkled with cheese. (Leftover chopped vegetables and/or meat may be added.) Bake for 5-10 min., until the tortillas are crisp and the cheese bubbling. Serve hot; these make a nice addition to soup or a green salad.

Twice-baked Potatoes: Bake scrubbed potatoes for an hour at 350 degrees -- two per person. (These may be cooked the night before, if needed.) Split the potatoes in half, scoop out the potato from the skin, and mix with whatever you've got in the frig -- a pat of butter, a few tablespoons of sour cream or yogurt (or cottage cheese), minced herbs and a generous sprinkling of chopped or grated cheese. Mix in any leftover chopped veggies (broccoli, onion and mushrooms are nice) and meat (bacon and chopped ham are especially good). Or skip them, and stick with the dairy items. Pile the potato mix back in the skin and bake at 350 degrees for 20 min. Four potato halves per person are a filling lunch, easily reheated later on.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches:  Any kind of bread, any kind of cheese. Add a slice of ham, and you've got a Croque Monsieur. Spread your bread lightly with mustard and sprinkle with cheese (and meat, if you've got it, or a slice of tomato); top with another slice of bread. Sizzle butter in a frypan, and gently lay in the sandwiches. Cook for 5-10 min., flipping the sandwiches once. Cut in half diagonally and accompany with a crunchy pickle.

This is's version of this classic sandwich.

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