Pantry Cooking: Dinners on a Dime (Using this & last week’s cheap deals!)

We frugal foodies have unique challenges that normal shoppers don’t.  This little segment aims to help by offering:

  • Stockpile-cooking ideas
  • Clever Casseroles in which to hide your leftovers from the hubby & kids
  • Kitchen tips & tricks
  • Freezer-cooking recipes & planning
  • And really, everything but the kitchen sink!

Thanks to DealDetectiveKim - who writes our weekly segment of ideas!  Send her an email or leave a comment with any suggestions you’d like to see!

Last week, Jamie and I were chatting about using the “Best Buys of the Week” column as a basis for the “Pantry Cooking” column. I was GOING to do this for this past weekend, but things got a little out of hand (again!) and Jamie gracefully covered for me with a Homemade Bulk Taco Seasoning Recipe. (Thanks Jamie–you rock!) Please note that unless stated otherwise, the prices listed are from last week’s ads.

So this column is less about recipes and more about ideas for using those best buys to get something on the table fast and cheap.  

Let’s start with those Boca meatless entrees (.26 at Publix the week of 3/3).  There are quite a few things you can do with them:

  • The crumbles can be substituted for ground beef in pretty much anything. You could use them to make Hamburger Helper (.33 at Food Lion!), cutting your time nearly in half because you don’t have to brown them first!
  • The “Chicken” patties can be used to make a quick Chicken Parmesan–just combine them with jarred pasta sauce (Ragu–.45 at Food Lion this week) and cheese and you’re done! Do this with the fried-looking ones, and -
  • Use the grilled-looking ones to shred and use in a chicken casserole or to make chicken salad.

  • You can also combine the crumbles with that jarred pasta sauce and cheap pasta to make a really good pasta dinner.
  •  The “burger” patties make a pretty good copycat of the classic “Salisbury Steak” TV dinners. Just heat ‘em up and pour brown gravy over them. Add boxed/pouch mashed potatoes and a bag of frozen veggies and you’re done.
  • Another idea is to take the “grilled chicken” patties, slice into strips, and put on top of a salad (Earthbound Farms, $1 at Bi-Lo last week). In warm weather, I LOVE to make a big salad for my lunch. The night before, I take a plastic bowl and fill it up with veggies and sometimes even fruit, add cheese and some ham or chicken. I put croutons, bacon bits, or anything else I might want on top (sugared nuts or dried fruit like craisins are also good choices) in zip snack bags. Next morning, I grab it & bottle of dressing on my way out the door. I work near a large park overlooking the water, so I can have a nice, de-stressing picnic lunch! Hint: a vinegar-based dressing doesn’t need refrigeration as much, and a balsamic really complements the fruit and cheese if you use those. Wrap-Its tortillas were .99 at Bi-Lo; those can be used for wraps (instead of sandwiches) in a lunch.

Unless you find a good sale to team up with coupons, those individual packs of peanut butter crackers, chips, cookies, etc. can be expensive–and many times, they’re not included in the sale. Last week, Publix & Food Lion had Ritz crackers as low as .80, and Skippy Peanut Butter was as low as .78 at Publix. So make a few Peanut Butter Crackers and put them in one of those zip bags (Heftys are as low as FREE this week at Food Lion)!  Keebler Cookies were $1 at Publix. Open the package and bag them up into individual servings. This also helps with portion control if you’re watching your waistline–and aren’t we all? (Except Jamie–you’d never know she had kids! :-)  (Jamie just snorted up a mouthful of Diet Coke through her nose…)

Another thing I like to do is re-use those little 16 oz. bowls that butter and sour cream come in for cereal (as low as .44 + free fruit this week at Publix). I open the box and portion out the whole box at one time into 8 or 9 little bowls and stack them in the cabinet. It makes for a quick breakfast AND it’s usually a lot cheaper per serving than the individual serving size bowls in the store. I keep those, oatmeal packets, and Pop-Tarts all in one place, along with some dried fruit that makes a good add-on to cereal and oatmeal. I have a few drink containers and pour milk into those the night before. Fruit is in basket on the counter so if I want bananas on the cereal or just a piece of fresh fruit, there it is. If you buy a granola-type cereal, you can make mini-portions–a couple of tablespoons or so–to stir into yogurt cups (Yoplait Yo-Plus 4-pks, FREE and Voskos Greek, FREE or .25 at Publix this week).

I think I’ve said this before, but I buy up those cheap candy bars, pudding packs, popcorn, jello, applesauce–anything that can be a midday snack–and they’re all in ONE place so that when I fix my lunch, I can easily toss a couple of different things in. My desk drawer at work has a few things stashed, too. Then when you get that mid-afternoon craving or you want something sweet after lunch, you’re not tempted to hit the vending machine. Why pay .75-$1 for a candy bar or microwave popcorn at the machine when you can get it for FREE a lot of times? Try this: bring your snacks, and any time you eat one, put some change or a dollar bill in a container. You’ll be SHOCKED at how much money stacks up in there!

So there you go–breakfast, lunch and dinner, all covered! Sit back, have an extra cup of coffee and relax–you earned it!

Until next time,

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