Frugal Soups and Stews on Busy Weekends

Many weekends – like this upcoming one, for instance – our family is quite busy. We have guests over. We go on family excursions to places like the Science Center of Iowa. We shop for groceries. We go to club meetings. We go to church. We play for hours with the kids. We get caught up on housework – and on our reading. We play a few family games.

Sometimes, I’ll put aside time to prepare a really special meal, but many weekends, we look for ways to get a healthy and inexpensive meal on the table quickly. Even better are meals that are conveniently eaten by guests whenever they arrive.

Our solution, often, is a big pot of soup or a stew. Here are some of the tactics we use to keep guests happy and also tantalize our taste buds with a convenient, tasty, and healthy meal that’s also very inexpensive.

If there’s an opportunity, I’ll make stock during the week. Stock is really easy to make. All you have to do is roast a chicken or a bone-in pot roast in the oven. This just requires a roasting pan – put some salt and pepper on the meat, put it in the pan, put it in the oven at 350 F, and check the temperature after an hour or so and keep it cooking until it’s appropriately heated. Enjoy that meat for supper. Then, take the bones, put them in a crock pot, add a few leftover vegetables and any other vegetables you find tasty, toss in a handful of peppercorns, and turn the crock pot on low before you go to bed. The next morning, just strain off the liquid and save that liquid in a jug, tossing everything else. Voila! You have homemade beef or chicken stock! If you’re a vegetarian and prefer vegetable stock, just do the same thing without the animal bones – put leftover vegetables and any others you like for flavor into a crock pot, cover with water, cook on low overnight, then strain and save the liquid.

In my opinion, stock is the best frugal meal ingredient there is. You turn what would otherwise be thrown away into an incredibly flavored liquid that forms the basis for some absolutely mind-blowing soups that weekend – and all it costs is water, a couple minutes of effort, and maybe a dime or two of electricity.

I also cook extra meat on Thursday night. If I have chicken stock on hand and want to make a chicken-based soup, I’ll make some sort of chicken meal on Thursday night and make plenty of meat so I can have a couple of pounds of leftovers. The same goes for beef – I’ll cook extra of whatever beef we use, whether it’s hamburger, steak, or roast. The same goes for vegetables – if I have vegetable stock, I’ll make a very vegetable heavy meal and save the leftover vegetables from the meal.

On Saturday or Sunday, I’ll prepare the stew or soup in the morning. There are countless soup, stew, chili, gumbo, etc. recipes out there – find one you like and just remember the ingredients. Add the ingredients to the crock pot, then turn it on low and just let it simmer all day long.

Here’s the great part about doing it this way: whenever your activities allow you to eat – or whenever guests arrive – you have a bowl of delicious soup/stew/chili/gumbo waiting for them.

Even better, since you’re utilizing the leftovers and remnants of meals made earlier in the week, the soup is pretty cheap. It’s also incredibly tasty, especially if you utilize a stock that you made earlier in the week.

Can’t wait to get started on doing this?

Five Great Soup and Stew Recipes to Try

1. Beef Stew

2 lbs. stew meat, cooked
2 cups beef stock (or water)
1 1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic (peeled, of course)
1 onion, sliced
4 carrots, sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
2 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. corn starch

Put everything but the corn starch in the crock pot and turn it on low. Sometime in the hour before you expect people to begin eating, add the corn starch and stir it in thoroughly to gently thicken the stew.

2. Chicken Noodle Soup

2 lbs. chicken, cooked (mix of white and dark meat)
16 to 24 oz. egg noodles, uncooked
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 small potato, diced
Enough chicken stock and water to cover the ingredients – if you don’t have stock, add four chicken bullion cubes

Put it all in the crock pot on low.

3. White Chili

2 lbs. cooked chicken breast, cubed
2 cans great northern beans, rinsed
1 whole white onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)
1 cup frozen corn (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 chiles (or 1 can mild chiles)
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 tbsp. ground pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 lime
3 cups chicken stock or water – for every cup of water used, add a bullion cube

As before, combine everything and put it in the crock pot on low.

4. Chicken Sausage Gumbo

3 lbs cooked chicken
2 cups flour
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock or water – for every cup of water used, add a bullion cube
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground pepper
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper

Add these all to the crock pot and turn it on low.

5. Vegetable Soup

4 cups vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water
2 quarts water
2 bay leaves
3 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
8 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small onion, sliced
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 leek, sliced
5 mushrooms, sliced
1 scallion, sliced
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. salt

Add these all to the crock pot and turn it on low.

Good luck!