, , , , , , , , , ,

If hard times have hit your family, even if you have never been a frugal homemaker and cook before, chances are, you are now. The question of the day is this: does having to be frugal make you grumpy and, because of your grumpiness, make your family miserable or do you see the chance to be frugal as a chance to exercise the gifts and talents God has given you and thus, as a way to bless your family (thus helping them to relax)? You know, sisters, it’s easy to cook great meals when there is lots of money for quality ingredients and you can serve anything you want. The art of cooking, though, lies not in cooking out of abundance, for most anyone can do that, but in the ability to take a bit of this and a little of that, and turn it into choice morsels and serve it to your family with love, having given thanks to the Lord for His loving provision.

Frugality is better seen as stewardship. God is the give of all good gifts and whether times are easy or difficult for us is His choice and is, without a doubt, what is His best for us at that time. Therefore, when biscuits and gravy, beans and cornbread or potato soup is all you can afford, be very grateful to the Lord that you can afford that; there really are many families who can’t.

Now for a minor couple of gripes: I sometimes get frustrated when looking for budget recipes. It seems that what many consider budget, are, for those of us who are really having to watch every penny, way too expensive. I also get frustrated to hear over and over (and over and over again) how, if you just invest a little bit more in healthy eating even when things are tight, you will actually save money down the road by not having to spend more on health-related issues. Great idea…if and when you can afford it. For anyone who is really facing hard times, what you want and what you can do are two very different things. Just because you want to serve balanced meals (or lovely meals, or healthier meals, etc.) doesn’t mean you can. This type of thinking, “well, you ought to be able to do this”, creates covetousness and discontent and, by doing so, causes us to complain about the Lord’s provision for our family.

When things are really tight for my family, which is most of the time, it means that I have to buy as little as possible and creatively use what is on hand. Many nights supper has to cost under $10.00 (that’s for 9 people) if we are to make it through the month; if I need to I can pull off a few $4.00 – $5.00 suppers. Breakfast is an easy area to cut down in; oatmeal, which is loved by all, gets served, in various ways, often. Lunches are usually leftovers or sandwiches. Milk gets split, left-over coffee gets saved and reheated, snacks are rare (pb&j, homemade popcorn, a banana, homemade cookies or brownies), fruits and vegetables get bought on sale or not at all, meat is used to flavor (if at all) and we use up everything.

Just so you know: We have a family night once a week and I serve a “fun” supper for that (something little ones love and is more special). We try to have one or two nice suppers per month (that means meat actually gets served as a main dish) though some months I can’t. We don’t have a garden (not because I don’t want one but circumstances haven’t allowed). I try to plan for leftovers as often as possible because it helps with lunches and future suppers. And food for thought: in really, really tough times, you can feed your family on beans, biscuits, gravy, rice, potatoes, cornbread and oatmeal for at least a few days; if you are very creative, you can do it without boring them too much–I know, I’ve done it.

Here are a few recipes that will help you in tight times:

Homemade white sauce: 1/2 cup oil or margarine mixed with 1/2 flour (either kind), and 2 cups of water, bouillon or broth (don’t bother with mixing with milk, too expensive). Heat the oil, mix the flour in carefully, slowly pour in liquid, stir carefully until mixed (may need a whisk)–can make in microwave. Useful in many recipes. Add cheese for cheese sauce, add chicken bouillon and a smidgen of onion powder for cream of chicken type soup (good for recipes). This is a good base for your creativity to shine in.

Homemade bbq sauce: there are several recipes that I use but a very simple one is this: 2 cups ketchup, 1 packet dry onion soup mix, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce; mix together and heat carefully (the sugar will burn). Play with this to change it. You can add more brown sugar, less dry soup mix, mustard, reduce the ketchup, add spices or heat.

No Meat Sausage Patties: 1 cup rolled oats (oatmeal), 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. sage, 2 eggs–beaten, 2 tablespoons margarine, 1 beef bouillon cube, 1 quart water. Mix the oats, salt, sage and beaten eggs, form into flat patties. Fry in margarine until browned on both sides. When cooked, boil 1 quart water to which you add the bouillon cube, pour mixture over patties and simmer for 30 minutes. Sounds impossible but they are delicious. These are adaptable to other types of flavors: leave out the sage, use other seasonings and other flavors of bouillon cubes.

