Notes, Dinner Ideas, and Tips from the Kitchen of a (Semi) Thrifty Newlywed


{or, what I have found to be useful foods to have on hand when living with a boy}

I used to go to the grocery store a lot, probably at least every other day. I never really kept a cornucopia of food staples; I would simply go to the store when I needed something like, say, a green pepper or an onion or a pound of ground beef. There are two grocery stores in relatively close distances to my apartment, so it wasn't a huge deal to run out for one or two things, and I never kept track of how many times I went there to spend seven or nine or fifteen dollars at a time.

But now I'm living with Jordan, and where before we really only ate dinner together, and not even every night, I have since realized that he needs breakfast too, and he needs to make his lunch too. And--shock!--we don't necessarily like the same things. And, oh yeah, he eats twice as much as I do, so the supply dwindles quickly. What I make for dinner and can eat for the rest of the week, with two of us there's hardly enough for leftovers at all sometimes. 

And, hello, it's not 1957, and I'm not going to stand at the oven cooking meals every night in my apron. I also don't have time, nor do I want to, go to the store every day to pick up one or two things.

So what to do?

Maybe this isn't a revelation for anyone but me, but a few weeks ago I called my mom, and she happened to be at the grocery store. 

"I'm just picking up some things," she said. 
"Like what?" Then I proceeded to launch into my recent this-boy-I'm-living-with-needs-food-like-all-the-time-and-I-don't-know-what-to-cook-for-dinner frustration.

That's when she hit me with a brilliant mom bomb. 
"Do what I'm doing right now," she said. "Go to the store and get all sorts of things. Frozen chicken, frozen pizzas, instant rice, a few packets of taco seasoning, crackers, frozen vegetables, ground beef. And what does he like for lunch? Does he like deli meat?"
"Yeah...I think so."
"Then get some deli meat! Some turkey and ham and some cheese. Lettuce, maybe some pickles."

She continued on like this for a few more minutes, and I was finally starting to understand. That's why people only go to the store a few times a month (unless, of course, they need something specific). They stockpile food and buy a bunch of stuff that can be used for a number of different meals!

This obviously should not have been an ah ha! moment. I realize this, and I am ashamed. However, it was, and there's nothing I can do about it except move forward with my new outlook on cooking and food in general.

And so I bring you...
...a list of some easy ideas for dinner that involve ingredients you can have on hand so you aren't going to the grocery store every day. I also have included some tips that have saved us money on things we use a lot.

Block of cheese vs. cheese from a bag. This is tried and true: the cheese most definitely lasts longer than if you buy a block. Also, a block of cheese is a better deal. Plus, it's better for you. Did you know that in the bagged cheese they use wax to keep the cheese from clumping together? But who cares about clumps when you're just going to eat it? I'd rather not have wax, thank you very much. I bought the Pampered Chef cheese grater, and it has most certainly changed my life. Yes, it takes slightly more time to grate than to scoop out from a bag, but you're 1) burning calories grating 2) not eating wax. It's a win any way you look at it.

Real garlic cloves vs. garlic from a jar. I used to buy the crushed garlic that came in that small glass jar. Jordan loves garlic, and we use it on almost everything, so I decided to buy a garlic press and see how that worked (again, Pampered Chef, but I swear this isn't a PC advertisement). This handy kitchen gadget has also changed my life. Did you know real garlic is so much better than garlic from a jar? Yes, that seems obvious, but it's actually very true. Also, using a garlic press is fun.

Ground beef, chicken, pork chops, etc. Up until a few weeks ago, I rarely bought more than one meat at a time. I would buy whatever I had planned for that night, and that was it. I was worried it would go bad and I'd end up wasting money. Then I discovered a little thing called a freezer, and I've decided it's quite handy. Last time I went to the grocery store, I bought two pounds of ground beef, a case of chicken tenders, and some boneless pork chops. I froze everything but what I wanted to use that night, and I've had meat on hand for a few different meals now! Again, this isn't rocket science, but for whatever reason I am just now figuring out how to organize my food and plan meals.

There are also many ways to cook said meats. Last night I Googled "how to cook pork chops" and found a number of different articles. I ended up using Pioneer Woman's recipe for pan-fried pork chops. They were so easy and delicious, and I didn't even need to run to the store for ingredients.

I also make sure to keep a packet or two of taco seasoning in stock. Tacos are a relatively easy meal (as long as you have shells). And you can make them as complicated or bare as you want!

Potatoes. I've made potato wedges twice now, and both times they have turned out brilliantly. (Here's an easy PW recipe that you can adjust as needed.) First, though, you need to buy a sack of potatoes. It's like $5 at the store, and they last for a while. I wash a few (maybe 4 or 5), cut them into wedges, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook in the oven at 400 for 45ish minutes. You just need to take them out and turn the wedges over once or twice. Jordan loves these, and they pair up well with a meat you already have in the fridge and/or freezer.

Frozen vegetables. I buy the bags you can steam by cooking in the microwave. They're about a dollar each, and they're delicious. I stock up on these when I'm at the store, and we have vegetables on hand for weeks.

A bag of whole carrots vs. a bag of baby carrots. Much like the grated cheese vs. bag of cheese issue, I've found that buying a bag of whole, unpeeled, uncut carrots is a better deal and lasts longer than if I buy a bag of baby carrots. Yes, it does take longer because I have to cut and peel them all, but I think they are much more delicious. Also, I've found that I kind of like cutting carrots. Maybe that's just me. (Cut up some carrots and cook them in the oven with the potato wedges. Just do it. It's the most delicious thing ever.)

A bag of onions vs. one onion. Onions last a long time; at least, they seem to with me. But it's annoying to need an onion and not have one. One time I bought a bag of onions, and it was the best thing ever. When I needed an onion, I had it, and they took a while to run out. But I knew when I was running low and could prepare adequately. I will never go back to buying just one onion at a time.

Hot dogs w/chili, onions, and cheese. If you're like us and don't have a grill, you need to improvise. Cook hot dogs in a skillet and chop up some onions and saute them in some butter in the same skillet while the hot dogs are cooking. Then, you can either eat them as is or add some [grated] cheese on top! I've also started buying a few cans of chili, which makes for a super quick and easy chili dog. All I do is heat up the chili and get out the buns. A pack of hot dogs and a can of chili [with beans] can last awhile.

Instant rice and chicken bowl. Remember those veggies I told you about? Well if you make sure to have a box of instant rice on hand and a bag of frozen chicken in the freezer, you can make a chicken and rice bowl in no time. This is one of Jordan's favorite meals, and it couldn't be easier. Just cook some rice, heat up the chicken, put them together in a skillet with a bag of veggies, some cheese, and some spices/seasonings, and you have a delicious, healthy meal. And if you make enough, you can have leftovers for a day or two.

* * *

Those are just a few of the many new things I've been trying over the past month or so. And I've found that the supply of recipes is endless (thank you, Google). You just have to think outside the box sometimes or the bun or the take-out menu. Though we did order Chinese last night. But you can't really make that.... can you?
Janie Allyson Schneider said...

you crack me up!! I had to learn this as well...every tip you gave, I have been doing for awhile...just since I've been married though:) oh amanda, i think you're great.