Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dinner on a Dime

I'm finding it hard to get my head around the fact that Thanksgiving has already passed, and we are barreling headlong toward Christmas and the New Year. JM and I sat down last night to look at our calendars and we realized that between parties, holidays, visitors, and travel, we have hardly a free night between now and the next decade (get ready for the '10s!). And while we are looking forward to all of that with feverish enthusiasm, all of those things plus our holiday shopping have us feeling like there are dollar bills sprouting wings and flying out of our wallets.
So around this time of year, I start getting very resourceful about the meals we do eat at home. And I'm betting a lot of you could use a little resourceful yourselves right about now. Here are some strategies I use to make weeknight dinners quick, easy and very inexpensive (we're talking less than $5/ serving). So instead of just giving in and shelling out on take-out all season, take some of these tips and you can spend those spondulics on something a little more festive. Like tinsel. Or noisemakers. Or fruitcake.

Well, maybe not fruitcake.

Seven Cheap Supper Strategies

1. Double Duty: Instead of planning your meals one-by-one, think ahead, and you can often get several meals for the price of one. Roast a chicken for tonight's dinner, and, instead of allowing your husband to eat seconds, reserve half the meat to make a chicken pasta, salad, or soup for tomorrow night. You'll be amazed at how doing this can cut your labor and grocery bills in half.
2. Soup-endous: Make a big pot of soup this weekend (try black bean or a hearty veggie soup), and you'll have meals for the week, for pennies each. Double the recipe and freeze half, and you'll be set for next week, too! Sure, you might get sick of it by Friday, but think of the money you'll save!
3. Breakfast for Dinner: Instead of shelling out in the meat aisle every night, look to an unexpected source to get your nightly protein- eggs. Try a rustic Italian-style poached egg, or a cheese omelet with a salad for a meal that is faster than fast food, and healthier and cheaper, too.
4. Presto Pasta: Think you have nothing to eat in the house? Before you go blow your paycheck at the market, check your pantry again. If you've got pasta in there, you've got a cheap, easy dinner. To dress it, saute an onion with that leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, or mix whole wheat pasta with fresh herbs, butter, and lemon juice for a simple, delicious dinner. If you can root a meal out of your pantry, that's a dinner that is essentially free.
5. Kitchen Sink Salad: A lunch staple for me is what I call a "kitchen sink salad" or a "random effing salad", in which I take a bowl of greens and toss in anything in my kitchen that looks appealing. Dried cranberries from the cupboard? Sure. Hard-boiled eggs? Why not? Last night's leftover salmon? In it goes. Take it as an opportunity to clean out your fridge and make dinner at the same time. Top it with a little homemade vinaigrette, and you'll be in business. Is it effing random? Yes, but it's usually also pretty tasty.
6. Frozen Assets: When looking for dinner resources, don't forget about that other compartment in your fridge (you know, the colder one). I almost always keep a couple boxes of frozen peas or spinach in there (great pasta or add-ins), and sometimes I luck out and find a frozen burrito or pot pie. If you don't have those things at home, check out the freezer section of your market- you can usually find something inexpensive and tasty to eat in a pinch (and, as a bonus, you may be able to cook the whole meal in your microwave)!
7. Stay Late: When all else fails, consider this nefarious strategy for getting a free meal- stay late at work. Most employers are required to pay for dinner when workers stay past 8 p.m. If you are already stuck at your desk til 7, spend the extra hour doing some online gift shopping, and cash in on a free sandwich for your efforts. Sure, it's not exactly ethical, but I'm guessing it's not the first time you've wasted time at work. For instance, what are you doing right now?

photo credit: Martha Stewart


Christine said...

Great post! This is on my to do list for tonight or tomorrow to inventory holiday plans and meals I might have to cook!
And I am a master at snagging a free lunchtime sandwich in our kitchen at work post conference or meeting! :)

Julia said...

Enjoyed this!
Soups are such a good bet. And I like to make "kitchen sink" casseroles and crustless quiches. (Sometimes they turn out better than others...)