Take Me Somewhere Else
I didn’t think much about dinner when I was growing up. I got to the table at a certain time and there was food. I didn’t consider it magic or hard work. It just was. Little did I know there was a lot of preparation to get that food on that table.
My father did all the cooking. To this day I wish I would’ve gotten his recipe for his chili. I’ve also tried to duplicate his Spanish Rice. But it’s been twenty years now. I don’t think I’m going to get the right ingredient. I thought it was ketchup. But it wasn’t. I didn’t realize he had to go to the grocery store and plan these dinners out. I really don’t remember much fast food at our house. I DO remember Spam, and liver with onions, and those horrible salmon patties that man loved so much. It wasn’t until I got older and out of the restaurant business (where I could just walk into the kitchen to get something to eat with no hassle) that I found out that dinner is an actual chore. And – by gawd – you better start digging in while it’s hot. I didn’t spend an hour create these meals just to let it sit there on the counter getting cold. I even put up a dinner bell in the living room so that when dinner is done I ring that bell. Everyone comes running. So it all works out.
As is almost always the case, I end up going to the grocery store at least 3 times a week. I swear we must pay their rent at that store. Or cover the electric bill. But lately, I’ve found myself with only $60 with 6 days of dinner to cover. That’s just below $10 a day. And since Tim doesn’t eat anything without meat in it, my job to make dinner gets difficult. If it was just me eating I could pull this off. But it’s not. I have Tim and 2 dogs that love to eat. We don’t do fast food (and haven’t since around 2001) so this dinner making business gets a little tricky. Putting a chalkboard up in the kitchen to plan out the daily meals helps me out a lot. When I go into the grocery store I know exactly what I need and how long it will stretch out.
So how did I do it? The first part was compromising with Tim. Like most people he is brainwashed on what he’ll eat. For example – he won’t eat ANY ketchup unless it’s from Heinz. He won’t eat any hot dog unless it’s made from beef. He won’t eat any fish unless it’s Tilapia. There are a few more of these, but you get the jist. I, however, have no hangups. I will grab store brand items because they’re usually cheaper. He doesn’t know the broccoli was frozen and is Winn-Dixie brand at $1.70 for the bag compared to $3 for a bunch of broccoli. I save $1.30 going that route. He just knows its broccoli floating around in his food. How did I get him to like it? I make broccoli and cheddar soup. He eats every bit of it not knowing that ANY of the ingredients are store brand. Same with the coffee in the morning. We’ve gone to instant coffee because when we brewed it every morning we were dumping 6 or so cups down the drain every day. Now we scoop out how much we’ll actually drink. And…the coffee is store brand. It tastes the same but costs $3 less than Folgers or Maxwell House. Coffee is coffee when you stir it up with sugar and creamer.
To the dinners. 6 of them I had to concoct. And I had $60 to my name when I walked into the store. Here’s how I did it. If you’re interested on how I make them you can click on the RECIPE tab at the top in the menu and find the dinner. All of them are under $10 to make and feed all of us. Most nights there are leftovers for Tim and the wolves to eat for lunch the next day.
Day 1: Rotisserie chicken.
Like I was saying above, we all got lazy and we tend to grab brand names. The chicken breasts by Perdue are right there in the meat department already cut up for us for about $9. Save yourself $4 by grabbing the whole chicken and cooking it yourself. The whole chicken you see in the picture was $4.67 and it still has two breasts, two legs and two wings. One of the best purchases I’ve ever made was to buy a Rotisserie. Tim will (and has) eat chicken from the rotisserie three times a week. And it’s easy. Cleaning the chicken and poking it up on the spikes to start its spinning is just about the hardest part. One hour and fifteen minutes later…dinner is served. All I had to do was cook up pasta shells with cheddar cheese and 1/2 a bag of vegetables (yep…those frozen ones at $1.70 a bag) and we are devouring dinner.
How did I get a rotisserie? I probably went about it the long way, but I couldn’t afford $200 for a rotisserie right then and there. I found this one on Fingerhut (yeah! That place your mom used to shop at by catalog). I paid $25 a month for around 10 months. I have used this MORE than $25 a month. Trust me. And it’s seriously easy to clean. Bonus: the chicken spins in the rotisserie all the while spinning the fat and grease out of this bird. You pull out the tray, dump in the trash, and then wash. Honestly..easy. I sound like a commercial but Google Fingerhut and get an account set up to buy yourself a rotisserie. You’ll start eating different and better!
