One of the skills that I have endeavoured to share with Little Bear in preparation for womanhood, is the ability to manage a food budget and to create menus based on meals that are frugal but healthy. I've been thinking a wee bit about healthy eating recently and about how to fit this into a sensible weekly menu without spending more money, or creating meals that are overly restrictive. It is our belief as a family that God doesn't intend for us to eat diets that unecessarily restrict or avoid certain foods. He created all the foodstuffs that are available to us - meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, dairy, pulses, nuts - and things like sugar, too! Unless one of us were to develop a food allergy or other illness that required an adjustment of our diet (as guided by a medical practitioner) then we see no reason to become obsessed with our food. We eat well, but sensibly - with room for the occasional treat!
The menu and recipes that follow are ones that Little Bear and I have put together recently to provide meals for a family on a limited budget that still fall within the category of sensible but hearty. They could easily be multiplied for a larger family than our's, or even halved, for a newly-wed couple just starting out in their first home together. The menu doesn't include breakfasts but these could easily be added using simple dishes such as oatmeal, yogurt and fruit, and toast.
This is a long post - so make yourself a cup of tea and settle down somewhere comfortable before you begin to read!
- Saturday - cheese coleslaw and herb bread
- Sunday - soup and herb bread
- Monday - soup and herb bread
- Tuesday - rice salad and wholegrain rolls
- Wednesday - tuna salad and wholegrain rolls
- Thursday - coleslaw and peanut butter sandwiches
- Friday - pasta salad and cheese sandwiches
Evening Meals ...
- Saturday - meatballs in tomato sauce with pasta and cheese
- Sunday - pork casserole
- Monday - spicy potatoes, lentils and rice and herb bread
- Tuesday - beany potato pie
- Wednesday - Boston baked beans
- Thursday - Bangers and mash with Boston baked beans
- Friday - tuna and pasta bake
On Saturday morning, prepare a double batch of bread dough to make the herb bread that you will be eating for the next 2 days. This is best done by hand and baked in 2 2 lb loaf tins in the oven together. Use a simple wholegrain bread recipe like this one ... (this is for 2 2lb loaves)
1 tablespoon dried yeast
1/2 cup tepid water
2 1/2 cups milk or water
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup dried milk powder
2 tablespoons wheatgerm (this is usually found in the cereals aisle in the supermarket)
2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs
1 teaspoon garlic salt
7 - 8 cups wholegrain flour
Activate the yeast by placing in the 1/2 cup tepid water. This may take as long as 15 minutes.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make an indentation in the centre of the mixture and add the yeast.
Mix gently, then begin to incorporate the milk or water. Stop when you have a stiff dough.
Knead for 10 minutes on a floured surface, then place back in the mixing bowl. Rub a little butter or oil on the surface of the dough to stop it drying out as it rises, and cover with cling film and a clean dry towel. Leave to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
When risen, place on floured board and punch down. Knead for a couple of minutes.
Now divide into 2 equal pieces, and place in 2 prepared 2 1/2 lb loaf tins. Cover with cling film and a clean dry towel and allow to rise again for about 30 minutes.
Now uncover and place in a hot oven - as hot as it will go. You can spray the surfaces of the loaves with a little water if you wish, or do as I do and sprinkle with seeds.
After 15 minutes, reduce temperature of oven to a moderate heat and bake for another 20 minutes or so. It may take your loaves less time than this to be baked, or it may take slightly longer. They are done when the base of a loaf sounds hollow when knocked. If it isn't quite done, replace in tin and bake for 10 minutes more, then test again.
Remove from tins immediately when baked, and cool on a wire tray.
Saturday lunchtime - make the coleslaw. Use 1/2 head white cabbage, 4 red apples, 1 onion, 4 carrots, 6 oz grated cheddar cheese, 4 tablespoons mayonnaise, the juice of 2 lemons and some seasoning to make up a fresh batch of coleslaw. Serve with the warm bread and some butter.
