I grew up in a devout Mormon household, where Emergency Preparedness was a central part of daily life. As a young adult, I was a military spouse for nearly 20 years. Both lifestyles taught me the value of frugality and making what you have stretch as far as possible.
I learned how to cook at my mother’s side, as she prepared meals “from scratch” for a family of seven. Most nights, the main dish was some type of soup, stew, or casserole. Very rarely did we experience the luxury of eating meat by itself.
Mom taught me to make tasty meals from affordable, mostly shelf or pantry-stable ingredients. Meat and poultry were condiments used to add flavor and texture.
Then, as the wife of an enlisted soldier with a minimal budget, those lessons my mother taught me really paid off. My kids can probably tell you of the times I had to get creative with the food I had on hand, sometimes even stretching MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) meant for a single soldier’s meal so that it helped to feed a family of five.
So, I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas for stretching your grocery dollars so that you can prepare tasty meals that are both filling and nutritious.
SOUPS AND STEWS TAKE CENTER STAGE
A single beef patty or chicken breast can be stretched to add flavor and protein to a large potful of stew or soup! Hey, even completely meatless versions can be delicious and satisfying! A potful of lentil or split-pea soup flavored with salt, Liquid Smoke, onion, and garlic powder can be very satiating. Especially if paired with a slab of home-made bread, biscuits, or muffins! (I’ll share recipes in the near future.)
HERE ARE SOME OTHER LOW-COST MEAL SUGGESTIONS
Buy meat and poultry with the bones in – These can serve double-duty. Pot roast and whole chickens are great! Slow cook the pot roast or chicken, then divide the meat into smaller portions that can be shredded and frozen in individual zip-top bags to add to meals. Save the bones to make soups and bone broths. These are incredibly nourishing and can even be used or extended, if necessary, for more than one batch. Ham hocks are also great to add fat, nutrients, and flavor to meals.
Purchase canned meats – Tuna, chicken, salmon, Spam, sardines, kippers, etc. These are shelf-stable items that offer options for adding protein and flavor to dishes such as casseroles and stir-fry type meals.
Store root vegetables and those with long life – Root vegetables are known to store well if kept relatively cool and in a dark place. All varieties of potato, carrots, onions, beets, turnips, parsnips are excellent choices. These foundational veggies add bulk and satiety to a meal. Other vegetables with a relatively long shelf-life are celery and cabbage, and to a lesser extent, cauliflower. These ingredients can boost flavor, nutrition, and density to a dish.
Keep a supply of legumes, lentils, dry peas, and other dry beans – Dry beans, peas, and lentils are an excellent source of protein and keep almost indefinitely. Most are also pest-resistant, which is a plus. A couple of cups of dry beans or peas will make a potful of soup that can feed a family for two or three days. Vegetables and small amounts of meat can add a lot of flavor and protein to these soups.
Buy Rice, Barley, and Noodles – These shelf-stable dry goods will store very well and add additional nutrition as well as extending the quantity of your soups and stews.
ADD INTERESTING FLAVORS!
Keep flavorful spices, sauces, and condiments on hand – Salt is imperative for both flavor and satiety as well as electrolytes and minerals. But other seasonings make all the difference in the taste and enjoyment of food. Some great seasonings to keep on hand, especially for soups and stews include;
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- bay leaf
- Tabasco sauce
- Liquid Smoke (especially great for pea soups, even when no ham hock is available!)
- Worcestershire Sauce
- soy sauce
- powdered ginger
- chili powder
- curry spice
- poultry seasoning
- minced garlic
- black pepper and/or peppercorns
Other dry goods to add flavor and interest – Mashed potato flakes, dry Parmesan cheese, canned coconut milk and evaporated milk, peanut and other nut butters for curries, canned vegetables like green beans, corn, carrots, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste, canned beans like garbanzos, etc.
With these essential ingredients on hand, you will be able to stay fed and healthy for a good long time—no need to run to the store when everyone else around you is panicking.
I hope these suggestions help you to feel calm and confident in times of scarcity.
If you’d like actual recipe suggestions, I’d be happy to post some of my personal favorites.
Be well and blessed.