I've spent the last week or so figuring out how I want to approach this whole frugal cooking thing. Mostly, I've chosen to be passive aggressive about it because if librarians can be anything it's passive aggressive.
There are 3 things that need to be done when trying to cut your food bill. Change your habits, cooking creativity, and shopping secrets. In order to spare you one really long post with a dizzying amount to information I'll break this up into 3 posts, each ending with a cheap recipe idea.
1. Changing your habits: Habits is probably not the right word here but I'm going to start with it.
The first thing that most families need to change is the notion that they have to have meat with dinner (if not every meal) everyday. I've made no bones about the fact that I'm a vegetarian but JR & the Boy are not. Though I wish they would convert (less work for me. And, honestly folks shouldn't it be all about me?) I don't really expect them to. What I've chosen to do instead is reduce the amount of meat they eat. I've done this over a period of time so it wasn't a big drastic change for them. Meat has become less of a focus in their the view of what lunch or dinner should be.
The Harvard School of Public Health put out a great food pyramid that encourages a plant based diet as does the Mayo Clinic and several others. That being said everyone has to make their own decision about how far they want to go with this. According to the American Cancer Society, "For example, the amount of meat recommended as part of a healthful meal is 3-4 ounces..." Most Americans eat a lot more the 4 ounces of meat per meal.
There are couple of ways that I've cut their meat without the whining. And they do whine!
Meatless Meals: 3 days a week we have meatless meals. I've pushed this to 4 but the Boys started whining. So 3 is the limit. I started by having 1 meatless meal a week then worked up to 3 over a period of about 2 years.
Reduce & Replace: For casserole type dishes, I either put in half the meat that the recipe calls for or I make it without any meat and serve a meat on the side. I also have been known to replace the meat with beans or lentils. I'll talk more about this when I post about cooking creatively.
Portion Control: When I'm serving the guys meat as an entree such as steak or roasts I slice all the meat into thin strips but only put part of it on the table. Here's an example. I'll grill a 16 ounce steak. I'll slice it into thin strips. I put half of the meat on a serving dish to put on the table and the rest I will save for lunches or dinner the next day.
Extend: For things like burgers I usually add things like that will add volume. Sauteed veggies, a little breadcrumbs and an egg will take a half to 3/4 of a pound of burger and turn it into 4 decent size burgers. Here are two of the boy's favorite burger recipes:
Blue Cheese Burgers:
3/4 pounds 80/20 ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (seasoned or not)
1/4 cup blue cheese
Mix ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs. Form into 8 very thin patties. Place blue cheese in the middle of each of 4 burger patties. Top with other 4 burger patties. Seal edges. Grill.
Sauteed Veggie Burgers:
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup bell peppers, chopped (I buy a chopped 3 pepper & onion blend in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. When it goes on sale I can get a 16 ounce package for .88 cents.)
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, chipped
1/2 cup zucchini or yellow squash
1/2 pound 80/20 ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Saute veggies in a little olive oil until just soft. Mix ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, & veggies. Form into 4 to 6 patties. Grill. You can use any combination of veggies that you like.
I use this recipe with canned salmon and crab also. I like to serve the seafood & veggie patties with a chipotle remoulade. Just like most of my recipes the measurements are approximate. Do what makes you happy. I have been known to substitute cooked brown rice for the breadcrumbs.
Snack Food: JR is adicted to Fritos, cashews, & beer. I'm not complaining about this I'd just like to get it out on the record. He has made an effort to cut back on these. See my post about grocery negotiations to see how this works in our house. What we have all given up is soda pop, Doritos and other snack & prepackaged foods. We've replaced these with fruit, cheese, whole wheat crackers, iced tea, powdered lemonade mix. Cutting out soda saved about $15 a week. We drank an obscene amount of soda.
All this may be just a reminder or an affirmation of what you are already doing but I hope this gives you something to think about when trying to cut your family's food budget.