Saturday afternoon - put on a big pan of tomato sauce to simmer for the meatballs. Use 1 chopped onion, 3 14 oz cans of chopped tomatoes, 2 teaspoons mixed Italian herbs and 1 teaspoon garlic paste. Sautee the chopped onion in a little oil, then add the tins of tomato and the seasonings, and turn down the heat on the stove. Simmer for about an hour.
To make the meatball dish ...
1 package 24 ready-made meatballs (I use 8 per man in the family and 4 for the women)
Tomato sauce as already made
1 package dried wholegrain pasta shapes
6 oz grated cheddar cheese
Begin by putting the pasta on to boil in a large saucepan. I normally use 2 or 3 handfulls of pasta per person when I am making a dish like this, which has other ingredients, but the lunch on this day is not heavy, so I tend to serve a larger evening meal.
While the pasta is cooking, put the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes. This is healthier than pan-frying them, but seals the outsides in the same way.
After the pasta is done (will take about 15 minutes), drain, then combine with the sauce in the pan.
Place the part-baked meatballs in a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish or roasting tin. Add the pasta sauce, and cover with the grated cheese. Bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling.
Serve with a mixed salad. We tend to only eat dessert at weekends, and at this time of year, this simple microwave banana pudding is a nutritious and tasty dish to serve which is cheap and simple to make. Sometimes I will use self-rising wholegrain flour instead of the usual all-purpose, to make it healthier still.
Sunday morning before Church - prepare your soup for your lunch, and the pork for your evening meal. Start by cutting up 4 onions, then divide into 2 equal portions. Do the same with some a swede (these can be tough! I find them easier to handle if I shave off a little from one side first so that I have a flat surface to lean on. Then I use a large butcher's knife to slice into cubes. Peel and cut into cubes about 8 potatoes. Now cut up 2 apples - no need to peel. Put 2 of the chopped onions, the swede, the potatoes, and the apples into your slow-cooker. Add a piece of pork shank - the cheapest cut of pork available in the supermarket and often less than £2 for the entire joint. Add 1/2 pint hot stock of your choice, and leave to cook on high until you are ready to eat in the evening.
Now sautee the other 2 chopped onions in a large pan. Add to these chopped vegetables of your choice - carrots, celery, potatoes, leeks, parsnips, beets, courgettes (zucchini) - whatever is seasonal or on offer at the supermarket.
Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add about 2 pints vegetable or chicken stock, and 6 oz yellow split peas (no need to soak first).
Turn down the heat and cook for about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and leave until you are ready to eat your lunch. All you will need to do to prepare the meal when you return from Church is to cut half of the second herb loaf into slices, and warm up the soup!
Your evening meal is also ready whenever you want to eat it without any extra work - so you have the rest of your Sunday to enjoy as you please! I like to serve the pork casserole with some steamed fresh spring greens. For dessert we often enjoy impossible chocolate pie with this dish.
Note - pork shank is not smoked, so although you will fetch up with a bone, this is not suitable for using to make stock for soup with (trust me, I've tried, and it tastes horrible). Although it may seem less economical to use this cut than a bacon joint that you could then use to make stock with, the cost of the port shank is considerably less than an equivalently sized bacon joint, so I prefer to make a vegetarian soup by using stock cubes instead of home made bone stock, as this works out as a cheaper option all around. When we do splash out and have ham hock instead of pork shank, it does make the most beautiful pea and ham soup, though!
On Monday morning, get the lentils and rice ready to soak by placing 10 oz green lentils and 10 oz brown rice in a large bowl. Cover with cold water and leave to soak with a plate placed over the top of the bowl. Make a batch of wholegrain rolls using the recipe above, halved (it will probably fit into your breadmaker on the dough cycle if you prefer), omitting the seasonings. These will be for tomorrow and Wednesday. Prepare Monday's lunch now if you have members of your family who will need a pack-up, using thermos flasks to keep the soup warm. Make sure to keep a portion over for yourself!
