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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Works for Me Wednesday: Stretching the Food Budget

We have a larger family. Five children is no longer within the normal range of family size in the U.S. and it takes quite a bit of food to feed us all. We laugh now at recipes which use 8" X 8" pans or say things like serves 4. Since we live on one income, and it would actually be even more expensive for me to go out to work, even if I wanted to do so, we have learned how to make our budget stretch. A friend of mine thinks I should give seminars on grocery shopping and cooking as a service to homemakers and women who wish to be homemakers and thus add to our income a little and our pediatrician after asking if I was still at home with the kids said that of course I was, we wouldn't be able to afford five children if I was at work. Part of how I stretch our budget is by having a purpose for any leftovers.

Take breakfast, for instance. We like oatmeal here, partly because it tastes good, partly because it is inexpensive (especially when you buy it in bulk, as we do), partly because it is nutritious, partly because it is filling and easy to make. Most breakfasts during the week here are either oatmeal (steel cut or rolled, depending on how early we arose), or some sort of egg and toast with a glass of juice or milk. However, with boys that eat more than I do, who go through spurts of eating until we make them stop, it is sometimes hard to gauge how much to make. I tend to err on the too much side.

The fact is, though, that nobody wants to eat gloppy, leftover oatmeal. No matter how inexpensive it is, it is wasteful to just toss it, and costs us more per serving if we do that. Not to mention that we are pretty big on not wasting food as a general principle here in the Arabian Knits home. So, I use that leftover oatmeal to make bread. You can also add it to pancake batter or cookie dough. Today, I made four loaves of bread in our bread machine using the leftover oatmeal from two days ago that had been taking up real estate in our fridge. It was a container of about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of oatmeal. One became an oatmeal applesauce bread, another an oatmeal sesame bread, a third a honey whole wheat bread and the fourth a cinnamon apple bread. We freeze these and pull them out when we don't even have the time to dump bread ingredients in the bread machine, or when we forget to do so.

I don't really measure it, I just put about a third to a half a cup in the bread machine, add the fat (butter or olive oil), sweetener (sugar, honey or molasses), salt, flour (white or whole wheat), yeast and about 3/4 of a cup of liquid (water, milk, juice, beer, flat champagne, etc). I use the same ratio of other ingredients, I just reduce the liquid. I also watch it while it mixes in the first 15-20 minutes, and add more flour or liquid if it seems necessary.

By the way, our bread machine has been a food budget lifesaver. We bought our first two second hand at thrift shops for less than $15 each, our third we got on Freecycle. We basically work them into the ground and then get a new one. We make at least one loaf of bread a day, with some days seeing us make two or three or more. We use it to mix dough while we do other things, so we can make shaped loaves or rolls. I even have a bread machine recipe for croissant dough. We buy bread flour in 50 lb bags at a steep discount, and even our artisan breads cost about $0.20-0.40 a loaf.

I can almost always use leftovers from one meal as an ingredient for another food item or meal. I've used leftover cheese sauce to make a crustless quiche/soufflé type thing, leftover rice gets put into soup or fried rice, we've even made a sandwich spread with leftovers that was quite delicious.

Having a use for leftovers works for me!

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Thanks for the tips! I am always looking for ways to stretch my budget!
That is a great, organised way to cook! I am very impressed.

I'm too lazy to think about that, so I just make sure I cook just enough for 4 meals everytime.
I've got 4 kids myself, plus my daughter's boyfriend lives with us. I just automatically double recipes, LOL! (My youngest is 16, the others are 20,22 and 24. So I'm feeding 1 quasi-adult and 6 adults!)
Hi! Did you by chance get my email?- Briana
I don't know where you get your yeast, but the cheapest place I've found for yeast is Costco. Two pounds for ~$4, last time I bought it.

I pour some into a container I keep in the fridge, the rest I keep wrapped up tightly in the freezer, and it keeps long enough even for my very small family.

(Health food stores also often sell it cheaply--much better than the $4 for 4 oz for the little jars at the grocery store!)
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