The Frugal Pantry: 

  • margarine
  • spreadable margarine
  • eggs
  • loaf bread (buy marked down or at bread store)
  • French bread, Italian bread or Texas toast (marked down; good for garlic bread, french toast, etc.)
  • milk (whole–split with water)–I sometimes get this marked way down
  • coffee–on sale
  • tea bags (for iced tea)
  • flour–both SR and AP
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Baking cocoa
  • corn meal
  • oatmeal
  • grits
  • sugar
  • brown sugar
  • powdered sugar
  • chocolate chips–on sale
  • vanilla (I use a blend of real and imitation–still tastes good)
  • Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice
  • Oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, Cajun mix (or make your own), Taco seasoning (or make your own)
  • Pepper sauce (or make your own)
  • dry beans and peas: pinto, red beans, kidney beans, navy beans, split peas, black eye peas and so forth
  • frozen vegetables: mixed, corn, limas, broccoli, etc. (bought when on sale for $1.00 a pound or less)
  • marked down bananas and produce
  • Meat on sale (I wait for my local market to mark down the meat and base my meals on what I can find; I try not to spend more than $1.00 per pound and have found meat for .50 cents a pound but, of course, that’s rare)
  • tuna (we get three sandwiches out of each can)
  • bacon bits (good for flavor in sandwiches, omelets, grits, eggs, etc.)
  • peanut butter
  • canned vegetables on sale
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • minced garlic (useful for Mexican, Cajun, Italian and American style dishes)
  • canned tomatoes (diced, stewed, etc.)
  • canned tomatoes with green chilies
  • green chilies
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste
  • tomato juice
  • tomato soup (generic is fine)
  • mayonnaise
  • yellow mustard
  • ketchup
  • white vinegar
  • apple cider vinegar
  • syrup
  • jam
  • onions
  • celery
  • carrots
  • boxed macaroni and cheese (cheapest)
  • macaroni
  • spaghetti noodles
  • wavy noodles
  • bouillon
  • Process cheese loaf (useful for recipes that absolutely require cheese)
  • hot dogs ($1.00 or less per pound)
  • bulk sausage ($1.00 or less per pound)
  • ham pieces or ham hock (for seasoning)
  • canned biscuits
  • sour cream (optional–use in small amounts)
  • crackers (like saltines) — (optional)
  • block or shredded cheese (for flavor to soup, omelets, etc.) — (optional)
There are many things that aren’t on this list that would be wonderful to add to this list if you could afford them. Also, when things are very, very tight, there are still ways to cut costs, such as taking off all meat, sweets, coffee, etc. so please keep that in mind.
Here are some meals that are easily prepared using the frugal pantry: these meals aren’t particularly fancy but they are good and are ideas my own family regularly uses.
  • Depression dinner: Fried potatoes, potato dumplings and fried bread (from a recipe my mother remembered from the depression); very good when done right: Wash, peel and cut potatoes into wedges. Cook the potatoes in salted water until softened and bits of potato are flaking off, take out of water and drain potatoes but do not pour out the potato water as that is the basis of your dumplings. Now, take some flour (AP or SR) and add some melted margarine (or lard, shortening, broth, milk, egg or even water) to make a soft dough; put some of this dough aside for fried bread. The rest of the dough, form into spoon sized dumplings and drop into the boiling potato water. Turn off eye, set aside; these are done. Now, melt some margarine (or lard, oil, etc.) in pan. Take the potatoes and place a few in the hot grease and fry until crispy; flip and do the same on the other side. Cook all of the potato wedges this way. When finished, set aside and work on the bread: take the dough, form a smallish flattened piece and fry it in the hot grease, first one side and then the other. Finish the rest of the dough. Taste the potato dumplings and add seasonings as needed (salt, pepper, cayenne,  ham bouillon, onion powder, etc.). Serve and eat.
  • Red beans and rice (serve with cornbread): you will need red beans, garlic, onions, salt and pepper (do not add salt until beans are soft or they won’t soften); rice; cornbread ingredients. My 8-year old daughter is an addict of these!
  • Baked potatoes (top with your choice of fried eggs, creamed vegetables, margarine, salt and pepper, sour cream, etc.); if the potatoes are big enough, this can be a full meal.
  • Potato soup (I usually make this from leftover mashed potatoes); we top this with tater sauce if possible (3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup chopped onion; mix well, spoon on top)
  • Dirty rice (basically it is rice, bulk sausage, onions, and Cajun spices but can be fancied up as you are able).