Monday's evening meal is quite simple to prepare - just cook the lentils and rice with a chopped onion in some vegetable or chicken stock, and prepare a roasting pan for the potaoes.
Peel and cut into quarters about 10 medium potatoes (or more if you have a hungry family like mine). Place in the roasting tin and spray with one-cal cooking spray (called FryLite in England).
Now toss in a mixture of chilli flakes, garlic salt, nutritional yeast flakes, salt, pepper and savoury seasoning - the choice is yours - see what you have in your cupboards and experiment! Sometimes I add onion salt or a little chilli powder as well. Roast for about 45 minutes.
I often cook a few beefburgers or veggie burgers with this, if we have some in the freezer, but it is very satisfying just as it comes. You will have left-overs from the lentils and rice - this is the base for your salad for tomorrow's lunch.
Before you go to bed on Monday, put about 10 cups dried pulses to soak in a large bowl and leave out on your countertop overnight. This is for Tuesday and Wednesday's evening meals.
For Tuesday's lunch, mix the leftover lentils and rice with some chopped fresh tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and one red onion. Make a salad dressing using walnut oil, lemon or lime juice, garlic salt, apple cider vinegar, English mustard and honey. This needs to be kept chilled if it is being taken as a pack-up, so send off with a cool-pack in lunchboxes if you have members of your family on the move all day! Pack up some wholegrain rolls as well, spread with a little cream cheese if you have some. It's easy to make your own cream cheese, if you have some plain yogurt (which is also easy to make yourself without any fancy equipment) - just strain a few tablespoons into a bowl using a clean cloth such as a new dishcloth or a piece of muslin or similar close-weave fabric. Stretch the fabric across the bowl and secure with cord or elastic bands. Place the yogurt on the fabric, cover with cling film or foil, then leave in the fridge overnight. You will fetch up with "cream cheese" in the cloth, and whey in the bowl - which can be used to add to salad dressings or cereals.
During Tuesday afternoon, cook your soaked pulses. Start by rinsing them well with fresh water, then place in a large saucepan or cooking pot and cover with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil and boil fiercely for 15 minutes (this is a little longer than recommended but will ensure absolutely all your pulses are safe to eat). Then turn down the heat to the lowest-but-one setting, and simmer for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes. When done, strain, and place half the cooked beans in a sealable plastic container to refrigerate until tomorrow. Keep the other half out to make Tuesday's evening meal.
Wash up the pan you cooked the pulses in, and now boil about 8 peeled, cubed potatoes. When soft, drain and mash with butter or margarine and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to use in Tuesday's evening meal (I do it in this way because I only have one large saucepan. If you have the luxury of two pans, you can do this stage when you are simmering the bean mixture as described below).
For Tuesday's evening meal cut up one red onion and sautee in a little oil (you can also use Fry Lite, in which case I would advise adding about a tablespoon of water to the pan as well).
While it is cooking gently, cut into 1 cm cubes 4 peeled carrots, 8 peeled potatoes, 2 prepared leeks and a couple of peeled parsnips. Add these to the pan as well and sautee until soft.
Add to the saucepan 2 tins chopped tomatoes, and simmer for a few minutes.
Now add 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg and simmer for another minute or two.
Add the cooked pulses, and then add to the mixture just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes.
When cooked, turn the mixture into a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish, and layer the mashed potatoes on the top. Grate some cheese over the top and bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Serve with salad, or cooked greens (that second pan will be handy again!).
For Wednesday's lunch, make a tuna salad on Wednesday morning before your family leave for work. Use 2 7 oz cans of drained, flaked tuna canned in brine or spring water, and mix with 1 can drained sweetcorn, 1 can drained mushroom pieces, 1 chopped red onion (chop 3 all at the same time and reserve remainder), 1/2 chopped cucumber, 1/2 chopped red pepper (chop 2 all at the same time and reserve remainder) the juice of 2 lemons and 6 tablespoons mayonnaise. with salt and pepper to taste. Add some flaked almonds and salad leaves of your choice.
