Frugal(?) Cooking

I haven’t ever participated in a blogging carnival before, but this one over at Owlhaven caught my interest.

I consider myself frugal with regard to cooking, in that I tend to cook from scratch and comparison shop. However, our philosophies about food here in Beanland are a bit different than the norm, so I was very curious to see how our diet stood up to the frugal challenge.

First, a bit about our food philosophy:

– We believe that good, healthy food is an investment in our health and our future. So we are willing to pay more money when necessary to eat well. I shop around to find the best deal on what we eat. Not to eat the best deals I find. (I hope that makes sense.)

– We enjoy cooking, but convenience is also a factor because we are both very busy. Scott is in medical school and I am a work-at-home mom. I tend to cook three dinners a week and we eat leftovers the other nights and all lunches. I usually make breakfast (a smoothie or one of the recipes in this post) and we graze on fruits and veggies the rest of the day.

– We don’t eat meat. We rarely eat dairy (cheese, milk, eggs). We rarely eat anything processed (white flour, added sugar, etc.). Our goal, in a nutshell, is to eat “whole plant foods” as much as possible because we believe that they are healthiest. That means we cook with a lot of spices, rather than cream, butter, cheese, sausage, etc.

– We store oodles of food in our basement (grains, dried beans, canned tomatoes, etc.) , so our weekly or every-other-weekly shopping trips are mainly to pick up fresh stuff.

Without further ado….

The goal of the carnival was to shop for three days’ worth of food and post pictures, recipes and cost per person per meal. I cheated because we constantly “shop” out of our basement and because I wanted to participate without actually doing all the dirty work (sorry!). So I chose some recipes to share, priced them out, and took photos of the food we had on hand to make the recipes. This is a hypothetical 3 day plan. I chose recipes that I thought were among the less expensive of what we regularly eat. I know we could eat less expensively, but it was very helpful for me to price out our regular meals. Hopefully it helps someone else as well! ๐Ÿ™‚

In case you are intimidated by trying to cook a meal with “complete protein” without meat or dairy… ask yourself how many people you know (in this country) who are suffering from protein deficiency. It’s just unheard of. Far and away, more people are suffering from obesity and not eating foods that nourish their bodies and fight disease. So shoot for simple, whole plants (don’t peel and fry your potatoes or peel and sugar your apples) and eat a variety and you’ll do just fine! It’s easier and yummier than you might think.

The Menu

Day 1
Breakfast: Oatmeal with apples, raisins, cinnamon, and pecans
Lunch: Black Bean Soup with blue corn tortilla chips
Dinner: Red Lentil Curry with brown rice
Snacks: Oranges, apples, sweet potato, raw carrots.

Day 2
Breakfast: Whole grain pancakes with homemade strawberry syrup
Lunch: Red Lentil Curry with brown rice (leftover)
Dinner: Split Pea Soup with homemade whole wheat bread
Snacks: Hot air popped popcorn, celery, pancakes w/syrup

Day 3
Breakfast: Oatmeal with three berries and flax
Lunch: Split Pea Soup with homemade whole wheat bread
Dinner: Red Lentil Curry with brown rice
Snacks: Sweet Potato, oranges, bread with applesauce

The Photos

Here are photos of the foods included in those meals (note that the amounts of food in the photos don’t match the meals, sorry! I left out olive oil and spices.) :

From leftish to rightish: raisins, pecans, buckwheat flour, blue corn tortilla chips, walnuts, oranges, unsweetened applesauce, apples, garlic, carrots, flaxseed meal, frozen triple berry blend, salsa, strawberries, veggie soup base, dried apples, celery, wheat, oats.

Hidden in the dark, dark photo you might find onions, sweet potatoes, split peas, dried black beans, lentils, canned tomatoes, brown rice, and popping corn.

The Recipes and $$$

Day 1 Breakfast – $0.43/person
Oatmeal – 2 c. rolled oats $0.20, 2 c. water free, 1/2 c. dehydrated apple slices $0.24, 1/4 raisins $0.13, 1/4 c. broken pecans $0.28, 2 tsp cinnamon. Cook on stovetop for a few minutes until thick.

