Monday, June 20, 2011

Frugal Fare

This month, I'm trying to put my money where my mouth is. And I'm trying to minimise the dollar amount. Let me explain.

Last month, my family's food bill was a whopping $1,400. That includes groceries, two dinners out, and the occasional trip to our neighbourhood coffee shop. Still, $1,400 is a big mouthful to swallow. If we keep stuffing our faces at that rate, our food bill will amount to $16,800 a year.

So, my resolve to chop our food costs by one third. I'm sure I can feed my family of two adults and three children under the age of 11 for about $933, or $233 per week. I came up with those numbers  after taking an informal survey of friends and their grocery costs. On average, it seems most normal  families spend less than $1k per month. That includes the families with voracious teenagers.

Once I had a dollar limit in mind, I consulted my chef friend who reminded me of what restaurants do. They meal plan. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner, each day of the week is planned for. When the chef buys her ingredients, she buys only what she needs to make the week's menu, plus whatever kitchen staples need replenishing.

I like to experiment with food. If I see an interesting ingredient or food product, I'll likely take it home.  I have a block of tamarind paste that I bought last February. It's still unopened. I have a half litre bag of corn flour that I bought on sale. It too is untouched. There's the unopened bottle of fish sauce -- the third bottle in my pantry. I have enough packages of rice noodles to feed an orphanage. Maybe this is part of the reason why our food bill is so high.

For the past few weeks, I was ultra-disciplined. I stuck to my list. I stuck to my weekly meal plans.
(I only digressed when I bought several cartons of blueberries and strawberries along with fresh corn and the first watermelon of the season.)

So far, the numbers are looking good. With a week and a half left in the month, I've spent $804.44 on food - nowhere near the $1400 from last month. My kids aren't starving. (Although our friends who hosted us for dinner Saturday night might beg to differ.)  I also dug up some hearty, frugal recipes.

Here's one of those frugal recipes. It's a fusion of two of my favourite salads. It's crunchy, salty and sweet in one bowl. I served it for brunch on Sunday and then made another batch as a side dish for dinner that same day.  One warning though: if you intend to pack this for lunch, you may want to issue a smelly lunch alert due to the blue cheese.
Bean & Blue Cheese Salad with Lemon Yogurt Dressing

Bean & Blue Cheese Salad

2 heads Boston/ iceberg lettuce, rinsed and torn  into bite-size pieces
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes
1 can black beans rinsed and drained
2 ears of corn cut off the cob/ 1 can of corn niblets
1 cucumber sliced
1 red peppers diced
1 avocado, diced
4 ounces blue cheese

Combine the beans and vegetables in a large bowl. Crumble in the blue cheese. Serves 6 - 8. 

Lemon Yogurt Dressing:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
juice from 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt & pepper

You'll have enough dressing for two or three salads. Enjoy.
And if you have any frugal recipes to share, please feel free to be generous.

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