After that, get your slow-cooker out ready to prepare Wednesday's evening meal. For this you need the other half of the pulses that you cooked yesterday. Get the rest of the red onion and the red peppers that you prepared when you were making the salad, and place these in the slow-cooker. Add to them the cooked pulses, 2 cans baked beans in tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon tomato puree, 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce, 1 teaspoon molasses, salt, pepper and a dash of apple cider vinegar. Cook on high until you are ready to eat.
An hour and 15 minutes before Wednesday's evening meal is to be eaten place 6 large potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, and pierced a few times with a fork, in the oven and bake. I usually serve 2 for the menfolk and 1 each for Little Bear and I.
You will need another 2 loaves of bread for the next 2 lunches - I usually make one in my bread machine overnight and we may eat some of that hot with our breakfast, and then another one the next day in the same way. This adds variety to the sort of loaf we eat, and also to our breakfasts.
For Thursday's lunch, use the coleslaw recipe above, and make up some sandwiches with peanut butter (and jam/banana if liked - Cubby likes his with cheese as well, but then he likes cheese with everything!).
Thursday's tea is easy too - bake some sausages in the oven (we like Cumberland sausages, which come in a pack of 8, so I normally cook 2 packs and use the leftovers for Friday's pasta salad lunch). These can be bought in bulk when on discount and frozen - to freeze, separate into pairs, and wrap in greaseproof paper first, then foil. You can cook them straight from frozen, in which case add 10 minutes to the cooking time. I normally bake sausages in the oven as they are already quite high in fat, but if you prefer, they can be grilled (broiled) or fried. This will take slightly less time than oven-baking them. If you would rather try something altogether healthier, what about vegetarian sausages? They take about the same amount of time in the oven, and taste almost exactly like "real" sausages. The texture is not quite as rich, but they are nevertheless a very good substitue - and about half the calories of their meat counterparts for almost the same amout of money.
While these are cooking, boil 12 peeled chopped potatoes in a pan on the stovetop. When soft, drain and mash with butter or margarine, and season. Serve the sausages and mash with left-over Boston baked beans from Wednesday.
Before you get ready for your evening's rest, cook some pasta for tomorrow's lunch and tea. Take 1 1/2 bags dried pasta shapes, and boil in plenty of water. When cooked, drain and store in the fridge in a plastic container or ziplock bag. Cooked pasta will keep in this way for several days in the fridge so you can do this to suit your schedule. As I say, I only have one large saucepan, so I like to do this when it is not needed immediately for something else.
Ahh, Friday! Friday's lunch uses the left-over sausages from yesterday's evening meal - slice them into eighths, then add 1/3 of the cooked pasta. Add chopped salad vegetables of your choice, such as cucumber, celery, tomatoes, red onion, red peppers or radishes. Then make a dressing of walnut oil, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, mustard, honey and seasonings. Make up some sandwiches of cream cheese or grated cheddar cheese to go with the salad.
For Friday's evening meal, take 2 7 oz cans drained, flaked tuna canned in brine or spring water, the rest of the cooked pasta, 2 14 oz cans chicken and mushroom soup and 1 can drained mushroom pieces. You could also add some sweetcorn or frozen peas to this, but we prefer it just as it is. Place the ingredients in a 9 x 13 inch casserole and cover with grated cheese, then bake for 40 minutes in a moderate oven. Serve with cooked greens (we especially like it with green beans).
We hope you will feel inspired to try creating your own frugal menu! This one is designed to make the most not only of your money, but also your time - it's quite flexible, but a little planning ahead means you save minutes in the kitchen, yet still get to enjoy wholesome, home cooked food that is suitable for all the family. Enjoy!