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I love to cook. Cooking to me is part adventure, part pleasure and part art. It is wholly about being a good steward of what God has blessed us with and doing good towards my family. We’ve never had a lot; this past eight years there’s been times we’ve had practically nothing. Because money is so tight I have been forced to learn to cook very frugally. I admitted in a previous post that I get frustrated by what some writers insist on calling “frugal” meals. What to them is frugal is to my family and many others the stuff that dreams are made of. Fancy foods, out of season foods and specialty foods just aren’t frugal, no matter how one slices it.

I have several favorite sites where I often check for frugal recipes. Here are the links to some of my favorite recipe blogs and websites:  http://allrecipes.com/ , http://www.thecountrycook.net/ and http://www.justapinch.com/.

When I find a new recipe that I want to try, I write it down or bookmark it or, if it’s a professional site, I save it to my “recipe box”. Sometimes I’ll pin it on Pinterest. I look for recipes that are inexpensive to make but I also sometimes save recipes that are for fancier occasions. I make sure I go back and revisit the ideas from time to time in order to keep them fresh in my mind. I do the same with cookbooks. If a “waiting to be tried” recipe is one of my cookbooks, I might mark it with a paperclip. New favorites often join old favorites into “my” cookbook: a heavy spiral bound journal I started years ago in which I write or paste our favorite recipes. It’s nearly full now so I’ve recently started a new personal cookbook. I know a lot of folks struggle like we do. Some struggle even more. I’m sure some of my readers could teach me a thing or two and if you have advice or recipes to share, we’d all appreciate it. For now I’m going to share some things that help us to make do with joy in the kitchen.

First, since I cook based on sales, I never cook the same menu two months running. Never. I cook almost all of our meals from scratch. And I hardly ever serve meat by itself. Instead I include meat in a soup, casserole, sandwiches or the such. We can’t afford to serve it as the entrée unless it’s a very special occasion (such as Thanksgiving). If we’ve found marked down ground beef, I might make chili, spaghetti, hamburger scramble, hamburger soup or a casserole. If I find chicken on clearance, I might serve BBQ chicken sandwiches, cheesy chicken sandwiches, chicken soup or a casserole. With pork, we might have BBQ pork sandwiches. I rarely serve fish as we’re not in a position for my guys to fish and it’s too expensive at the store. I also have several inexpensive recipes that rely on eggs or cheese (omelets, cheese pizza, and the such). I find that including bread of some kind at a meal both makes it stretch and fancies it up a bit. We regularly make biscuits, cornbread, rolls, bread sticks and popovers to accompany a meal. There are times that we include side dishes and there are times we don’t. Often our meals are one-pot dinners.

Second, we don’t shop at one store. Some stores are good for general items, some have great sales and some mark down produce, meat or dairy items on a regular basis. We also regularly go by Dollar stores and general item stores. You have to be careful to watch the prices at the Dollar type of stores. Some things there are a great value and some things aren’t.

Third, (though previously stated) we shop sales for as many items as is possible to find. We purschase milk marked down and, if it is whole milk, I split it 2/3 milk to 1/3 water to make it stretch. We look for scratch and dent items. We buy discounted meat and veggies and fruits on clearance. We also shop loss leaders and look for weekly sales items. We don’t go on one shopping trip; to do so would defeat our purpose. We shop all during the month, spending just a bit here and a bit there. Usually, to save gas, my husband does the shopping on his way home from work. I myself only usually do it once or twice a month. He goes and looks and if he finds a great sale, he calls and asks if it is something I can use for a meal.

Fourth, I aim to spend around $10.00 to $12.00 for a supper and $3.00 to $4.00 for breakfast. That’s for the nine of us currently at home. Hard to do? Sometimes. Impossible? No. The other night I made pizza cups for supper. The grand total cost? Around $6.00. Lunch is usually leftovers or sandwiches.

Fifth, and this should probably be first, I pray for God’s guidance in my meal planning, to help us find good sales, to know how to manage our food and the food budget. He always answers.

Sixth, if I can afford to I will make a fancier meal once or twice a month. It’s good for morale and, since we don’t go out to eat, this is our special treat. Even then I plan them around items bought on sale so, though it’s more expensive than my usual meals, it’s still quite reasonable. I also try to make a fun meal for Friday nights which are our family nights. The fun meal might be pizza, spaghetti or some other meal that is especially child friendly while also being budget friendly.

Seventh, I use seasonal fruits and vegetables and canned or frozen vegetables. Speciality items are a no-no.

Eight, spices make the meal. Seriously. Even our dogs enjoy the foods that we’ve spiced up, no matter how simple they are. Whether it’s spaghetti, jambalaya, dirty rice, homemade beef rice-a-roni, or some other meal, spices can make a meal seem more special even if the ingredients are humble ones.

Ninth, I serve water, homemade sweet tea or unsweetened tea or homemade lemonade for lunches and suppers.

Tenth, I almost always only serve dessert once a week and that’s on Family Night.

Eleventh, when time and money are short, I have some inexpensive store-bought meals that I fall back on. One such meal is ravioli and garlic bread. By buying two large cans (the ones equivalent to six regular size cans) and serving garlic bread with it, it meets our price range and it’s tasty too. Another such meal is canned tomato soup and pb&j sandwiches or grilled cheese sandwiches. A third would be frozen burritos.

Twelfth, I try to cook meals that I know my family enjoys. No matter how cheap a meal, it becomes expensive if no one eats it. I’m sensitive to the fact that one son hates beans and rice unless it’s in very specific meals (such as jambalaya, red beans and rice or chili). So if I cook beans or rice, I try to prepare something that I know he’ll enjoy (maybe homemade mac-n-cheese, an omelet or a sandwich).

And that’s about it for now. What are your best suggestions for saving money when shopping or your favorite frugal meal?