Cooking for a Week on a Budget

Cooking has become a dying art for parts of our communities and for a variety of reasons. Busy schedules and other life style issues have placed constraints on our time and it often becomes easier to simply buy fast food or dine out.

For others, cooking has very much become a challenge. This is especially true if you have a family. Higher food costs, fuel costs, mortgage payments etc have stretched our budgets to the breaking point.

So what to do? As parents and cooks, we all want to have our families eating healthy and of course, we still want to provide that occasional sweet treat for a job well done at school or simply out of love.

In this article, I will try to offer a few common sense tips to help you along. I was involved in the food business for twenty plus years and one of the most important things I learned over the years is to let your imagination be your assistant. What I mean by that is this; when cooking on a budget, there are several things we can do to stretch our food dollars and still prepare great tasting meals.

The first, and most important, is to shop smart. When you can, buy in bulk as this generally offers a greater savings. Avoid getting caught up in the “sale wars”. Store coupons most certainly save you money, but always consider before hand if you are really going to be saving money if you have to drive from store A to B to C to use these coupons. Another thing to keep in mind is the generic food line. This I have found to be mostly a trial and error affair. There are some really good generic products and then there are some that just don’t cut the mustard if you will.

Before you go shopping, take a moment and really look at what you are shopping for. Menu planning can save you money without you even knowing. Stores are set up for impulse sales and it is easy to grab that little extra item. Having a weekly menu along with a shopping list will help you avoid these pitfalls.

Secondly, be creative. A good imagination and a little love can lead you to some very affordable and delicious meals. One of the most useful products I buy for home is cream of celery soup or cream of mushroom either as a box mix or in a can. These serve as the base for casseroles, potato bake, scalloped potatoes and much, much more.

A simple hot dish using cream of mushroom soup would include a pound of ground beef, a diced small onion, mixed vegetable, (I prefer using frozen) and your favorite cooked noodles. In a skillet brown off the ground beef with the diced onion, drain well. Add the soup and dilute as directed, add your mixed vegetables and gently simmer until the vegetables are tender. Finally add your cooked noodles and heat through. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Simple, tasty and a good way to stretch your food dollar.

Cream of celery soup makes an excellent potato and vegetable bake. To add a little extra touch, try adding shredded cheddar cheese. Over all though, I think my favorite use of cream of celery soup is for making scalloped potatoes. This recipe makes a lot and is ideal for a large family.

Scalloped Potatoes:

3 to 4 pounds of peeled and slice potatoes.
1 small onion, diced
1 can cream of celery soup + can of water
1 can evaporated milk
1 ham steak, cut into cubes
4-6 strips of bacon
Salt and pepper
Flour

In a deep baking dish, place a layer of potatoes, ham and chopped onion, sprinkle with flour, lightly salt and pepper. Continue this until layering until you have used all of the sliced potatoes. Pour cream of celery soup, evaporated milk and water over the top of your potatoes. Don’t worry about stirring, it will all come together as it cooks. Top this with the bacon strips. Cover and bake on cookie pan (this is just a precaution in case the potatoes boil over in the oven) until potatoes are tender. Remove lid and let the bacon brown up a bit.

Another simple and delicious meal would use two cans cream of chicken soup, left over chicken, de-boned and cut into cubes. Your favorite style of rice prepared as directed and a light and fluffy dumpling recipe. Simply prepare the soup as directed, add the cubed chicken. Bring to a gentle boil. Drop your dumplings by the spoonful into the soup, cooking as directed until done. Serve along with your favorite vegetable on the side if you wish.

Well, that is all for me today. Remember, don’t be afraid to use your imagination or combinations that one might not normally associate with a certain recipe.

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