Whole Chicken: $2.67 (we had a coupon for $2.00 off)
2 boxes Pasta Roni Shells and Cheddar Cheese: $2.00
1/2 bag of California Blend Vegs: 85 cents
Total for meal: $5.52
Day 2: Fish and Fries
This is Tim’s favorite meal. I actually had to take the picture before he ate ALL the fish while I was cooking it. There WERE 9 pieces of fish there at one point. I asked him to put the fish back so I could take a picture but he had already ripped it all up and his mouth was stuffed with fish. So pretend there are 9 pieces of fish here.
We went with Swai. Why? Because when Tim used to get the fried fish already cooked at the grocery store he asked them what kind of fish it was. They said Swai. And Swai (it just so happened) was buy one get one free on this trip. Two bags of fish cost us only $8. I use Louisville Fish Fry Mix in a medium heat pan. The fries are store brand and I have the spice/salt mixture down to a science now. The fries are better than McDonald’s (those were always my favorite fries). It takes an hour to get it all done, but the smiles on Tim’s face and the wolves bum-rushing the kitchen to get MORE is worth the hour of standing.
Swai Fillets: $7.99 for 9 pieces. (it was buy one get one free)
Vegetable oil for frying (store brand): $1.80
Louisville Fish Fry: $1.39
1/2 bag Frozen French Fries (store brand): $1.00 (it’s $2.00 for the bag)
Total for meal: $12.18 (I know it’s over budget, but we save on other meals. So this night we splurge a little.)
Day 3: Chicken Pot Pie
Ohhhh the trials and errors I’ve made trying to cook a chicken pot pie. I’ve overcooked and undercooked. Added too many things, not enough things. I’ve screwed this up so many times until I got it together with my own concoction that Tim loves. This pot pie does not last long nor does it make “leftover status”. The pie dish is empty within 20 minutes.
It’s not the traditional pot pie, though. It has rice in it. Among the other chicken pot pie staples. And I don’t use a crust. I use crescent rolls on top. Those are the store brand crescent rolls. And the top layer is mozzarella cheese. Tim calls it “pizza cheese”. Just four slices on the top. There are still 8 slices left in the package. All around, this is one meal that satisfies the family AND satisfies the budget. Made in a deep dish pie dish. That’s another item in my kitchen that I am happy to have.
The chicken inside is left over from the Rotisserie chicken. Before throwing the carcass away, I pull all the meat I possibly can. So I didn’t have to buy any chicken for this pie and it’s more than enough for this dinner. Trust me. Tim loves meat!
Rice: 1 cup (about maybe 50 cents)
Vegetables: 85 cents (I used the other half that I used back on night 1)
Crescent Rolls: $1.50
Cheese on top: 63 cents ($2.50 for 12 slices. Again…store brand sliced Mozz. Cheese)
Total for meal: $5.27
Day 4: Baked Spaghetti with Sausage
We cannot eat spaghetti unless it’s baked. Once you’ve eaten spaghetti baked, you simply cannot go back to plain, boring spaghetti. This is a fact. Tim used to eat meatballs like any other human eats grapes. Until I introduced him to sausage. I don’t know what he had against sausage, but there was a time he refused to eat it. But Johnsonville came out with a wide variety of sausage to help me out. From Sweet to Beer Bratwurst to Garlic. I think we have Beer Bratwurst in this picture. I’d show you the leftovers…but there aren’t any.
This is incredibly easy and cheap to make. I’m telling you, I have to make enough for the dogs as well because they will eat up the spaghetti. No one in this house hates baked spaghetti.
Thin Spaghetti: 85 cents (I used half the box at $1.69 for the box)
Hunts Sausage Red Sauce: $1.00
Can of diced tomatoes: $1.00
Shredded Italian 6 cheese for the top: $2.50
Home made garlic toast: $1.00
Johnsonville Beer Bratwurst: $3.99
Total for meal: $9.34
Day 5: Fried Potatoes and Chicken
Saturday is B2K Radio night. There are rehearsals and mic checks to do. So I don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen. This meal is quick. Fry up two chicken breasts, four russet potaoes, add vegetables and scrambled eggs…done! It may look bland but the taste (and the smell in the apartment when I’m cooking it) is heaven. I make a big batch on purpose. We scoop out of this huge bowl for a while when the broadcast is live.
Two chicken breasts: $5.45
Four potatoes: $1.00
Succotash: $1.70 (for the store brand frozen bag)
Four scrambled eggs: 60 cents
Total for meal: $8.75
Day 6: Chicken Pot Pie (see day 3)
I told you that the chicken pot pie is a favorite around here. The chicken I didn’t use up in day 5, I used in this pot pie. There were three breasts in the original package. The six meals’ total cost is $46.33. $13.67 under the $60 I walked into the store with. The rest of that money Tim got hotdogs and bread. We also splurged to get the good coffee creamer we like among a few other items. The main goal was to NOT go over that $60 and not starve. We accomplished that goal and we had change when we walked out.