A mother of five swears that she’s able to save a ton of time and money by cooking an entire month’s worth of dinners with only one day in the kitchen. She swears she can teach you to do it too. How? For one thing, a freezer is involved—ideally, a really big freezer.
Everybody has to eat, and nearly everybody likes to discuss what they eat, how they cook it, and how to save some cash in the process. The frugal cooking Q&A series at this blog has covered topics such as How to Eat on a Dollar a Day, How to Eat Well on $50 a Week, How to Cook Like the Frugal Foodie, and How to Cook Like a Gourmet—When You’re Broke.
Up today, we’re talking with Candace Anderson, author of the FrugalMom.net blog and the book, Frugal Mom’s Guide to Once a Month Cooking. A blurb about the book reveals that this ain’t nouvelle cuisine we’re talking about here:
This cookbook isn’t for the gourmet chef who enjoys cooking with expensive and unique ingredients – it’s for the rest of us. It’s for the average cook who wants to prepare meals the whole family will enjoy. It’s for those of use who like to cook with simple ingredients we can buy at our local grocery store, or already have on hand in our pantry.
As you’ll read in the Q&A that follows, to keep the bellies of her five sons full and not break the bank, the Frugal Mom likes to periodically serve breakfast for dinner and go with meatless meals from time to time. She also heartily endorses growing your own herbs and spices. And to make affordable meals that really stick to your ribs? Pasta and potatoes are key. Lots of pasta and potatoes.
How and why did you start writing about eating and cooking on a tight budget? Did it spring out of necessity, as a lark, or what?
Candace Anderson: Mine most certainly came about by necessity. When we got married, I wanted to have 6 kids, and my husband didn’t want to have any. So we compromised and had 5. What I failed to specify was that I’d like a mix of boys and girls, so we now have 5 boys and 4 of them are teenagers. What does that mean? Our lives are full, our pantry is constantly being depleted, and our bank account is tight. I am always on the lookout for ways to save money at the grocery store and with the food I prepare for my family. Knowing there must be other people in the same circumstance that I am in, I began writing about frugal living at my website FrugalMom.net. One part of my website that became very popular was the section on once a month cooking. I put up some of my favorite recipes on my website and people began requesting more recipes. I then decided to write a cookbook on once a month cooking to teach others not only how to save money and time at the grocery store, but how to fill their freezer with a month’s worth of delicious meals. All in one day.
Describe some of the techniques you use when you cook, and give us some tips on saving money and time at the grocery store or in the kitchen.
CA: My top tip is get into once a month cooking. If that seems overwhelming, try once a week cooking. You can even try doubling a recipe and serving half that night, and freezing the other half for another night. Once you get the hang of it, you will be hooked and you’ll love the time you save in the kitchen.
Some other tips I have for saving money at the grocery store are:
Never go to the store hungry. Leave your kids at home too. My kids are great at adding things to the cart and they know I’m a pushover for the candy aisle.
Plan your meals in advance. Plan 1-3 non-meat meals a week. This can be things like meatless spaghetti, egg sandwiches, or even bean burritos.
Make a grocery list, and stick to it. Shop at Aldi’s if possible. We drive 45 minutes to get to Aldi’s because it is that good. We cut our grocery bill in half when we started shopping there.
What are some of your favorite cheap ingredients or spices — you know, the little something that doesn’t cost much but adds a lot to a meal?
CA: I love the flavor of fresh herbs in my food, but to purchase fresh herbs can be quite costly. My solution? For the past few years I have grown my own. In the summer we grow basil, oregano, cilantro, and mint on the deck, and in the winter months we bring them into the kitchen. The flavors are fantastic and I have saved a lot of money without sacrificing taste.
Another thing I do is incorporate pasta and potatoes into most of our meals. With 5 hungry boys, it takes a lot to fill them up. I find if I have a side dish of pasta, or include it into a casserole, they get a rib sticking dinner that stays with them.
Breakfast for supper is another one of our favorites. At Aldi’s, a box of pancake mix is $1.00 and a bottle of syrup is $1.00. So for 2 bucks I have a meal my kids love. Add a dozen eggs (from our chickens we raise) to the mix and we’ve got a great dinner.
What has been the hardest thing to do, or to go without, since you started cooking and eating on a supertight budget? What are you dying to splurge on and eat right now?
CA: Fresh produce year round. How I would love to be that mom who comes home each week with grocery bags filled to the rim with fresh organic produce. Avocados are my all time favorite, but often the price is prohibitive. That is something I love to splurge on. It just seems very wrong that eating healthy is so expensive.
When you tell people about your food budget and how you cook, what sort of reactions did you get?
CA: Most people I talk to want to learn tips and tricks for saving money at the grocery store. Especially in this economic climate. But the best reaction is always from people who have never heard of once a month cooking. When I explain to them that they can have a freezer full of meals after only one day of cooking, they most always want to learn how to do it. It almost sounds too good to be true.
What have you learned about yourself, and about how people in general cook, consume food, and function as consumers, while you’ve been writing about cooking?
CA: While writing my cookbook and talking with the women who tested my recipes before they went into the cookbook, I learned that many people are passionate about cooking. But there is a twist. They want to serve delicious meals to their family, but don‘t always have the time and money to accomplish that. As a result, they are looking for ways to make their lives easier, and save money. All at the same time.