  • Western supper: I found this on a box of mac and cheese when I was little and have loved it ever since; my children all grew up on it and all love it. (1 box mac & cheese–cooked and mixed, 1/2 pound sliced or diced hot dogs–heated through, 1 can tomatoes–diced or stewed or break up whole ones, 2 tablespoons relish–dill or sweet, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard, small amount of diced onion–optional)
  • Chili (use ground beef if found on sale, otherwise try chicken, ground turkey, or vegetable chili), use dry beans (kidney beans, pintos or mix; if you don’t have these, use black beans or even, for a new flavor variation, another type of bean), the cheapest canned tomatoes you can find, green chili peppers (in a small can, optional), onions, chili spices, cumin (if possible); serve with cornbread. Save leftovers for chili macaroni, to serve over hot dogs, serve with eggs for breakfast, roll up in tortilla wraps, for a chili sandwich (a favorite of my 14-yr. old son–just chili in bread), over spaghetti noodles, mix into spaghetti sauce for a new–but good–flavor, in a bean pie: mix with vegetables (like corn, tomatoes, etc.) and top with thin cornbread mixture. There are many other possibilities with this one.
  • Chicken flavored noodles: Boil egg noodles in water (just enough to cover well) to which you have added chicken bouillon and margarine. Can serve plain or add bits of chicken or various vegetables. This, served plain, is a favorite of my 18-year old son.
  • Meat cups: BBQ Cups, Pizza Cups, Taco Cups, etc.; very easy and a tiny bit of meat goes a long, long way!
  • Biscuits and gravy (milk gravy, sawmill gravy, tomato gravy, sausage gravy)
  • Cream of tomato soup, fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or grilled cheese sandwiches (for soup: use 1/3 can milk, 2/3 can water plus canned soup), top soup with a sprinkle of cheese, a dollop of sour cream, cheese crackers (cheapest fish type)
  • Cornbread and milk (My six-year old son would live on this if I’d let him.)
  • Split pea soup
  • Tuna fish’n’noodles
  • Grits casserole (delicious enough for supper)
  • Brown beans and cornbread (pintos with lots of spices and cornbread)
  • Spaghetti with homemade sauce (Large can tomato juice, 12 oz. tomato paste, 2-4 cups water, 1 diced onion–more or less, 2 tablespoons chili powder (I use it for the older ones and leave a smaller pot without it for the younger ones), 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon minced garlic; add meat and vegetables if you have them, serve over noodles. Adapt to your families preferences: use Italian seasonings, add basil, leave out the chili powder, etc.
  • Creamed peas over toast (use your basic white sauce: see above) Can also make creamed tuna over toast, creamed vegetables over toast, creamed salmon over toast, creamed chicken or beef over toast, creamed eggs over toast…or over biscuits, over noodles, over cornbread.
  • Homemade vegetable soup (a variety of onions, peas, carrots, corn, green beans, kidney beans, etc.; add potatoes, noodles, macaroni, rice, etc.; flavor with bouillon, spices)
  • Homemade ground beef or Chicken soups/stews
  • Homemade flavored rice (like the boxed kind except better)–add vegetables or a bit of meat for a full meal
  • Chicken pot pie: chicken, whatever vegetables you have on hand, homemade white sauce, chicken bouillon, a crust or biscuit crust (homemade); bake. This can be adapted to pork, ground beef, turkey, etc.
  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Chicken taco pizza: shredded chicken, taco seasonings, processed cheese loaf, a bit of water if needed to help mix–mix all together, heat until cheese is melted, spread on sliced French or Italian bread (add salsa or diced tomatoes if desired), bake until browning and slightly crispy
  • Breakfast for supper (pancakes, toast, eggs, omelets, biscuits, French toast, grits, etc.)
  • Homemade cookies (as basic as possible)
  • Homemade brownies
  • Homemade biscuits (including chocolate chip biscuits)
  • Cinnamon toast
  • Cheesy oatmeal: I’ve never known another family that served this one but it’s delicious and wonderful on cold mornings. For one serving, it’s 1/4 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup water, a dash of salt, a dab of margarine and cheese to taste (processed cheese loaf, a slice or two of cheese or cheddar will all do); cook in microwave for one minute (can also use stove).
  • Cinnamon oatmeal: cook a bowl of plain oatmeal and, when done, add a good sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on top.
  • Flavored coffee (to a cup of coffee, add a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar or make flavored coffees by adding brown sugar, syrup, spices, cocoa and sugar, vanilla, etc., to the grounds or to the cup itself)
  • Homemade cornbread
  • Homemade muffins (including chocolate chip muffins, cinnamon muffins, etc.)
The creative cook can, I’m sure, come up with many, many more ideas and probably even better ideas than these. Just remember that the point in all of this is to honor God with all we have, in all we do and put good food on the table for our family. I’d love to hear my reader’s ideas!
Happy cooking!