As I’ve discussed many times before, eating at home is a huge money saver. Even if you use expensive ingredients all the time (like saffron or morel mushrooms), it’s still cheaper to cook at home than it is to consistently eat out (assuming you’re eating better than the McDonalds Dollar Menu). Similarly, it’s cheaper to make a meal out of basic ingredients than it is to use prepared and processed ingredients – the closer to the raw ingredients you are, the cheaper the meal is (usually).
Along the same lines, I’ve come to realize that I tend to snack on and eat whatever’s convenient. For lunch, I’ll usually eat leftovers because it’s easy – it’s sitting in the fridge and usually only requires a bit of pepper and a trip to the microwave. At snack time, I’ll look at the fruit bowl and flip open the refrigerator door and grab whatever’s quick and at hand.
So why not combine the two and really crunch your food budget?
I was inspired to try some of these things by Mark Bittman’s interesting Food Matters. He suggests a similar phenomenon, that if you make good, healthy food as convenient as possible, you won’t be as tempted to eat processed, unhealthy foods.
By a lucky coincidence, many of the healthiest foods are also quite cheap in their raw form.
So what I decided to do is start cooking some healthy and very inexpensive staple foods once a week in bulk, store them in containers in the fridge, and utilize them all throughout the week in various dishes.
Here’s the game plan.
First, cook a big batch of beans/wild rice/whole grains once a week. You can get these ingredients at the store incredibly cheaply and they’re very easy to cook up in bulk. Just cook a whole bag of beans, a small bag of wild or brown rice, and some amount of a whole grain that you like.
When you’re done, just put the material you cooked into a large container in the fridge. A large Rubbermaid container or Gladware works really well because you can see what’s inside at a glance.
Throughout the week, just eat simple stuff that uses these for ingredients. Here are five examples.
Burritos Put some beans and some rice on a tortilla, heat it up, pour some salsa on it, enjoy.
Omelets Stir up two eggs, toss ’em in a pan with some beans, spice with lots of pepper, enjoy.
Stir fry Toss whatever vegetables and meats you have on hand in a pan with a bit of vegetable oil over medium heat until cooked, put them on the rice, enjoy.
Swiss breakfast Mix the cooked whole grains with some milk and whatever fruit you have on hand, enjoy.
Bean burgers If you have black beans, this works great. Just mash ’em together, add a bit of flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce to the beans, make some patties, and cook them with some oil, enjoy.
With the huge amount of variations in these recipes – and the many, many more simple things you can toss together – it’s easy to make tons of very simple snacks and meals from these cooked staples in your fridge.
You can take this idea even further by doing the same thing with whatever fruits and vegetables are on sale at the store. Just pick up that vegetable, chop it up, and cook it in some appropriate fashion (or just leave it raw). Just get it to the point where it’s really convenient for you to just grab it and eat it or add it to a simple dish.
The benefits here are tremendous. Suddenly, your snacks and many of your meals become really simple to prepare, really cheap, and pretty healthy, too (regardless of what you add, if most of the meal consists of beans and wild rice and vegetables, it’ll be good for you on the whole). Plus, since you can add whatever you want to those ingredients that are already on hand, it’s versatile and will be quite tasty to pretty much any palate.
Give it a shot and see how it works for you!