Day 1 Lunch – $0.72/person
Black Bean Soup – 2 cans (or 3 1/2 c. if you pressure cook your own) black beans, rinsed and drained ($0.34), 1 c. salsa ($0.65), 1 1/2 c. veggie broth ($0.10), 1 tsp cumin. Food process or use blender and then heat and serve with 2 c. blue corn tortilla chips ($0.35)

Day 1 Dinner – $1.32/person (lasts two dinners + 1 lunch)
Brown rice: 2 c. with 2 3/4 c. water in rice cooker ($0.53)
Red Lentil Curry:

2 cups lentils ($0.31)
1 large onion, diced ($0.33)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil ($0.05)
2-4 tablespoons red thai curry paste ($0.10)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon minced garlic ($0.03)
1 teaspoon ginger root, minced ($0.05)
1 28 oz can petite diced tomatoes, or crushed tomatoes ($0.99)
1-2 8 oz cans tomato sauce (add this to make the curry go farther, so itโ€™s thinner and easier to serve over rice, or if itโ€™s too spicy for you without it) ($0.24)


1. Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear (this is very important or the lentils will get “scummy”), put the lentils in a pot with water to cover and simmer covered until lentils tender (add more water if necessary).
2. While the lentils are cooking: In a large skillet or saucepan, caramelize the onions in vegetable oil.
3. While the onions are cooking, combine the curry paste, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a mixing bowl. Mix well. When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture to the onions and cook over a high heat stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Stir in the tomato puree and reduce heat, allow the curry base to simmer until the lentils are ready.
5. When the lentils are tender drain them briefly (they should have absorbed most of the water but you don’t want the curry to be too sloppy). Mix the curry base into the lentils and serve immediately over rice.

Day 1 Snacks – $1.15/person
Oranges ($0.66)
Apples ($0.80)
Sweet Potato ($0.44) – Wash, don’t peel. Prick with a fork and microwave for 5 minutes or until soft all the way through. Yum!
Carrots ($0.40)

Day 2 Breakfast – $0.87/person with enough leftover for snack
Wholegrain Pancakes:
3/4 cup buckwheat flour ($0.27)
1 cup whole wheat flour ($0.06)
1/4 cup rolled oats ($0.05)
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped ($0.30)
1 T Flaxseed meal ($0.03)
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 TBS orange zest (free! I keep it in the freezer and refill when I eat an orange.)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce ($0.28)
2 cups water (I added an extra 1/4 c. or so to thin it out further)

Mix all dry ingredients in a medium bowl until evenly blended. Add liquids and mix as little as possible to make batter. Small lumps are OK, theyโ€™ll disappear in cooking. Over-mixing will make pancakes flat and heavy.

Spoon the batter onto a hot, nonstick griddle.

Strawberry Syrup:
2 c. frozen strawberries, covered and heated in the microwave until piping hot. Smash them with a fork. ($0.74)

Day 2 Lunch – free!
Leftover Red Lentil Curry with brown rice.

Day 2 Dinner – $1.37/person with enough for 2 dinners
Homemade Whole Wheat bread ($0.52)

Split Pea Soup
1 TBS olive oil ($0.07)
2 onions, chopped ($0.66)
2 rib celery, sliced thinly ($0.20)
4 medium carrots, sliced thinly ($0.25)
2 cup split peas, rinsed and drained ($0.52)
8 cups veggie broth ($0.52)
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
2 TBS fresh parsley, chopped (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried)

Cook onion in olive oil for a couple of minutes until softened , then add celery and carrots and cook for 3 more minutes. Add everything else and cook on LOW for 50-60 minutes (30 will work in a pinch). Pull out 4 cups and blend it until smooth and return it to the pot. Add salt and pepper and enjoy!

Day 2 Snacks
Hot air popped popcorn – $0.15
celery – $0.20
pancakes w/syrup – free!

Day 3 Breakfast – $0.48/person
Oatmeal – 2 c. rolled oats $0.20, 2 c. water free, 1 c. frozen triple berry blend $0.63, 1/4 c. flaxseed meal $0.12 . Cook oats and water on stovetop for a few minutes until thick. Add berries, microwave and smush. Sprinkle on flaxseed meal.

Day 3 Lunch – free!
Split Pea Soup with homemade whole wheat bread

Day 3 Dinner – free!
Red Lentil Curry with brown rice

Day 3 Snacks – $0.83/person
Sweet Potato ($0.44) – Wash, don’t peel. Prick with a fork and microwave for 5 minutes or until soft all the way through. Yum!
Oranges ($0.66)
Homemade whole wheat bread (free) with unsweetened applesauce on top ($0.56)

Not counting spices, which we buy in bulk here, this hypothetical and delicious and healthy three day meal plan came to $7.35/person. In reality, we tend to go down on the pricier fresh fruit and veggies (frozen berries, fresh melon, leafy greens) far more than what I incorporated into the meal plan, so I think this dollar amount is low for our typical diet.

This exercise was really eye-opening for me, but because I work and stay very busy… time is money and I probably will not do this again anytime soon! ๐Ÿ™‚

Cost Basis

The following things from the 3-day plan I buy from my church’s cannery:
dried black beans ($0.69/lb), rolled oats ($0.57/lb), dehydrated apple slices ($3.82/lb), wheat ($0.19/lb).

