Most frugal cooks will make a menu plan for the week (or if they're really good, for the month!), but I've always resisted planning everything out. I like improvising. I try out new recipes constantly. I think my way is just as frugal...
We always have a freezer stocked with ground beef and chicken (sometimes other beef, and if we're REALLY lucky, lamb). We have storage pails that can hold up to 35 pounds of flour (bread flour and cake flour), brown rice, pinto beans, oatmeal, sugar, soy beans, and oat bran (we use about 1-1/2 cups per day and it stores forever). In smaller quantities, I also always have black beans, chick peas, all kinds of whole grains, and green coffee beans (stay fresh for 2 years). Then I keep a well-stocked pantry. So grocery shopping mostly consists of dairy products, a few canned items (tomato paste, which can be turned into tomato sauce, coconut milk, and diced tomatoes), peanut butter (but after we move I'm going to bulk order this from a restaurant supply store), crackers, vegetables, fruit, and a few paper goods. We've cut back on dairy quite a bit lately. I know approximately how many fruits and vegetables we need for a week, so I buy what's available at a reasonable price and very rarely will I buy any produce that costs more than $1 per pound.
We generally have meat for shabbat (Friday night/Saturday), then one night of chicken or fish, two nights of beans (usually non-dairy, with dairy available as a condiment), one night of dairy, and one breakfast night. This week we had three bean nights. Wow. And they were all actually GOOD! :)
Here's what we had this week, and what each thing costs. I won't be doing this forever, but it's interesting to see how very, very cheaply nutritious filling food can be made. I shudder to think that so many people on desperately limited food budgets are grabbing the 25-cent ramen noodles, when they could have something much more life-sustaining for the same amount of money. I fantasize (only fantasize!) about doing free $1.00 menu classes...
Being conscious of the actual costs is also good for reinforcing the desire NOT to pay way too much for things that are already made (and that don't taste nearly as good!). Here's what we had this week:
pinto bean tacos with tofu sour cream (skipped the veggies 'cause we were in a rush!)
COST: $0.50 per taco and our family ate 8 tacos
crock pot whole chicken with plum chutney, kamut, celery, and carrots
COST: $11.50 for dinner for 6 + lunch for 1
tvp/oatmeal veggie burgers with all the fixings
COST: $0.31 per burger
poached eggs, toast, and salad (lettuce, tomato, cukes, croutons, dressing; nothing fancy)
COST: $0.60 for 2 eggs, 2 pieces of toast, and salad
black bean chili with cheddar cheese, green onions, tofu sour cream, and a few chips on top
COST: $0.40 for 1 cup of chili (which is plenty!) w/fixings
We didn't get in quite as many veggies this week as I normally would. A few nights were rushed.... Sunday we HAD to have time for a family movie, Wednesday we were out picking peaches and came home to discover the crock pot hadn't been turned on (duh), and Thursday I was teaching and didn't get home until 6:45.
Other food news... I've almost finished preserving our year's supply of jam. I have one batch of blackberry to do as soon as I pick some more blackberries around the corner from us. We also picked 25 pounds of peaches on Sauvie Island this week. I'm going to let them ripen a little further. DH is making two peach pies for shabbat and for the freezer (he's a pie maker extraordinaire). I think I'm going to dry a bunch, freeze a few, and can the rest. I also got enough pickling cucumbers to do about 12 quarts of dill pickles. I need to pick up some dill seeds, then hopefully that will get done on Sunday or Monday. I haven't made pickles before, so I'm very excited about that. I'm also fantasizing about buying fresh-picked olives from Penna Olives and salt curing a bunch of my own. I'll chuck the fantasy if we end up moving to Pittsburgh early next month! But if not, that will be our, er, my reward for staying (DH doesn't understand the pickle thing OR the olive thing!).
Fun stuff. I guess this is why my kitchen is always a mess. High mileage. But I enjoy every minute of it. But not as much as I enjoy being a wife and mama. Good night!