The following I buy at Costco:
Pecans ($8.99/2 lb package), Raisins ($6.69/2, 2.5 lb packages), Frozen Triple Berry Blend ($8.99/4 lb), Walnuts ($14.49/3 lb), Frozen strawberries ($6.99/6 lb) , onions ($3.99/10 lb), sweet potatoes ($6.99/10 lb), Salsa ($4.65/jug), Blue corn tortilla chips ($4.49/huge bag), oranges ($0.33/each), apples ($0.40/each), olive oil ($23.99/5 q.)

The following I buy at regular grocery stores, and I’m giving prices here from memory (sorry!):
flaxmeal (~$2/lb), buckwheat flour (~$1.80/5 c. package), unsweetened applesauce (~$1.67/6 c. jar), celery and carrots (~$1.50/3 lb package), veggie base (~$2.50/38 c.), lentils ($0.55/package), split peas ($0.65/package), diced tomatoes ($.99/28 oz can), brown rice (~$2/3 lb)


About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Healthy Eating, Recipes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Frugal(?) Cooking

  1. I am glad we are not the only ones. We aren’t strict vegetarian but we seldom eat meat due to the cost of organic and generally only buy organic and due to my oldest’s severe allergies tend to just make everything from scratch cause we can’t afford the expensive preservative free versions.

    We eat a lot of homemade pancakes here as well as lots of smoothies and homemade granola.


  2. Stephanie says:

    Very interesting. We also love baked sweet potatoes!


  3. Owlhaven says:

    This is great! I am trying to decide if I have enough energy to add in all my exact costs to my recipes, as I found it interesting to read what you paid for the various items.

    Thanks so much for participating.



  4. Off to try the homemade bread recipe … ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Liz says:

    Wow, you are a little nuts, Bobe. But I love you anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Did you know that Costco sells flaxseed meal? It comes in a large tub and is much cheaper than Bob Red Mill’s. I made the switch when your Mom pointed it out.

    Re the buckwheat flour – Too bad the cannery doesn’t offer buckwheat groats so you could grind your own. ๐Ÿ˜‰



  6. Linds says:

    Thanks for sharing! Sounds delicious! I appreciate you explaining your food philosophy.


  7. Maya says:

    we love whole grain pancakes. i’ll have to try your recipe. ๐Ÿ™‚ usually we just buy a box of the mix.


  8. Anne says:

    @Liz about the flaxmeal: not our costco. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    Plus we don’t go through it all that fast (a couple of TBS a day at most) and I like to keep it fresh and in the fridge.

    I would love to buy buckwheat groats, but haven’t found them cheaper. Buying lots of buckwheat flour at once isn’t really an option because it oxidizes fairly fast and we don’t go through much.


  9. lisa (lost pezhead) says:

    when i grow up i want to eat like you. i’m trying a little at a time…so maybe one day i’ll get there!


  10. Owlhaven says:

    My mom buys flax seed at Winco and then grinds it in a coffee mill at home….



  11. Pingback: Frugal Cooking Carnival (updated) «

  12. Amy Heymann says:

    I love this! I will be trying these ideas on my family!


  13. Heather says:

    oooh, I am excited to try your lentils and curry!


  14. Geri says:

    I came to your blog from Owlhaven’s. It’s nice to see how you are eating because I’m a high schooler who has been a vegetarian for about 6 months. No one else in my family is vegetarian so it seems like sometimes I’m just eating what they are minus the meat. I wish I had more time to cook vegetarian meals like your soup and curry.


  15. simeet gandhi says:

    I tried to be vegetarian, too hard. But menus like those help make it easier. Maybe I will try again.


  16. Jenn says:

    The red lentil curry sounds delish! I may make that soon. Thanks for posting.


  17. Babsi says:

    Fabulous meals! And what’s even more fabulous is that your husband will be a doctor that actually eats well and believes in nutrition as a way to avoid disease!
    We need more physicians like him! Have him teach his med school buddies.


  18. These recipes sound so good! My 14 yo daughter went vegetarian on us about a year ago, rather than make two meals – one with meat/one without, I’ve started making much more vegetarian meals (we have always eaten about half vegetarian anyway).

    Got to love the cannery for oats, wheat, beans, etc. You can’t get it much cheaper than that and it is so nice to have it all in the basement ready for shopping! I’m going to blog more recipes using food storage options. Food is getting so expensive!

    Thanks for all your ideas.



  19. Pingback: The Cost of Healthy Eating | Adventures in Beanland

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